30 car salesman's tricks and how to avoid them

  • We warn you about the tricks some car salesmen might use
  • What to watch out for when going to a dealer
  • Make sure you get the best deal possible - get a Parkers price check

The overwhelming majority of car salemen are hardworking, honest guys, who want to make a living doing what they love the most. However for every 100 honest traders, there's always a bad apple – and this guide is to help buyers spot the tricks that the unscrupulous might try to use in order to make a sale. 

We’ve listed 30 of the worst desperate salesmen's tricks, so you can be on the look-out when you go shopping. Don’t fall for their banter - do your research before you visit the dealer, and use the Parkers car valuation tool to give you an idea of what your car's worth before you step on the forecourt. 

Limited-time offers

This is becoming a very common advertising trick. Sellers will always try to get you to make hasty ‘on-the-spot' decisions so will make out that an offer is only available for a very limited time when that isn't necessarily the case.

Loss-leader advertising

A dealer will advertise a particular car for sale in local papers at a very low price. The reality is the car will be a bad colour, with low specification and in untidy condition. The dealer doesn't want you to buy this one, though and is likely to say, 'but if you upped your budget a little you could have...'

BFF salespeople

As soon as a salesperson notes that you're serious about buying a car, you'll instantly have a new best friend. Anyone in sales should be looking for common ground straight away, so they can relate to the customer and generate a ‘friendship' of sorts. This is designed to make it much harder to say no to them. After all, you never want to let a friend down.

‘My mum/dad/sister/spouse drives one just like this’

This technique is aimed at trying to convince you the car is acceptable. If the salesperson lets his family drive the same car, it should be good enough for you. However, considering the salesman would very likely get a big discount on the car, even if the statement is true it doesn't represent the same deal you'll be getting.

‘It’s a very popular car’

Another statement salespeople like to work into the conversation is how popular or sought-after the car he wants you to buy is. Be wary of this statement, it could be true but is it really the case? Were there thousands like it in the paper or just a few? It's much more likely he's saying that to make it seem more desirable to you.

Perfect timing!

Don't be fooled by salespeople telling you that your visit was ‘perfect timing’ or similar. It’s always a lucky time to buy, and the salesperson is just trying to make you feel good about coming to talk to him.

Spraying

This is where a salesperson pursues the sale so vigorously that they'll stop at nothing to win you over. It can even continue once you’ve bought a car, with salespeople calling you and saying you’ve made a terrible mistake with how much you paid and that you’ve been disloyal. Ignore sales people like this. You have every right to get the best deal.

Low balling

You’ve found a car you like and the dealer gives you a price that is unbeatable. He invites you to shop around as much as possible, safe in the knowledge that you’ll never find anyone willing to beat his original quote.

Eventually you go back, and tell the dealer you’d like to take him up on the offer. He goes to check with his manager, and returns stating he’s not allowed to sell at that price after all.

High balling

When you have a car to part-exchange, make sure you know its value before going into a dealership. If the dealer offers a lot more for part-exchange than you know your current car is worth, it’s likely you’ll end up paying more in the long-run. Keep a close eye on the costs involved at every step.

Free extras

Beware of free gifts the salesman throws into the deal. He's only trying to slow down negotiations and make you pay a higher price for the actual car, which means you're playing into his hands. Try to stay focused on getting the best possible value for the car.

Stalling

The longer you spend on a dealer’s forecourt, the more eager you’ll be to get away. You might get impatient, wanting to get to other garages, or just be tired of talking figures. This is exactly what the dealer wants, as it pushes you towards making a decision. Beware of dealers stalling by losing keys and having abnormally long chats with managers.

Sucking back

This refers to the technique of giving you a very low sum for your part-exchange car, and then compensating by giving you a fantastic price on your new one. The sales people hope the true profit will be hidden in the intricacies of the deal, and aim to blind you with the figures and make you think you got a brilliant deal.

Repayment quotes

This doesn't happen so much these days, but do keep your eyes peeled. Dealers will sometimes add a tiny amount extra to the payments when working out a finance deal. It won't seem like much at the time, but over the period of the agreement can run into big money. Always make sure you bring a calculator and do the working out yourself when looking into a finance deal.

Not telling you the ‘on the road’ price

Dealers often leave out certain factors from the price of a car, meaning you have no idea how much it'll cost to actually drive away in a car you've seen on the forecourt. This can be make a large difference.

‘We’ll pay off the finance’

You buy a new car and part-exchange your old one but still have finance outstanding on the car you wish to trade. The dealer agrees to pay the outstanding balance and take the car, knocking the rest of the cash off the price of the new car. A few months later you receive a call from your bank asking why you're not paying your original loan; the dealer didn't do it, and because you didn't sign anything to agree to the deal, there's no recourse either.

Referred by a friend

If you tell a salesperson you've been sent there by a friend you're actually saying you already trust them, which is playing right into their hands.

Avoiding a lemon

Watch out for cars that just can't be fixed reasonably. Car dealers will never admit to problems with cars, so make sure you've thoroughly researched each model and know what to avoid.

Mutton dressed as lamb

Look out for cars that have been recently sprayed or machine polished. This often covers up rust or accident damage which would otherwise put you off buying the car.

Getting behind the wheel

If a salesperson is pushing you into going for a test drive, it's likely this is part of a hard-sell approach. This is especially relevant with kids, who will want to go out and see what the car is like. If you bring your children along, expect salespeople to look to them to try to generate a sale.

Leaving out details

A salesman might leave out bits and pieces about the sale from his pitch. You'll find out eventually, but be careful to ask questions and make sure you're getting a good deal, not being taken for a ride.

Puppy-dogging

A salesperson letting a potential buyer have the car overnight seems like a nice thing to do. However, the salesperson is only hoping you'll fall in love with the car after spending a bit of time with it. Don't be fooled into thinking he's doing you a favour; it's in his interests.

100-point inspections

These are often not worth anything at all, however comprehensive and official they may sound. Make sure you check each car out yourself, or get a trained engineer or mechanic to confirm the car is good. If you're unsure about the longevity of a used purchase, consider buying a third-party car warranty - but remember, if the dealer is selling a product, they're on commission, so make sure the price you pay is competitive for the cover offered.

Cloned cars

This is a classic scam usually carried out by organised criminal gangs. A car is stolen and then set up to look exactly like a legitimate car of the same make and model. The VIN (vehicle identification number) may be altered and in some cases even the V5 is cloned so the car seems genuine. Watch out for extremely cheap cars with high specifications and always try to meet sellers at the address shown on the V5.

Finance ‘falls through’

You walk into a dealership, pick a car and agree to buy it on finance. Everything goes through perfectly until a few weeks later when you receive a call from the dealer: Apparently, your finance deal fell through because of bad credit and you'll have to pay extra. This scam is aimed at people with rocky credit history with the loophole usually hidden in contract small print.

Beware of ‘agents’

There is a trend where 'agents' advertise cars for sale on auction sites. In reality the agent doesn't have any relationship with the true seller and just copied the advert. Then you transfer your money and never hear from them again. Always make sure the person is the seller - be skeptical of people claiming to be selling the car on behalf of a friend.

Dealer prep

This practice isn't illegal but is something to watch out for. When you buy a new car, always check the small print to see if the dealer is charging you a ‘dealer preparation' charge. This is usually written right at the bottom of the invoice and it is payment for the dealer getting the car ready for collection. Quite often you find dealers charge substantial sums yet only have to carry out a few hours' work.

International scammers

You find a car on a sales website for an unbelievably low price. You contact the seller who opens a dialogue via e-mail and explains the car is in mainland Europe and they can't keep it for some reason - usually they blame the credit crunch. The seller suggests the sale is completed through a well-known money transfer site, which they will supply a link to. The scam is that the site is actually one the seller created recently to steal your hard-earned money. Usually these people won't take direct phone calls and will only let you email them.

Poor credit history/high APR

This one relies upon you not knowing your own credit score. The dealer will simply agree to a finance deal with a very high APR, which he justifies by telling you about your bad credit. Find out what your credit history is and head of false claims of poor credit ratings with the facts.

Forced warranty

Although it's wise to get a warranty it's certainly not obligatory. Never let dealers tell you that you have to buy one, or that you can't get finance without one. It should be up to the buyer to decide what type of warranty they choose. Your credit score or ability to get credit will never be affected by you agreeing to take a warranty.

Bill consolidation

Beware of dealers or finance companies who offer to sell you a car and ‘consolidate all of your bills into one simple monthly payment'. All this does is it extends the length of payment term and because the APR will still need to be paid over the whole term it effectively increases the final amount you pay. It's not illegal and although you now only have one bill to pay, you actually end up paying a lot more in interest.

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