Are Car Salesmen Dirtbags?

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Car salesmen are dirtbags – right?

They’re not well thought of, at any rate. But the truth is they’re just salesmen and working the system – which is what it is. And it’s the system that’s cheesy, far more so than the people at the very bottom of the pyramid – the salesmen. These unfortunate men and women are the wait staff of the automotive industry. Usually, they’re paid starvation wages and so rely on commissions – which makes them rapacious by necessity. I think this is a flaw with the system – for all concerned – and if I were The Decider I’d change it so that salespeople were salaried employees and cars were sold just like other consumer goods, with the price clearly stated and not subject to Byzantine back-and-forthing between a financially desperate sharpie and a (usually) not-too-savvy but emotionally involved chum-bait buyer, AKA “the mark.”

Most people might as well walk into the stealership with a “kick me” sign taped to their back. The process is rigged to the advantage of the dealer (note, not the salesman) like a crooked Vegas casino. Or even an honest Vegas casino. There are more ways to take your money than in the IRS code and you won’t even know how badly you just got taken until you’re at home with your new car and it’s beginning to dawn on you just how deep you’re in it. There’s too much weird math, too many variables – and too much going on – for most ordinary humans to deal with.

So, how do you deal with it?  

To quote Dr. Strangelove: Mein Fuhrer! I haf a plan! 

Rather than sit down with the saledude and haggle over every little thing – where he has the advantage because he does this every day and you don’t – do your research before you go to the dealer and present them with your best “out the door” price – the car plus whatever taxes/title fees (mandatory) plus destination (legitimate) and that’s it. No BS “processing” or “dealer add on.” Don’t argue. Just say (nicely): I’m interested in buying this car and here’s what I am willing to offer. If you can sell the car at that price, let’s rock. If not, not. Be prepared to walk – especially if he starts The Spiel. Get up and start leaving at that point and tell him (again, nicely) to call you back if he is interested in selling the car at the price you indicated. It’s ok to give up a few hundred bucks more to seal the deal (figure this into your initial offer) but do not budge beyond this.

This negotiating technique gives you the power – not the salesdude. It negates all the techniques they are taught to separate you from your money!

So long as you end up paying a couple (2-3) percent less than sticker, you did ok.

But there are times when it’s hard to get them to budge. If the car is new, popular – and selling like the proverbial hotcakes at (or above) sticker price then they can  probably charge a “take-it-or-leave-it” price, in which case you have to decide how much you really want the car and whether it’s worth it to you to pay whatever they demand. Toyota, as an example, has been able to do this for a long time with the Prius.

My personal attitude here is to wait. Next year – the second year the car is out – it will be the same car, but the sales stampede will have thinned out and you’ll be back in the catbird seat and very likely able to negotiate a fair deal vs. the Ned Beatty-like squealing they’d give you this year. Also consider just buying another model. There are so many cars in most segments today that you will usually have your choice of at least three or four very similar-in-layout vehicles. Keep in mind that it’s (mostly) not like it used to be back in the Bad Old Days when you always had to be mindful of reliability/build quality and so on. Today most cars are all at a level that is better than the very best cars of 20 years ago – and that includes even the lowest-tier economy cars. Yes, lemons still exist but they are much fewer and far farther in between and it’s much safer to buy any car – any brand – today vs. how it was back then. 

Also: Consider selling your old car yourself, if you want to get top dollah for it. And whatever you do, do not bring your trade into your discussions with the dealer until after you have completed the deal on the new car. If you don’t, odds are the dealer will try the ol’ shuck and jive – giving you what sounds like a great deal on your trade, which will cause you to become happy and lower your guard – and then he’ll make it all up on the back end (the deal on the new car).

If the salesdude asks about your trade-in, say “I’d rather not discuss that now.” Then, after you have the sales contract on the new car, you can bring up the trade! He won’t be happy and may make faces. But tough luck, bub. That’s life in the Big City, where the mop flops and the cookie crumbles… .  

Finally: Be sure you know what the current retail value of your car is (see
 or vs. the wholesale cost. A fair price is above wholesale. Again, he’s entitled to make a profit reselling your car, but he shouldn’t expect you to give your car away, either.

Throw it in the Woods?


  1. Why go in the door? You have a phone don’t you? And a computer with Google Maps or a phone book (remember when the phone book was how you found numbers?)? Ring them up, tell them what car you want and that you’re ringing a dozen other dealers to get their price too. No haggling, if they give you the best price you’ll email them back. Be nice and give a specific time when you’ll do this so they aren’t unnecessarily tense about it.

  2. “the Ned Beatty-like squealing”…

    LOL, Eric. You are adorably too much! Reminded me of a sweathshirt I’ve taken to wearing a lot around here: “Let me guess…you played the bango in Deliverance”.

    On a more serious note though, I couldn’t help but think when reading your remark about people going to the car stealership with a “kick me” sign on their back…kind of like the Get Out the Dope Drive every 4 years.

    Looking back on the past elections I’d say the really big stealership knows the opportunities for a rear-ender when he see one. promise them a little Hope and someone else’s change and God, how they will squeal.

    Brace yourself, Effy. November’s just around the corner.

  3. After many years as one of America’s Top 20 salespeople for a particular import brand, I can say that I appreciate your honest assessment of us salespeople in the “cheesy” as you describe it system. Car salespeople in the US do what we do because the dealer owners and our managers ‘make’ us perform that way. They tell us what to do, and how to do it – or else we’re out of a job. And you are totally correct when you say we are at the bottom of the pyramid. I never met a dealer owner (and I know plenty of them) that ever cared one bit about us salespeople. They consider us totally expendable, and replaceable at any moment by other untrained and naive ‘bodies’ willing to take our place. The system certainly is cheesy, and many car salespeople are totally unprofessional because they are untrained. Not their fault as they’re just a warm body filling the slot until they quit or get fired and are replaced by the next warm body, to be used and used up by the dealer owner, via long hours, low pay, no respect, no training, and no regard. I am a professional, hence my top industry performance. But did the owner appreciate me, or all the money I made him? Hardly. One time when I considered going to work for a competitor and I told him of my possible intention, he told me “that a trained monkey could do what I do.”


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