Five Things You Should Never Tell a Car Salesman

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Here are five things you should never tell the guy trying to sell you a car:

* How much you like the car …

Never show emotion; it’s the surest way to end up paying too much. It lets the seller know you really, really, really want that particular car and are probably not thinking clearly and are thus willing to overlook a lot of things – including very possibly the price – in order to make it yours Right Now. The smart policy is to feign indifference. The car’s ok. But you’re not all that attached to it – and don’t mind buying a different car on another day, if it means getting a better deal. Maybe from someone else.

If your will is weak – or you need moral support – bring a trusted friend to help keep you in line.

* How much you can afford to spend …

Keep that card close to your chest. Once the salesman knows your price point, he will try to steer you toward cars that cost about that much. But never less. On the other hand, if the dealer isn’t sure what you can afford or want to spend, he may be more inclined to show you some better deals. Act poor. Or at least, act cheap.

* How little you know about the car  …

Ignorance is rarely bliss. And one sure-fire way to encourage Salesdude Skullduggery is to let on that you don’t know much about cars, generally – or the car you’re looking at, specifically. Keep your mouth shut – and let the salesman talk. It’s also important that any questions you ask sound informed and intelligent. You don’t have to be a “car guy” to be able do that, either. But you do have to spend a little time researching the make/model vehicle you’re looking at (along with competitor models) so that you know enough about it (and them) to not sound like a Mark when you start talking with the salesman.

If you’re totally clueless about cars, bringing along a knowledgeable friend/spouse is a smart move. If you don’t have any such car-savvy friends/family members, consider a buying service. These handle the negotiation process for you – and while there is a fee involved, you’ll know what it is up front and it’ll probably be lower than what you could have achieved on your own through “haggling” with a sales shark.

* Never discuss the monthly payment …

Related to the point about not letting on how much you want to spend overall – but potentially even more damaging – is avoiding any discussion about the monthly payment. It’s very easy for a clever salesman to get an unsophisticated buyer to focus on that Low Low monthly payment – soft-pedaling the total purchase price (and interest) he’s about to saddle you with. For example, by extending a loan from three or four years to five or even six years, the monthly payment can be lowered by  a few bucks per month – but the actual purchase price may have been jacked up by thousands. You could be paying additional thousands in unnecessary interest payments, too. This is how the mathematically challenged end up “upside down” – owing more in payments than the vehicle is actually worth.

Negotiate the purchase price first – and the monthly payment will take care of itself.

* Say nothing about your trade-in plans …

A common mistake some buyers make is to arrive at the dealer with their old car – and get sucked into a discussion about its trade-in value before negotiating the price of the new car. It’s an old car salesman trick to make the buyer feel he has the edge by giving him what seems like a great deal on his trade – while making up the difference on the price of the new car.

If you plan to trade, it’s smart to avoid any discussion of what your plans are until after you’ve settled with the dealership on the sales price of the car you’re buying. Then bring up your trade.

Sneaky tip: Drive to the dealership in a vehicle other than the one you intend to trade. This way, the dealer has no clue about the potential value of your old car until later on – which makes it harder for them to manipulate you over the price of the car you’re trying to buy. Ideally, drive up in a middle-of-the-road, nothing-special older car. Not too old; definitely not too fancy. You want to convey the impression that you’re employed and solid – but neither rich nor poor.

Throw it in the Woods?


  1. Went car shopping yesterday and learned quite a bit. One of the key features I’m looking for is the back seats need to fold down flat. Most crossovers and compact SUVs don’t do that. The back seats fold down but the seats “bounce”. Hmmmm. The main reason I’m looking at this kind of vehicle is to haul our 3 big dogs around. I don’t want to launch our dogs through the headliner. I see this as a design flaw. If it’s going to offer cargo space the back seats should lay flat or what’s the point?

    Turns out none of the cars we had in mind are what I want. Except the Rav4 – couldn’t find one of those. I liked the Vibe, Tuscon and possibly the Matrix. Drove a vibe and loved it. Would have bought it on the spot except it only had front wheel drive. No traction control, no ABS. That’s not going to work here where we live.

    Another Vibe I drove was a 2010, less than 50,000 & around $15,000. I drove it, I liked it. The year/mileage/cost seemed rather suspect but there didn’t appear to be anything wrong with it. But after I started looking at it I noticed small chips in the paint on the hood. I understand that’s going to happen on a used car, but these chips were rusting. And there was a lot of them. I looked at other used (and older) cars on the lot, they also had your normal chips in the paint, a scratch here and there but they weren’t rusting. This was a deal breaker for me. Do you have any explanations about why the chips would rust?

    They had a Pontiac Tucson and I really liked it but the mileage was too high. We’re looking for something under 50,000. After test driving the cars I’ve decided I like the Tucson. I like the Vibe too, but I like the Tucson better. I’d like to find a 4 cyl. but that might not be possible, they seem to be mostly 6 cyl. It sits up higher and doesn’t look like a station wagon. I’d still like to drive a Rav4 but they appear to be a little out of our price range.

    So at least I know what I want. More of a compact SUV than a crossover (although crossovers aren’t completely crossed off the list). No vans & nothing that looks like a station wagon. The back seats MUST lay flat. Must have FWD w/ABS & traction or be a 4WD. Must be automatic. I can drive a stick, but hubby nixed that. It would kill his bad back if he had to drive it. Hubby said no Fords, no Jeeps and he wants to stay away from Chevy/GMC. So between each of our criteria it helped narrow it down.

    Still looking so wish us luck! Thanks Eric and everybody else that has posted advice!

    • Hi Dottie!

      Have you considered a station wagon? This would be a great option for dogs (and carrying other things, too). Take a look at the VW Jetta Sportwagon, or maybe a Toyota Venza. Both offer AWD. They might be just the ticket!

  2. It’s funny you mention AWD or FWD cuz that’s one of main things we’ve discussed. I do know how to drive a stick so that’s not an issue.

    As for ground clearance and weather – I know aaalll about that! We live in Ohio and winters have been really weird. Heavy snow, bitter cold. Our street is one of the last to get plowed so every winter I call off work for a couple days cuz I can’t get down the road in my Cavalier. Hubby has a FWD truck for the snow storms and a Cobalt for everything else. He drives 50 miles to work (one way) and when he misses work it really hits the purse so he HAS to get to work. And of course, tire. Hubby’s a stickler about having good tires, so check.

    My driving is around town and expressway. Safety is the main factor here. We’ve gotten a lot of ice the past few years and no car or truck will go on that.

    My particulars on a car is mpg, reasonable insurance, and reasonable maintenance costs (in that order). I’m not paying $300 for a tuneup cuz the spark plugs cost $30 each.

    We’re looking at Kia Sorento, Toyota Rav4 & Toyota Sequoia (sp?). Any comments on those cars?

    Also discussed has been being able to see all around the vehicle. I guess some vehicles have bad blind spots?

    • The Sorento and RAV4 are good choices; the Sequoia is a much larger (and truck-based) SUV. It will be either RWD or 4WD – meaning, the RWD version will b worse in poor weather than the FWD or AWD crossovers. If you buy the Sequoia for winter-weather use, the 4WD is pretty much essential. 2WD (RWD) trucks and SUVs generally stink in the snow (and are not so great in the wet, either – trucks especially, because they’re light in the tail).

  3. Thanks for the great article, Eric. And thanks to all the people that commented. I’m looking to buy a used car. My husband is a mechanic and this will be MY first car loan. Hubby knows about this stuff and I’m totally clueless. So I’ll be basically tagging along and learning from him and thanks Don for the suggestion. I’ll be checking that out. I’m looking for a used Crossover so wish me luck! Thanks again!

    • Hi Dottie,

      Thanks – and, you bet!

      On the crossover: Probably one of the main things you’ll be considering is whether to buy one with AWD or stick with FWD (most are built on FWD layouts and often offer AWD as an option). If the model you’re looking at does offer AWD, here are a few things to be aware of in terms of pros and cons:

      * AWD will cost you more – and probably, reduce performance and gas mileage somewhat (because of the extra weight).

      * Ground clearance can make as much a difference in terms of getting stuck or not as having (or not having) AWD. Ditto tires. A FWD vehicle with good all-season (or better yet, snow) tires may actually do better in poor weather than an AWD-equipped vehicle with performance tires, which many come with. Keep that in mind if you do decide to buy an AWD vehicle.

      * Think about how you will realistically use the vehicle. If your area has long, severe winters/lots of snow, AWD may be necessary. But if you live in an area that has maybe a week or two, total, of days each year when there’s a lot of snow on the ground, you might consider buying the vehicle that’s suited for the 99 percent of the time when it’s not snowing.

      Keep us posted – and if you have any questions about a specific vehicle, please post them here!

  4. lost my comments,,,,hmm
    buy on the last day of the month, as dealers pay interest monthly on stock, and they want CERTAIN ones to leave the lot.

    check “mgr” specials, those are the ones they are stuck with, no dealer profit left in car/truck, as they paid interest with the profits due on THAT car/truck.
    When i go by a car lot i think, LOOK at all the cars they are stuck with!, and they are.

    • Hi Jackson,

      They’re here! There is sometimes a delay before new posters’ stuff goes live. We have to screen out the spam… and the Clovers.

  5. each MONTH is a “year” in the car/truck sales,
    each month the dealers have to have their inventory inspected by a bank employee, (checks the V.I.N), and then they loan the dealer another month…each month the “profits’ go down(paying interest on STOCK),
    SO, buy on the LAST working day of the month, and ASK for the best price they can give you, take it and run with a new car(even if it is months old..profits GONE< and they want to get rid of it)…same model, same warrentees, LOWEST price of the month.
    always check the "mgr' special, it has no profit left, (MOVE IT!)

    You will know as they sales person will say: tomorrow or next month the price goes right back to the sticker….

  6. For many years I was a car salesman, and I was very good at it. I was never out to take advantage of customers, but I was always looking for any clues or tidbits that they would share with me, that would help me take them from being a prospect to being a buyer.

    It never ceased to amaze me that people never spent any time ‘preparing’ to attempt to purchase a vehicle. For many lower and middle class customers, their vehicles might have been their life’s largest financial purchase, after thir homes — but they still never prepared or did any research.

    I spent years sending customers to If they would just read the free e-book there, they would know EVERYTHING they need to know to deal effectively with dealers, and to not be taken advantage of. I am sure I recommended that site to thousands of customers. I suppose only a handful ever did visit it, and even less ever read their book. Too bad.

    They say that knowledge is power; but I say that correct knowledge, intelligently applied, is power.

    What you share here Eric is spot on. All sound common sense advice. Every car buyer should do what you have recommended here. Then they should all go read that free e-book. And they should apply all of that new-found knowledge at their next, and every, vehicle purchase.

    And if you’re that consumer, and remembering and using Eric’s advice above – or reading a short book – if that just seems like too much ‘work’ for you, then just prepare to potentially be taken advantage of by unscrupulous dealers and salespeople who will enjoy doing that to you — and after you’ve been taken advantage of, and left the dealership with your new car, they’ll celebrate that ‘home run’ with high fives and back slaps!

    If you’re that victim – you’ll have NO ONE to blame but yourself. So once you realize a few days after your purchase what the dealer has done to you financially – don’t blame them. They’re just doing what they’re good at – taking advantage of uneducated, unprepared consumers.

    • Hi Don!

      I emailed my hubby the link you posted. I don’t know if he read it, but while we were shopping for a car he seemed to be following everything from that and what Eric wrote in this article. We drove HIS car, not mine (the trade-in). Hubby did all the talking. I hate all that bartering business. Didn’t even mention the trade-in. We both did research but we’re doing more cuz now we’re looking at different vehicles than what we started out looking for. We’ve already pulled our credit & know our scores, so we’re prepared that way.

      At the first dealer we went to, we drove a Vibe and hubby told me to park it next to his car when we returned. Then he pulled out some kind of diagnostic tool he has & plugged it in. It reads all kinds of codes and stuff. You should have seen the look on the salesman’s face when he saw what hubby was doing. I felt kind of bad for him, but he was a good sport about it. Hubby explained that he’s a 30-year ASE mechanic, exactly what the contraption is, what it does. That’s also how we discovered the Vibe had only FWD, no ABS or traction control. We had just assumed these vehicles all came with that or 4WD. Well, THAT was a lesson for both of us.

      Thanks again!

    • It’s just a country term… I used to know this crusty old farmer who would say that about whatever we were talking about. Got an old refrigerator you need to get rid of? Throw it in the Woods!


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