Car Dealer Tricks: Buyer Beware

July 19, 2010

This begins a series of articles on how to avoid a long list of tricks that car dealers use to get more money out of customers than they want to pay. As an ex-Internet Manager for a major car dealer, I saw first-hand how subtle some of these tactics can be. Still, they pack a wallop, costing unwitting customers hundreds, even thousands of dollars more than necessary.

Buyer Beware
Car dealers have a bad reputation for good reason. I liken the business to a shark tank where only the strongest survive. This goes for sales staff as well as customers. On the professional side, it can be brutal working at a dealership, especially during this economic slowdown. Of course, it varies by dealership, but there is an industry norm that requires sales staff to make a minimum number of sales (or gross profit) each month or they are moved on down the road.

From the dealership’s perspective, the above approach keeps the most productive staff on the sales floor. However, when this survival of the fittest attitude is combined with a commission-only sales staff and the potential for large profit, it encourages sales at any cost. It’s the “sales at any cost” attitude that leads to dealerships tricking their customers to pay more, rather than being upfront, honest, and transparent in their dealings.  

Tricked, or Worse?
After working with thousands of customers on the retail dealer level, I heard horror stories about how customers were treated by car dealers. The car buyers I talked to used words stronger than “tricked.” They experienced being “conned,” “cheated,” “swindled”--and worse.

When you have a bad experience at any place of business you don’t go back, unless you feel that you have no choice. You certainly don’t look forward to your next visit. The same is true with buying a car from a dealer. For many, going back to a car dealer to make another purchase is like a trip to the dentist or giving a public talk: it’s necessary and you’ll do it, but you won’t like it.

It’s sad that car dealers have such a negative image. I still have many friends in the industry. They try to follow the golden rule, to treat others as they want to be treated. Yet, no matter how ethical the individual, the car dealer system in this country is like a behemoth. Its monstrous size makes it unable to think in terms of the customer’s best interests. Instead, it’s running full steam ahead, fighting to survive, and God help anyone who gets in front of it.

That’s why any particular salesperson, manager, or owner of a car dealership can be someone you want to do business with: ethical, upfront and honest--yet you can still end up paying more than necessary for your next new or used car, truck, or SUV. From the customer’s perspective, the car dealer system in this country is broken. The problem is it doesn’t know it yet.

Be Prepared
It’s up to car buyers to be prepared when they walk into a car dealership. If you haven’t done your research,don’t be surprised if you pay hundreds or thousands of dollars more than necessary. Here at, we’ll do our best to help. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for a series of articles on Car Dealer Tricks. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

Tomorrow’s article is Car Dealer Tricks: The Independent Trade Value

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