Car Dealers: How Do They Think?

Sleazy Car Salesman

Had car dealers been around when Sun Tzu was alive, he might have devoted an extra chapter to them in The Art of War.  When working with a salesperson, it helps to understand how they think as it relates to the art of the deal.  Mull these over before you hit the car lot.

First impressions.  You’re getting sized up the entire time.  What you drive onto the lot, your body language, whether you go straight to one car or wander between several, it could all be taken into consideration before the salesperson ever walks out to greet you—or not.  Your efforts to walk inside the showroom for assistance can also be telling about your eagerness to buy.

Who wears the pants.  Unless you’re alone, the salesperson is going to identify the alpha among you and treat him or her as the primary decision maker.  Whether or not that assessment is accurate, someone should be prepared for disproportionate eye contact and attention.

Assess personality.  Between you and the dealer, easygoing, almost sedated behavior will clash with a Type A personality, whomever acts whichever way.  The car dealer will modulate more in tune with you, so it’ll be easier to communicate on similar levels.  That’s good, to a point.  It can create a false sense of camaraderie, so don’t let your guard down too far.

What you want.  Something else that’s good, to a point.  As you chat about your car buying needs and goals, the salesperson will read between the lines and assess what you really want.  You have tested an econobox with the sport package, so why not upgrade a few thousand bucks to a sports car that’s still a little economical?  Don’t necessarily close your mind to other possibilities, but be honest with yourself and firm with your choices.

What you need.  Let’s be fair.  Any reputable dealer shouldn’t intentionally try selling you one car.  They should want you to come back for several cars over several years.  In other words, if you go through with a deal but you don’t look back on the sale as a positive experience, you probably won’t go back to that dealer.

What you’ll buy.  Not just what you’ll buy for a vehicle, but what you’ll buy in terms of approach and add-ons.  To the dealer, the sale is the main course, but there’s always room for dessert.  You can always anticipate offers for things like extended warranties, paint protection, undercoating and so on.  The only thing the dealer is pondering is how to pitch them to you.

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