How To Avoid The Wiles of The Used-car Salesman

If you’re a frugal family looking to upgrade the family automobile, then buying used can make great sense. However, lots of people associate the used car lot with hassle and deception, making buying (or even browsing) with the family a stressful experience.The only sure-fire way to avoid falling for the tricks and tomfoolery of a used-car salesman is to be able to recognize his manipulative tactics. There are a wide array of sleazy schemes and psychological ploys that are commonplace out on the used-car lots, and if you want any chance of combating them, the first step is knowing what they are and how they work. So we’ve put together this list to make you a bit savvier when you go out perusing for a ‘previously owned vehicle.’

Forgot-To-Mention Fees:

This is the oldest trick in the book.  They quote you the sales price several times, and get you feeling good about the deal, but when it comes time to sit down and fill out the paperwork there are suddenly all kinds of fees and taxes and extras.  Be sure to ask for the “drive-off total.”


The strategy here is to give you a super low quote, and tell you to shop around a bit, which is what any logical buyer will want to do anyway.  You’ll spend all day finding out that no one can match the price, and will start getting more and more used to the idea that you’ve settled on the right car.  But when you go back, they ‘consult their manager’ and find out that they can’t possibly sell it so cheap.  Exasperated, you pay the extra amount.


“My Daughter Drives One:

This old tactic is pure emotional appeal.  Doesn’t need much explanation.  Probably isn’t true. If you have children, it’s best to avoid bringing them along if you possibly can – they can be used to pressure you one way or another (imagine how they’d respond to the question “would you like to be able to watch cartoons in the back of the car?”).

Limited Time Offer:

Salesmen are always pushing to make the deal right away, so there will inevitably be some reason why you can’t possibly put it off until tomorrow.  Don’t be rushed into buying.  You can get the ‘limited time’ price whenever.

Free Extras:

Often, they will throw in a bunch of semi-trivial ‘free’ extras.  The strategy here is to guilt you into not pressing for a lower price when it comes to the actual negotiation.  After all, they are already doing you a big favor by throwing in all those freebies, right?  Wrong. If they weren’t something you specifically wanted, ask the salesman what they cost. Use their response as ammunition in negotiating – “Lets lose the $200 floor mats, the $100 mud flaps and the $500 roof rack and knock $400 off the price instead” can be very effective.

Obviously, most used-car salesmen are not trying to screw you over.  They are just trying to do their jobs as best they can, and make a bit of commission to bolster their salaries.  In fact, I have a couple of friends who are selling used cars at the moment, and I can assure you that they are mostly pretty stand-up guys.  So be smart out there, but don’t be overly suspicious, and never be rude.  We’ve all got our jobs to do.

What tips and tricks do you have for negotiating a car deal (either buying or selling)?