Used car salesmen have always had a reputation as being wheeler-dealing, smooth-talking cads who are selective with the truth, or just downright liars. Of course, this is mainly just an old stereotype, but there are some tricks the less than reputable car salesmen will try to pull to deceive buyers. As buyer knowledge has become more sophisticated, so too have the tricks of the trade. Stay one step ahead of a potentially dodgy dealer, and follow our guide to detecting the tactics and tricks which are still part of the game in buying a used car. It could make the difference between driving away in a top class motor or a bucket of bolts.

Rushing You into a Sale

Buying a car is a big deal, and one which requires thorough research, a degree of pondering and more than anything, time, to get the best deal on a car you actually want to drive. A salesman wants you, in his ideal world, to walk in and drive out with something. So be wary of salesmen who ask questions like “What do I have to do to get you into a car today?” or try to hurry you into a sale by suggesting that you take the model you want in a color you didn’t fancy. Don’t feel pressured, remember, you’re in control of the situation. A salesman who isn’t interested in your goals, circumstances and preferences is not a reliable salesman

Damaged Goods

This is textbook, classic, almost stereotypical bad salesmanship. A few cosmetic repairs here and there can make a car with a history of scrapes and bumps look good as new. It could be a buyback (known as a ‘lemon’ in the industry) or it could have suffered damage at the dealer’s lot or have any range of problems which are undetectable to anyone but an expert mechanic’s eye. There are reports such as CARFAX you can get about any vehicle, but these can often be incomplete. Additionally, you can also find out about a vehicle’s past by looking for the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) often located on the car itself (inside the engine bay, most commonly). However, even if a valid VIN is available to cross-reference its history, it is still best to get a qualified and independent mechanic to have a look at the car before you make any further decision on it. 

Hard Sale

Hard selling, or in layman’s terms “aggressive selling” is another tactic to watch out for. As above, it shows that the salesman is more concerned about his monthly figures than he is about securing you the right car for your needs and personal circumstances. If you’re at the start of your hunt for the perfect vehicle, the chances are that you are just browsing at this stage – an aggressive salesman will push and push to get you to buy a car on your first visit. Be firm, say in no uncertain terms that you’re just looking, and you need time and space to research on your own. Which of course, you do. 

Hidden Fees

OK, so in an ideal world, you’ve found the perfect car, within your budget and in good condition. You get to the office to fill in the paperwork, and suddenly that 10k asking price has escalated by almost a grand. Processing fees, extra charges for title and registration fees. Suddenly you’re over budget, and more often than not those fees just go straight into the profit margin the seller is making. 

Payments Over Prices

A very common trick used by car salesmen is to ask questions such as “How much would you be prepared to pay per month?” when offering you a vehicle. Be very wary of this – if you’ve budgeted $20,000 for a car then stick to that. Monthly payments come with interest, and the smaller the payments, the longer the car will take to pay off and the higher the cost will be. So if you’re offered extremely cheap monthly payments be aware – don’t impulse buy! Make sure you do your research, find out what credit packages are offered with other dealerships or lenders, and tailor this to what you can afford a month without losing sight of your original budget. 

Good Cop / Bad Cop

This is a classic trick. A salesman will take note of your budget and the kind of car you want, and will state basically that he cannot meet your demands. But instead of sending their potential customers away empty handed, never to return, he plants a little thought in their mind by suggesting they give their contact details over so that if the right model at the right price appears they will be top of the list. By this point in the (non) transaction, the potential buyer will be slightly annoyed and frustrated at the ‘bad cop’ (salesman). And this is the point where the ‘good cop’ (either a senior salesman or manager) bursts in to see what’s going on – reassuring the potential customer that whilst the price they want isn’t realistic for their chosen model (and at the same time rebuking the original salesperson) with a slightly reduced price and some freebies thrown in, the perfect car can be theirs, that very day. A slightly better deal, coupled with seeing the ‘bad cop’ getting a dressing down is an extremely effective tactic in making a sale. 

Whilst the days of rewinding the mileage on a car are all but over, there are still some simple tricks and dodgy selling techniques that car salesmen employ to make a quick purchase or overcharge a customer for a car. Hopefully, being a bit savvy about the transaction you are about to make, and the aggressive questions and pressures you may face at the dealership will help you get a good, reliable car for a good price. Good luck!