Driving a new car home can be a huge relief, especially after going through the stressful process of purchasing a vehicle. In addition to finding the perfect car and getting your lowest loan rate, you’ll ultimately have to haggle with a car salesperson whose main goal is to get you to spend the most money they can.
“[Salespeople] can sense if you come in blind, and they are going to fill in the holes to their advantage,” says Jack Nerad, executive market analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “It’s not that they are dishonest people. It’s not their job to make the best deal for you. It’s their job to make the best deal for the dealership.”
Staying one step ahead of the salesperson by knowing the tricks they use can help you avoid signing a bad deal. Here are a few ways car salespeople might lie to you:
1. “Wait here, I’m going to consult with my manager.”
Nerad says chances are, if a salesperson says this to you, they aren’t talking to a manager. It’s more likely that they are taking a coffee break and trying to wear you down by having you invest more time in the transaction. They may also be trying to keep you on the company’s grounds while they come up with a deal closer to your asking price.
You can beat them in this game. Say you’ll leave while they talk it over. A salesperson knows your chances of coming back are minimal, and they want to make a deal with you that same day. If they are serious about selling you a car, they won’t let you leave the grounds, and they will return quickly with a better offer.
2. “This is our final offer. It’s the best deal you’re going to get.”
This is usually an outright lie. The salesperson always wants you to believe that you are getting the best deal that you can at their price. That’s because most people aren’t confident in their knowledge and are fearful that if they don’t make a deal right now, they won’t get the best deal.
“They don’t just want to sell you a car, they are trying to sell you a car today,” says Nerad. “Don’t fall in love with a particular car. There’s the same kind of car, in the same color, with the same equipment or comparable darn near everywhere.”
His advice is to stand firm and understand what the vehicle is worth to you. Don’t go over your asking price. He says to remember “if you get up and walk out, you’re going to find an equally good deal tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that.”
3. “There’s no need to test drive the car.”
Always test drive the car. You should have access to the car, you should be able to look inside and outside and be allowed to test drive it. It’s a huge red flag if they don’t let you test drive the vehicle for any reason.
The salesperson might say they can’t find the keys or that it’s in a position where it’d be difficult to move. They might also have you test drive a car that’s similar to it. Don’t do that either. You want to test drive the actual car that you are actually considering paying thousands of dollars and interest for.
Rosemary Shahan, founder of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS), a consumer advocacy group for the auto industry, encourages shoppers to go one step further and hire an independent mechanic to inspect the car first. You can use a resource like Car Talk to find a mechanic in your area.
4. “We can’t print out the contract.” or “You can’t take the contract with you.”
A salesperson could say this to get you to go ahead and sign for the purchase, but it could also be a tactic salespeople use to barrel-roll things you didn’t ask for into the contract.
The contract may be presented to you on a computer to sign electronically, but contracts are long and chances are you won’t have the time to carefully read each section before signing. The contract could include extra fees or add-ons like tire insurance that you don’t need and that will inflate the final purchase price and hurt the deal that you’ve worked hard to get. Just say no to most of it, or sign it aware that you’re financing the add-ons for the next few years.
“Insist on a paper contract,” says Shahan. “We believe it is a violation of the Federal Truth in Lending Act for [dealerships] to sell you a car with an electronic contract, because you are supposed to be able to take it physically with you to comparison shop. But if it’s on a screen you can’t do that.”
You should have reasonable time to make up your mind. Take a day or two to check out the contract and shop around until you are comfortable, but keep in mind that they could sell the car in that time. Don’t feel like you’ve spent too much time not to sign the contract if you’re unhappy with the terms. Even if you are in the contract phase, you can still walk out of the door.
5. “We just sold the car you saw online.”
The dealership may have just sold the car that you saw online, but that could also be a lie. Many dealerships may advertise a popular car for a low price as bait to lure consumers. When you show up looking to buy it, the salesperson will say it’s just been sold or out for a test drive and try to sell you something else.The tactic is called a “bait-and-switch.” The idea behind it is, again, your valuable time.
The assumption is that you wouldn’t want to waste this trip to the dealership, so you might as well stay and see your options. The bonus for the salesperson is that they already have an idea of what your price range is and what you’re looking for so they may even have some alternatives conveniently top of mind.
You have two options at this point. You can either stay and let them show you other vehicles, knowing that they may have used a bait-and-switch tactic, or leave and explore your other options. You could also try calling the dealership before you get there to ask if the vehicle is still available. If they really have just sold the vehicle to someone else, it’s unlikely any online resources like a vehicle history report would have been updated already. Cut your losses and see their other options, or find a dealership that does have the car you want.
How to complain about a shady auto dealer
If you feel as though the salesperson is engaging in questionable practices, you should walk away from the purchase. Nerad says to remember that “as a consumer, you have all of the power. You have all of the power because you are a rare commodity. You are someone who can afford to buy a new car.”
Before you leave the dealership, ask to speak with the manger on duty. After you leave, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, or the BBB. You won’t be alone. New and used auto dealership complaints ranked 4th and 6th, respectively, of all complaints in 2015.
If you feel as if you’ll need legal assistance, you can find an attorney with experience in consumer law under “Find an Attorney” on the National Association of Consumer Advocates website.