A Used Car Salesman Reveals Dirty Tricks (and How to Beat Them)

by Mikey Rox on 3 July 2014 3 comments

Used car salesmen are generally portrayed in the media as sleazy, greasy guys in too-tight polyester suits that are trying to take you for a ride — and not just in that lemon sitting on the lot. Of course, not all used car salesmen fit that stereotype, but at least part of that image is accurate: There are dirty tricks that they're putting into action to get that bill of sale signed… by you. (See also: 17 Things Used Car Salesmen Don't Want You to Know)

Jason Lancaster made a living as a used car salesman for a decade — at an "upstanding dealership," he says — but he's now committed to exposing the less-than-ethical business practices because he believes that "customers deserve better." He left the car business in 2007 and started a website —Accurate Auto Advice — devoted to sharing accurate advice and information with consumers. According to Jason, "The mission of the site is to give consumers advice that's 100% true. A lot of the info I see about car buying is false or misleading, and I'm trying to correct that."

Lancaster exposes some of the more dastardly car-buying schemes in the following four tactics — and some advice about combatting them.

1. The Scream

Think of "The Scream" tactic as a riff on the good cop/bad cop scenario. The gist of it is that the buyer wants a certain car or a certain price that the dealer doesn't have or can't match. At the same time, the buyer says that they're not ready to buy at the moment. Instead of sending the buyer on their way without any hope of getting what they want — which, in truth, isn't available — the salesperson plants a seed that what the buyer wants may be available when he or she is ready to buy and suggests that they contact the dealer before they make any decisions at another dealer.

"Then, you sit back and wait for the phone call," says Lancaster. "If the customer calls you for an unbelievable price, you tell them that you remember what they want and they need to come in to complete the deal. They come down to the dealership believing that you're going to meet their price, get their car, etc., and THEN you tell them the bad news."

That's where the namesake "scream" comes in. Angry that they came back to a dealer that isn't willing to give them what they want when it was suggested that they would, the buyer, in theory, takes their frustration out on the salesperson — or the bad cop, if you will. And that's when the good cop — the manager, in most cases — comes in to seal the deal.

Lancaster continues, "The manager comes over, apologizes, then explains how the customer wanted a price that wasn't realistic (or a car that isn't available), that $XX is the very best price there is, offers to throw in a freebie, and makes the deal. If the salesperson is sufficiently scolded, and the manager is good at calming people down, it can work OK."

The problem with this scenario, as Lancaster points out, is that the buyer no longer trusts the salesperson, which means that they'll never come back to them again. "It's great in the short term, but really damaging to the dealership in the long term, so a lot of dealers won't permit it."

How to Avoid The Scream

First, don't let on that you're not ready to buy right now. That's basically where this scheme begins. Instead, inform the salesperson that you're looking for a car, and you want to find the best price possible, so you're keeping your options open by visiting other dealerships.

To flip this tactic on its head altogether, round up a few prices on comparable cars from area dealers and bring them to the table with each salesperson. If the salesperson doesn't want to be competitive, and you don't feel like you're getting the best or fairest deal possible, walk. Simple as that. If they want your business, they'll work with you to find the most reasonable deal for the dealership and for you.

2. Rolling a Car They Know You Can't Finance

What's a dealership manager to do when he wants to move a vehicle off the lot, but he's dealing with a buyer who won't agree to make a sufficient or realistic down payment or who has bad credit with no chance of getting a good finance rate? Lancaster says there are two choices:

  • The salesperson can tell the buyer what a realistic interest rate will be, and what that means for their payment; or
     
  • The salesperson can tell the buyer whatever they want to hear about interest rates, have them sign paperwork and take delivery, then call them back in a week or so and tell them the terms have changed.

Did you just have a WTF moment, too? Truth is this tactic works — and it's still used fairly often for three important reasons, according to Lancaster:

  1. People want to believe the dealer tried to get them a good interest rate, says Lancaster. "If you bring them back, show them all the decline notices from the banks, etc., you can prove to them that you tried. Then they'll admit their credit is bad and agree to a higher interest rate and payment."
     
  2. People usually show their new car off to friends and family, often the day they get it or the day after. Losing the car a week later would be embarrassing, so people will often pay more just to avoid that embarrassment.
     
  3. Most dealerships make customers sign something called a "bailment agreement" that says the dealership can charge a very high fee for the use of the vehicle if financing falls apart, according to Lancaster. "When I was in the business, bailment was $50 a day and $0.50 a mile. If someone drives a car for a week, that's $500+. That's a big cash penalty a lot of people don't want to pay."

How to Avoid This Trick

To avoid the dealer changing your finance rate after you take delivery, consider these three suggestions:

  1. Secure financing before you arrive at the dealer; or
     
  2. Request that the dealer show you a copy of the bank approval (they can print it out and show you easily enough); and/or
     
  3. Don't sign a bailment agreement, at least not one that specifies payment of a penalty for miles driven and days of use.

"The bailment agreement is typically the first or last document the dealer will show you," says Lancaster. "If you see anything that says you agree to pay for vehicle use should financing fall through, don't sign it. However, understand that this may keep you from buying a car if you have poor credit. Sometimes, people with poor credit don't have much of a choice, unfortunately."

3. "This Is the Finance Rate the Bank Came Back With"

As you may know, dealers can make a percentage of a vehicle's interest rate if they can mark it up. One of the easiest ways to mark up interest rates is to bring a customer into the finance office, ask them a series of probing questions about their credit report, make a show of submitting something to "the bank," then showing them a piece of paper and saying, essentially, "this is what the bank came back with."

Another dirty trick, of course, but it works.

"The customer assumes that whatever you're showing them is the actual interest rate they qualified for, not realizing that the dealership has marked the interest rate up 2% to 3%" Lancaster explains. "This is done all the time. Even at nice dealerships. Even today."

How to Avoid This Trick

The best way to avoid this trap? Join a credit union and ask them for pre-approval on a vehicle loan. Credit unions almost always offer excellent finance rates. From personal experience, I can tell you that my husband has done this in the past, and it's always resulted in a smoother negotiation. Lancaster echoes that sentiment and offers an additional tip: "If you can't join a credit union, I'd go online and see what you can do to secure a loan from one of the lenders that partner with Edmunds.com, Cars.com, etc."

4. Failing to Disclose Damage

Prior damage to a vehicle will almost certainly play a part in your decision to buy a particular used car. But how do you know what that car has endured? Unfortunately there's no easy way to find this out — and it's not entirely the fault of the salesman or dealer.

"Depending on the damage and the state you live in," Lancaster says, "dealers may not be under any legal obligation to disclose a vehicle's prior history. The vehicle could be a 'lemon' (manufacturer buy-back), it could have suffered damage while on the dealership's lot, it could have substantial body damage — and the dealership doesn't have to say a word about it.

"While a CARFAX report can help, CARFAX reports are often incomplete. I've seen CARFAX reports that are missing considerable information, to the point where it makes me doubt the quality of their service. In any case, dealers will lie about damage or problems because they're under no obligation to tell the truth, and the consumer can't prove the dealership lied after the fact."

How to Avoid This Trick

So what can you do to at least try to get the most up-to-date, complete, and accurate information about the vehicle? The answer here isn't the most appealing, but it's sort of a better-safe-than-sorry situation.

"The best way to protect yourself is to pay for an independent vehicle inspection and buy a CARFAX or AutoCheck report," advises Lancaster. "A good inspector can usually spot a vehicle with undisclosed damage, and CARFAX/Autocheck reports are usually good about indicating if a car is a manufacturer buy-back (AKA someone else's lemon)."

If you choose to go this route, there are mobile used car inspection services in most medium-sized cities. If you live in a small town, you can take your car to the nearest independent mechanic and ask them to look it over.

How to Beat a Used Car Salesman

In addition to revealing these trickster tactics, Lancaster also has advice for car buyers, so you can walk into the dealership knowledgeable and (hopefully) maintain the upper hand.

Buy From a Reputable Franchise

Buy from a franchised new car dealership, as most of these "tricks" won't fly. New car dealers are carefully monitored by state authorities and the automakers they represent, so they're very careful.

Get It Inspected

Have whatever it is you're buying professionally inspected. It costs $100 to $150, and it's worth every penny.

Secure Financing First

Arrange financing at the local credit union then ask the dealer if they can beat that rate. Outside of a credit union, most of the larger banks have some sort of auto finance program, and most of the popular car sites have a partnership with finance companies.

Have you ever scored a great deal on a used car from a dealership? How did you do it? Please share in comments!

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Guest

The article advises consumers to do business with a "reputable franchise" as one of the tips to buying a car. Yet the author uses a man named "Jason Lancaster" as its source who worked at an "upstanding dealership". Supposedly these techniques are not used at upstanding dealerships!

Also, I have bought many new cars in my life and I have never seen a serious buyer exposed to "the scream". There are many people who simply go to dealerships and ask for a rediculous price then leave when they are told that deal doesn't exist or that car is not available. You'd have to be pretty gullible to come back and believe that that the car is now available at your price. And then, why would you pay more for it when you can get it elsewhere?

I just don't think this article was very revealing. The car buying experience today, for most buyers who have pre-arranged financing, is a stress-free experience. The internet has provided educational tools for the buyer, and car buying services can do most of the up front negotiating and the purchase.

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buzz26

Car is a luxury item for traveling. The main advantage is it gives more pleasure with full comfort. There are many cars in the market according to customer wants, their needs. There are some car sales men who deals with cars on behalf of the concerned car company. The article says the sales men are very smart & talkative at the time of car dealing. They work for the company on commission basis. They don't think about the customers. Their main motive is to sell car & get commission. Some sellers do cheat the customer by saying false thing about cars.

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Guest

Hello,

I just wanted to post my most recent experience. I apologize for the length but feel the need to be extremely descriptive. I hope this serves to help others.

I have been searching for a new (used) car for almost two months with nothing to show for it. I've spent a couple hundred dollars having various vehicles inspected only to be disappointed (though I recognize in the long run that I'm better off getting this third party inspection). The first car that I found that I liked enough to purchase was located in NY but the dealership is part of an auto group with a branch 30 min away from me. I contacted their customer service and asked about having the car xfered for inspection/purchase. I was instructed to visit my local branch. There I was told that I needed to put down a 500 dollar deposit to hold and transfer the vehicle. After assuring that I had written documentation that my deposit was fully refundable dependent on inspection, I happily obliged. I was told to expect the car in three days. I called the dealership in 3 days time to verify the cars arrival. They told me it was not there yet, that it would be there tomorrow. Ten minutes later I receive a phone call from a different salesperson who informs me that SOMEONE ELSE has placed a hold on the car and if that person chooses not to buy it, they will have the car xfered to me. The call then "disconnects" (??) and when I tried to call back for an explanation I was put on hold for 3 min and again the call "disconnected." At that point it was late so I decided to go to the dealership in person the following day. Upon my arrival I immediately tell them that I wanted my deposit back and that I'd like an explanation of how a car with a hold/deposit down on it could have possibly been reserved by SOMEONE ELSE. At that point the salesman admits that it was put on hold for an EMPLOYEE for purchase at the other branch. I reiterate that I want my deposit refunded. Im left alone to wait for nearly 30 minutes. They come back and explain that they couldn't find my receipt. Not to worry, I had all of my proof and documentation. They then FINALLY refunded me.

I took that deposit and immediately went to another dealership. I found a comparable vehicle that I liked and informed the salesman that I would like to buy and am capable of buying at any point if the car/price is right but that I am not desperate to purchase. I take a quick look at a jeep, snap some pictures, talk some specs, and tell him ill return tomorrow. I return the next day and take the car for a test drive and place a deposit down on the vehicle and arrange for my mechanic to inspect it. The earliest he could squeeze me in was in 3 days on Saturday morning. The salesman had no issue with that. He then introduces me to another employee who I didn't realize at first was the F&I manager. Suddenly I find myself sitting in front of this guy who's talking to me about interest rates and financing. I tell him I don't want to talk about financing before I've even had the vehicle inspected. I do let him know that regardless I have outside financing but at this point this whole conversation is moot because I haven't gotten the okay from my mechanic yet and haven't even had a chance to talk numbers with the salesman. (Am I wrong here? Seriously why would I hand over my SSN to someone for a car I'm not sure is good to buy??? and why would I talk financing when I haven't even discussed sales price???) At this point though, everyone was polite and I left.

This morning (Saturday) I go to the dealership as arranged at 8:30 am to pick up the car for inspection. My mechanic finds a couple of problems but overall found it to be in good condition. He made a couple of notes and provided an estimate of the cost of repairs- nothing super major. He gave the okay to purchase. I return to the dealership and was asked how the inspection went. I let them know it went well but that my mechanic did find a couple of little issues. The salesman asks to make a copy of my inspection report and says they are going to have their mechanics go over everything. I agree to come back in a couple of hours. When I do, I am made to wait for 30 min. Then the General Manager sits down with me and goes over the mechanic notes and the corrections they made. I let them know everything sounds good and tell him I'd like to speak with the salesman I was working with to try to work out a price. Again I am made to wait. Suddenly the F&I manager comes in and sits down NEXT TO ME at the desk so close so that I actually got up and pulled my chair away from him. The salesman comes in and sits immediately across from me. I was literally backed into a corner. My salesman who until this point had been extremely personable and friendly and accommodating was surprisingly silent. He literally said nothing. The F&I manager, however, proceeded to for lack of better words, violate me. He puts down a sheet of paper with numbers and interest rates and charges and I ask him politely to take things one at a time. I told him I wanted to focus on the bottom line car purchase amount to start. He tells me there is ZERO room for negotiation in the asking price. Needless to say I was surprised but I simply responded by asking him to please explain to me how he came to his valuation of the vehicle. He tells me he pulled a variety of sources. I ask again which ones. He does not give me an answer. At that point I pull out from my folder valuations from Black book, Clear book, Edmunds, and the KBB valuation that the salesman had given me originally (which I knew was inflated). I had the car fax which had an accident reported on it (My mechanic checked everything and found no structural damage and everything was repaired correctly, however I do know that an accident diminishes the value of a vehicle.) I put all of my research in front of the F&I guy and tell him that while I recognize that he needs to make a profit, I am fully aware of the fact that the valuation they placed on the vehicle is highly inflated. I asked him to please justify that valuation. At that point he became increasingly more aggressive. He began speaking loudly and very quickly, gesticulating with his hands in a very aggressive manner. He tells me he paid 9000 on trade in for the car and put 800 of work and then marked it up by over a grand. Again I asked him to justify his 9000 valuation on the trade-in which was significantly higher than the Black Book. He tells me he gave a customer 9000 because they were buying a 25000 car. He then says that I wasted their time and that if money had been a concern I should have spoken to them about it days ago. I repeat that I did not see the point in negotiating a price before my mechanic gave the okay on the vehicle but that I have been very prompt with them and have not been leading them on. I tell him again that I am ready to purchase the vehicle but I want to pay for a fair valuation. He tells me that not only did I waste his time but I wasted my money on a mechanic (because the car is in perfect condition he claims) and that I wasted his money because he needed to have his mechanics reinspect it. I tell him that thats not really a concern of mine. I am entitled to have a third party mechanic inspect it and if their team needs to go back in and fix a few things then that charge is his to eat (NOT MY FAULT).

At that point though Im already feeling incredibly pressured. Not only do they literally have me backed into a corner, flanked on either side in close proximity by larger, older men, but, one is raising his voice at me accusing me of costing him money while the other is sitting silently in front of me nodding along. Then the F&I manager starts presenting me with some APRs and monthly payments. Again, he was speaking so fast I was having trouble following along but I do catch that he's talking about a significantly longer term than I had intended. I remind him I had outside financing but he says he knows he can beat their rate because he has a special relationship with this lender. I ask him which lender, but he will not tell me. I ask him how he can even offer me such low interest rates without running my credit, he says its based on the car not on my credit. I ask why a lender would loan blindly based on the car rather than credit.. Im then told its an estimate dependent on approval and the APRs may be higher in the end. By that point I had three different sheets filled with APRs and term lengths and monthly payments etc etc etc with notes scribbled all over them. I became so overwhelmed. I asked them to please give me some space to think. The F&I manager told me I needed to make a decision because they wanted to put the car back out on the lot. I took some space and it was like the veil dropped. I was able to catch my breath and I realized exactly what was happening. I realized that even though I prepared myself and educated myself, they were still trying to strong arm me and manipulate me. I go back in and my original salesman sits down with me and tries to make small talk about the weather. NOW he has something to say but when I was getting verbally berated by the F&I manager he was mute. I tell him that Im sorry if he feels that I have waisted his time but that I am happy to buy right now on the spot if I can wrap my head around the numbers but unfortunately the numbers aren't adding up to me. He asks me which numbers Im having a problem with. I tell him a. the asking price, again because of the inflated valuation. b. the high fees (one of which was just abbreviated) and c. the financing.

Specific to the fees, I tell him that Im astounded at their 500 doc fee and that while I know CT doesn't place a cap on documentation fees, they are charging far higher than the state average (by nearly 200 dollars). Then I ask him to explain this mystery abbreviated fee. He said that fee is for safety inspection and getting the car ready for sale. I asked him to please show me an invoice or an itemization of the costs of the safety inspection and car preps that would amount to the hundreds of dollars they were charging. He said he could not. If I hadn't known already that they weren't being transparent I was painfully aware of it then. I just felt really sad and disappointed because I had allowed myself to think that the salesman WANTED to sell me the car and badly as I WANTED to buy it.

Finally I told him straight up that all of these tactics may work with other buyers but Im an educated consumer. He admitted that he realized that the moment he saw me walk in with a folder in my hands that day (maybe that explains the sudden shift in treatment and disposition). I tell him first of all that I am fully aware of the value and condition of the vehicle. Secondly, I will not pay undocumented, frivolous fees. (He offered to get rid of the random abbreviated fee- too little too late). Lastly I tell him I know exactly how dealer financing works. I told him that Im fully aware of the fact that they arrange lower APRs with lenders and then collect a FINANCE RESERVE on a low interest rate by raising it by X number of percentage points before I sign off on it. I told him that even if he could beat my rate, I wasn't going to fall for that because they'd still be making a lot of money on the inflated value and on the back end financing. I tell him I'm disappointed but that I am not emotionally invested in the car and am going to choose to walk away. I asked him to return my deposit, which he did without issue. He tells me to let him know if I find something else on their website that appeals to me. I tell him to give me a call if he decides he's actually willing to be fair and negotiate (I'm not expecting a call).

Best part is, I walk out of the dealership and my car was BLOCKED IN by one of the dealer cars. UM WHY???? There were parking spots just a couple of spots away, it was by no means over crowded in the lot. Explain to my why they parked a dealer car immediately perpendicular to my car. I had to wait another 10 minutes for someone to move the car out of my way.

What upsets me is that I was NEVER given an opportunity to negotiate. I was by no means trying to be difficult. All I asked of them was to explain their numbers. I was happy to buy IF the numbers made sense to me. I didn't have a limit necessarily but Im smarter than to allow myself to knowingly walk out upside down on a loan by financing more than the car is worth. I feel its important for me to note that I was prepared to put 5000 cash as a down payment (no trade in). I have good credit and a steady job working for the only free standing children's medical center in the state of Connecticut. I am incredibly educated and simply enough able to do my research before signing my name to anything! Mama didn't raise no fool! However, I feel truly that I was treated the way I was because I am young (early 20s) and female and attempting to make a purchase on my own. Would I have been treated that way had I been a man? Who's to say. All I know is I left there feeling so incredibly violated and broken down. I felt not only misled by the salesman but bulled by F&I. The worst of it is that for a moment there I almost gave in and consented the numbers. I started to doubt myself and question whether or not I was being difficult. I felt guilty for waisting their time! I nearly gave in just to make them ease off of me. THANK GOODNESS I had prepared enough to eventually recognize what was happening and to walk away. I hope others can learn from my experiences. Unfortunately, I still have no car and am out hundreds in mechanics fees (over these last few months of car shopping) but I saved myself thousands in interest and suspicious charges by walking away from this deal. These dealerships I visited were no mom and pop shops or buy here/pay here corner lots. I was worked over by "reputable" big name dealerships! Needless to say I am not looking forward to my next dealer negotiation. Im thinking I should just buy a bus pass!

This is my first purchase and I am open to constructive criticism. If I am being difficult please tell me so. I just genuinely felt that I was being fair and hoping for transparency. Maybe thats the problem?