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Advice to Be a Better Car Shopper

Updated on June 12, 2019
Stephen P Signorelli profile image

Stephen has spent most of his life in sales and has extensive knowledge of the car sales industry.

This process CAN be easy if you just prepare!

Buying a new or used car is a harrowing experience for many people. Many times, people will put off buying a new vehicle out of sheer dread of going to a dealership and waging a 4 hour battle with salespeople and management in order to make a deal. For some, it is the equivalent of getting a root canal.

But, there are things you can do to make the process easy, stress free, and fast. In this article I will explain some ways you can make this experience much much easier.


It says here I am a good boy.
It says here I am a good boy.

Step 1: Do your homework!

The worst thing you can do, as a consumer, is to just walk into a dealership unprepared. Salesman can smell the blood in the water like a Megalodon and they WILL eat you alive. An educated customer is a car salesman's worst nightmare. I actually preferred these types of customers because it made my job easier, and being an honest person it was just a better all around experience. What you need to do is prepare, do your homework.

Determine your trade in value before you walk onto the lot!


This can be done easily in 2 ways: Kelly Blue Book and Cars.com.

On Kelly Blue Book you can input your vehicles specs and answer a few questions and it will show you a range of prices, depending on a number of factors like trim level, mileage, and so on. BE HONEST! If your trade in has dents or faded paint do NOT enter in "Great condition", this will only skewer your results.

On Cars.com you can do an area search for cars that are exactly like yours, right down to the trim level, mileage, and color. Simply search for your exact car or similar vehicle within 2 to 3 years difference and then search for it within 200 miles of your zip code. This will show you what dealerships are selling your exact car or very similar car in your area. You can estimate what your trade in is worth based on this. For example:

If your car is selling for 18500 average within 200 miles, the dealership will probably offer you anywhere between 11-15 thousand for it. Used cars are way more profitable than new cars, and this is where dealerships make their money.

Know your beacon score!

Your beacon score determines what finance rate the banks will give you. As of this writing, the average for someone with 700+ is between 3.89 to 4.00 APR. Knowing your score ahead of time will give you a better idea of where your payments may land.

Know your payoff, if any!


If you still owe on your trade, know your exact payoff before you go into the dealership. Call your finance company and get a ten day payoff with your daily per diem. Knowing your payoff and the estimated trade in value of your car will help you a LOT, especially if you are in negative equity. If your trade is worth 10 thousand and your payoff is 12 thousand, the extra two thousand will be added to whatever your finance for your new vehicle. Knowing these amounts will help you determine what YOU can afford, not what the dealership WANTS TO SELL YOU!



captured by security cameras at dealership lot
captured by security cameras at dealership lot

Arriving at the dealship lot (once more unto the breach!)

So you are armed and ready with all your prep work. You have all your numbers and you have steeled yourself for the experience. Congratulations! By doing your homework you are now coming in better educated and more prepared than 98% of new car buyers!

So you arrive at the lot, get out of your car and YOU ARE SWARMED BY SALESPEOPLE WHO SEEMINGLY HAVE APPEARED OUT OF THIN AIR!!! OMG ITS LIKE THE HOTEL SCENARIO IN LEFT FOR DEAD!

Relax. Take a deep breath and repeat after me:

"I am will be looking for a while and when I need someone I will come get you, thanks!"

Now, here is the thing: they will need to hear this multiple times. Not because they are necessarily just pushy (though some of them will be) but because inside the dealership is a person called the CSR (we called him the Desk Manager) and his/her job is to refuse to believe that anyone who comes on a car lot is JUST looking and that you WILL be buying a car today and if the salesperson leaves you alone they are NOT doing their job.

See, this is something customers do not see. Car salesmen are often under a lot of pressure from the managers inside, who watch their every move when they are on the lot with a customer. These managers firmly believe that the only reason you are here is to buy RIGHT THEN AND THERE and if you do not, it is the salesman's fault. So cut the salesperson a little slack. Smile, say again:

"I am will be looking for a while and when I need someone I will come get you, thanks!"

Take the salesman's card so he/she knows you WILL come talk to them specifically, this is important because usually the salespeople work on a rotating basis for customers on the lot. Take your time looking around and if you are continuously approached politely but firmly tell them:

"I am just looking at the moment and I do not need nor do I want to be approached, I will come get you when I am ready."

Remember, YOU are in control and it is the mindset of the dealership that THEY be in control, so you have to stand firm.


Actual photograph of inside a Kia dealership
Actual photograph of inside a Kia dealership | Source

Inside the dealership and holding your cards close.

So you have wandered around the lot, fended off over-eager salesmen, and now it is time to go inside the dealership for the real fun. But hey, you did your homework, you know all your numbers, YOU have the advantage! Search out the salesperson whose card you have, sit at their desk and smile, because this is about to get real.

REMEMBER THE GOAL OF THE DEALERSHIP IS NOT TO SELL YOU A CAR, THE GOAL IS TO SEPERATE YOU FROM AS MUCH MONEY AS POSSIBLE


If you can remember that above statement, you will come out ahead, trust me on this. So these are some of the things the salesman will throw at you or do:

"So are we trading anything in?"

"Are you putting any money down?"

"Will you be financing?"

"Do you wish to lease?"

The answers to these questions should be No, I don't know, maybe, NO.

NEVER TELL A SALESMAN YOU HAVE A TRADE UNTIL AFTER HE GIVES YOU A FINAL WRITTEN PRICE.

Tell the salesperson you saw a car on the lot you would like to take for a test drive. Do not surrender any other information. They will make a copy of your drivers license, get a dealer plate, and off you go. DO NOT LET THEM HOLD YOUR LICENSE! Also, this is the time that the salesperson will ask if you are trading in a car. The idea behind this is so the CSR can go over every little flaw on your vehicle as you are in the new one AND they will hold your keys, basically holding your car hostage. DO NOT GIVE THEM YOUR KEYS AND DO NOT TELL THEM YOU ARE DOING A TRADE!

Take your test drive, drive for at least 15 minutes. Test the braking, handling, acceleration etc etc. Switch drivers if you are with someone who will also be driving the vehicle. Let the salesperson talk, usually they are grateful to get out of the dealership and on the road. Park somewhere and test out the backseats, pop the hood, the trunk, look under the vehicle. Do NOT do this at the lot! Just trust me on this, do it somewhere else.

And trust me on this one, blast the stereo system. Try any extras like OnStar it may come equipped with.

Once you are satisfied, head back to the dealership and head back inside.


Quick quiz to test your readiness

view quiz statistics
Wait, we have to PAY FOR THE AIR IN THE TIRES!?!?!?!?
Wait, we have to PAY FOR THE AIR IN THE TIRES!?!?!?!?

Be firm and straight to the point!

You are at the sales person's desk. You like the vehicle. In your mind, you know you are going to buy it. This is where it usually all falls apart for most people. Car salesman are experts at separating you from as much money as possible. Stay focused, stay firm, and remember..."NO" is your best defense against anything he/she throws at you.

First, politely but firmly tell the salesperson you want to see the invoice on the vehicle. the ACTUAL invoice NOT a photocopy, and you want to see it still bound in the book. The reason for THAT is on the occasions when a smart customer asks to see the invoice, they will pull out page 2 so you don't see the pricing. DO NOT FALL FOR IT!

There is no legal reason for them to refuse to show you the book. If they hesitate or try to come up with an excuse, Say "Ok then, we can't do business, thank you for your time" and start to get up and walk out. They will NOT let you get to the front door, they WILL bring you the book.

Once you have it the only price you need to look for is something called "Supplier pricing". This is the second lowest price you can have, the absolute lowest is reserved for employees or retirees of the auto manufacturer itself.

Point to the "supplier price" and say: "I will pay this price." They CANNOT refuse you. Do not let them tell you they cannot do that price, it is a violation of their franchise agreement with whatever auto maker they represent.

Once you get that price inform them you will NOT be paying for anything like argon inflated tires, pin striping, undercoating, or any other dealer added nonsense. The ONLY extras should be whatever sales tax you may have to pay, any tag or title work, and a dealer fee, which should never EVER be more than $799. If it is, say "I am not paying a high dealer fee like that. Thank you, goodbye."

Believe me, they will once again not let you leave.



I got $9500 for this trade at the local Kia dealership!
I got $9500 for this trade at the local Kia dealership!

Hold onto your money!

At this point,ask the salesperson to get you an out the door price. Ask them to present you with payments ranging from 60 to 75 months with down payments from 0 to $4000. The payments you will be presented are on an assumed credit score of between 670 to 720. Anything lower than a 670 score usually gets you a higher interest rate. Once he has presented you with this paper look it over and decide which, if any, of the payment options work for you.

NOW IS THE TIME YOU TELL THEM YOU ARE TRADING THAT OLD 1997 MERCURY GRAND MARQUIS YOU DRIVE ONTO THE LOT IN.

There is a reason you refused to talk about the trade. It is because a dealership will structure the deal around low balling you for your trade, because dealerships make far far more profit in used cars than new ones, especially now that you cornered them into giving you supplier pricing. Now hand the keys to the salesperson and watch him go to the CSR and tell him/her you DO have a trade in. The CSR will suddenly realize what you just did and that they are dealing with NO fool.

If your trade is a piece of junk then take whatever they offer you. Anything with over 60,000 miles is going to have a lower value no matter what it is.

Remember, there is a built in 10-15% mark up in effect here, which means if they offer you $10k for your trade they will probably sell it for $11 to $13k.

Remember if you have negative equity, that WILL be built into the amount you will be financing!

In with the finance manager!

You agreed to the price, you agreed to the trade, you signed the buyer's order, you had some coffee and donuts and watch them haul your 1985 Yugo with 245k miles on it. The salesperson comes to you and says: "Your new vehicle is gassed up and is being washed, time to talk to the financial manager".

Believe it or not, this is the part where most people feel they get ripped off or get stressed, but in reality its the most honest aspect of the business and the easiest. It is because numbers DO NOT LIE. The finance manager will present you with numbers, pure and simple, and numbers are truthful. You will sign a lot of legal papers for the banks, the state, and the dealership. Finance managers are usually the funniest people in the dealership because they know folks see this as the most stressful part, so they try and make it as pleasant as possible.

The finance manager is the one who will present the case for an extended warrenty to you. Take my advice: GET IT.

New cars come with great warranties already, and a lot of used cars come certified or can get certified. But trust me on this, get whatever extended warranty you can get. The amount of coverage they have is extensive and usually involves courtesy vehicle usage, transport, roadside help and so on. They don't cost much compared to ONE major repair bill, so they make sense. And they come with on other hidden benefit: No one will admit it, but if the dealership or service sees you have an extended warranty, you WILL get preferential treatment. It's an unspoken thing, but it is true.



Honey I bought a Matador!!!
Honey I bought a Matador!!!

Enjoy it and take care of it!

Keep it under 100 mph the first 200 miles or so.

Change the oil every 3 to 4 thousand miles like clockwork.

USE SYNTHETIC OIL!

Do not drive like you are living in Mad Max Fury Road!

DO NOT SMOKE IN YOUR CAR!

Treat your vehicle right and it will not let you down. Keep it clean and mechanically sound and when it IS time to trade it in, you will get a better price for it.

Most of all, ENJOY IT. Some of my fondest memories are rides down to the seashore in NJ with my parents in our Honda Accord, just to get out of the house and sit by the water. Take rides, just go drive somewhere. get lost and explore. Life is too short, enjoy the ride.

Thanks for reading! Comments welcomed.

btw I know some car salesmen will come here and trash this article because I gave away "secrets" and whatnot. Anything abusive will not be published.



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