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34 Secret Car-Buying Tips Your Dealer Won’t Tell You

Updated: Feb. 16, 2023

Find out how to get the most value out of your purchase by side-stepping these common car dealer practices.

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istock/Bartek Tomczyk

That car we advertised at the unbelievable price?

It’s a stripped-down model with a manual transmission, no air-conditioning, and crank windows. But we got you in, didn’t we? By the way, here are some ways you’re completely wasting money on your car.

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The best time to buy is at the end of the month

and it’s best to negotiate the trade-in separately. Negotiate up from the invoice price (what we paid for the car, easy to find on the Web), not down from the sticker price.

Psst! These staff picks of unforgettable car stories are a must-read.

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Everybody believes his trade-in is worth more

You’ve got bald tires, chicken bones under the seats, and dust blowing from the vents, but you’re going to tell me your car is in “excellent” condition? Now who’s the pushy salesperson? Here are some things your car mechanic won’t ever tell you.

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Here’s how to get a great price with minimal haggling

Call and ask for the Internet manager or fleet manager.

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This is what happens once I’m sitting behind the desk

You’ll feel like I’m in control and may be willing to pay a little more. (We learn this during training.) Before you buy a car, here are the brands with the most and the fewest recalls.

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Ever wonder about those ads that promise a minimum $3,000 trade-in value for your clunker?

Those dealerships also pad the sales price to make up for the difference.

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Never pay the VIN-etch fee

It’s a $250 optional add-on that’s almost pure profit for us. At least you’ll be saving money in the long run by buying instead of renting. Here are the 11 other things car dealers won’t tell you about leasing.

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iStock/Serhiy Divin

Every spring we have guys who show up and say they’re interested in one of our trucks and want to give it a spin

They think we don’t see the mulch on the floor when they bring it back.

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Notice how many times we go back and forth to our manager?

The loud music, the gongs, and the blaring flat-screen TVs? All are distractions designed to help you lose track of what we’re doing with the deal. Speaking of distracting, make sure you’re not doing these 13 things in your car that could be distracting and dangerous.

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Be careful during your test drive

Plenty of cars get stolen at gunpoint or knifepoint on test-drives.

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iStock/Catherine Lane

We’re making less money on the car than you think

Our profit margin is typically 2 to 4 percent.

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We all get our cars from the same place at roughly the same price

So if one dealer is offering to sell it for $2,000 less, there’s probably a catch.

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If your auto credit score is under 600, expect to get an interest rate over 16 percent and to put 20 percent down

If your score is under 550, we may put a tracking device in your car that will shut it off if you don’t make a payment.

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Go in armed and educated

Study the pricing of the car you like and have your financing lined up. If you walk in with nothing, you’re not a customer, you’re a victim. Don’t be a victim when it comes to rental cars, either. Watch out for these 12 red flags you’re falling for a bad car rental.

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iStock/Vesna Andjic

An older woman who walks in without an appointment, alone, is typically someone we can make a lot of money on

She’s usually uncomfortable with the process and just wants to get it over with.

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iStock/Vesna Andjic

Attractive people sell more cars

I’ve seen some incredible deals go down because the only thing the customer was paying attention to was the salesman paying attention to her. Don’t be tricked by good looks or these 12 car myths you need to stop believing.

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When you bring in your friend or your father to negotiate for you, we call him “the quarterback”

Just know that he’s often as clueless about the process as you are.

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If you want to test drive a bunch of models or need a lot of information…

Don’t pull in on a weekend without an appointment. Come by on a Tuesday or Wednesday.

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Don’t believe all the stories you’ve heard about sleazy car dealers

Plenty of us are honest folks frustrated by the guys who give the rest of us a bad name.

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Once you’ve agreed on a price, you think you’re done, but we’re just getting started

Worn out and ready to go home, you sign document after document. Then you wake up the next day, look down, and you signed a contract that had a $1,995 extended warranty that isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. And you’re stuck.

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iStock/Catherine Lane

Forget the overall cost of the car. Let’s talk about what you want to pay each month

Then I can build in profit generators such as extended warranties and credit insurance, and you won’t even notice.

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Think you’ll get a good deal by coming in at closing time when I’m anxious to get home?

Think again. You should also think twice before you follow behind your friend while you’re driving. It’s more dangerous than you think.

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I’ll promise you just about anything to get you to sign on the dotted line

But if I don’t put it in writing, I may not remember the next day.

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You shouldn’t leave the dealership not knowing how to turn on the windshield wipers

Make us show you everything before you drive away. If you take cleaning your car seriously, don’t miss these 15 cleaning secrets only car detailers know.

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Banks almost never require you to buy a particular warranty or a particular add-on to get the loan

If the finance officer tells you otherwise, ask to speak to someone at the bank.

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iStock/Trevor Smith

Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, and NADA (National Automobile Dealers Association) all offer guides for car values

We’re the experts who do this every day and can evaluate what a 2008 Honda Accord EX is really worth in our market.

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You accuse us of being the biggest liars in the world, but we like to say “buyers are liars”

You tell us you’re looking for a car for a friend, that you’ve got to run to get to daycare, that you’ve got perfect credit. Right.

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If I ask “Are you here to buy?”

If this question comes up in the first 10 minutes, that’s not a good sign. It’s also not good to keep these 20 things in your car.

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Don’t expect retail for your trade in and wholesale for our car

We have to recondition your trade, advertise it, warranty it and pay interest on the amount we have in the car, then sell it for less than we want after it sits on the lot for months.

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iStock/Bulent Ince

You think I’m pushy?

I’ve had attractive young women raise their eyebrows at me and say, “I’ll do anything to get a better deal. Anything.” These magic words are less suggestive and could still help you get out of a speeding ticket.

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iStock/Niko Guido

Seven words I hate:

“I have to check with my wife (or husband).”

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Please do the math

You can’t get a $40,000 Tahoe for $250 a month for 72 months! Even at zero percent, $40,000 divided by 72 months is $555 before tax, title, and license fees. If you want a bargain, try to wait until the end of model year, usually in September or October, when we need to move cars off the lot.

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Sure, I’d be happy to tint your windows, apply rustproofing, or paint a pinstripe on your truck

But I’ll probably charge you two or three times the cost of doing it elsewhere. Keeping up with car maintenance is great and all, but it doesn’t mean anything goes in your vehicle. Make sure you’re avoiding these 10 dangerous, costly car mistakes.