Our Visitor's Savings: $13,250,372

Dos and Don'ts at the Car Dealership

Last Modified: March 06, 2015 by Jeff Ostroff | Originally Published February 26, 2000

Before heading out to a car dealership there are some important things you should know. Once you get there, you'll be excited and your adrenaline will be pumping as you are surrounded by rows of the hottest new cars. You should prepare yourself in advance so that you'll be able to look past all the distractions and focus on what is really important.

Having all of your ducks in a row will make your hunt for a good deal much easier. The salesman wants you to be distracted and unprepared so that you'll be primed for their tricks. Start by gathering all of the items I recommend to bring with you.

"The Folder": Information You Need Before Entering the Dealership

Shopping Around For Cars and Test Driving

As you enter the dealership, remember your goal. Get pricing and option information from the MSRP sticker, find out what options your car is supplied with. Write down all the option packages, you'll need this information later to form your offer.

car dealership sign

Their goal is to keep you from leaving without buying. They don't want you to go elsewhere to comparison shop. While shopping around, inform the salesperson you are definitely not buying today, no matter what. The better salesman know not to pressure you, if you want the car, you'll be back. Just say No, unless you are ready. Here are some examples of things they will say to keep you from leaving:

Tell Them "Even if it was free, I wouldn't buy today, I'm weighing all my options."

Never Buy the First Time You go to the Dealership

Save with TrueCar Pricing

Take the Hassle out of the
Car Buying Experience!

ZIP Code:

It is extremely important to follow this advice if you are negotiating in person. Once you sign the contract for your new car, it's nearly impossible to get out of the deal. Find your lowest deal before you sign, not after. Don't take the word of a salesman that other places can't match their price. Every time I've heard that, I have proven them wrong. Make sure they see "The Folder" with research and quotes. Show them you did your homework and you know how to get the best deal possible. Once they know they can't trick you, business will be conducted on your terms. Make sure The Folder has invoice pricing of all the options on your car, printed out from our car pricing section.

Don't Buy a Car Without an MSRP Window Sticker

new car window sticker

Every new car is required by law to have the factory MSRP sticker on the window. Only the buyer is allowed to remove it. If it's missing, report it to the Attorney General's office. One man in Ft. Lauderdale bought a car with no MSRP sticker so he couldn't verify options on the car, taking the dealer's word for it. He paid $1,500 for ABS brakes that weren't on the car. When he confronted the dealer, they told him verbal contracts are unenforceable and refused to deal with him. Moral of the story: Never buy a car without an MSRP sticker.

Top Recommended Car Price Quote Sites

TrueCar takes the haggle and hassle out of new car buying. Using their service you will get a Guaranteed Savings Certificate that will lock your price. This approach is perfect if you don't like dealing with all the normal negotiating hassles.
Get a Hassle Free Price from TrueCar.com

Edmunds.com offers the largest dealer network, offering you better choices when buying a car. Edmunds allows you to select dealers within 50 miles of your zip code and avoid dealers that you don't want to deal with.
Get A Free Price Quote From Edmunds.com

Cars.com gives you free, no-obligation quotes from up to 3 dealers. Just select your make, model, color and options. Getting quotes from multiple dealers pressures dealers to give you a discount.
Get a Quote from Cars.com

CarClearanceDeals.com searches clearance pricing from their network of dealers to get you the cheapest price. Use their simple form to select the make and model and start saving. Remember to get quotes from the maximum number of dealers to give you the upper hand.
Get a Quote from CarClearanceDeals.com

CarsDirect.com lists your purchase price online instantly with better prices than dealers and cool 360° views. As you check off options, the screen shows invoice price, MSRP and your low CarsDirect price.
Get A Free Price Quote From CarsDirect

The CarBuyingTips.com Car Buying Service lets you get a guaranteed price quote without leaving your house. This exclusive program leverages volume buying power of large companies, employers and membership groups to get you a low price on a new car.
Get Started with the CarBuyingTips.com Car Buying Service

Autobytel has 20,000 dealers, they give you free no hassle low price quotes, list car prices and dealer cost.
Get a Quote From Autobytel

Click Here for More Detailed Reviews

Take the Test Drive, Remain Silent

During the test drive they want as much information out of you as possible. Anything you say will be used against you. They want to know what monthly payment can you afford and they want your trade-in. Tell them nothing. They are conditioning you as a payment buyer. They determine what payment you are happy with, shielding you from the selling price. Tell them you don't deal that way, you negotiate based on price, not monthly payments. Test drive on a hot sunny day to test the AC. Is it cold? Does cool air reach back seat? Always inspect the car in daylight, not in the dark, for any nicks or dents. Inspect the paint and make sure it's in good condition. Take a picture of the pricing and package/option information from the manufacturer's sticker so you can look up dealer cost including the options. Ignore the dealer's sticker. Get the sales person's card, thank them and tell them you'll be back. Don't let them try to sell you at this time, as you are unprepared and they know it. If they try to create a sense of urgency for you to buy today, ignore it. The "urgency" is for them to sell and not let you walk out of there.

car dealership

Salespeople need your Euphoria! During the test drive don't act excited. They'll say "Isn't this great"? feeding the euphoria and they have you hooked. All you want to do is get the pricing info. If they turn on the radio, turn it back off. You want no distractions, while listening for strange vibrations or rattles. Music from the radio may get you in a partying mood, which you don't want. Act flighty and indecisive, unimpressed, go back and forth between liking sport and sedan. They can't figure you out, and they don't have you in a spell. Whoever is asking the questions controls the conversation, so you ask all the questions. Everything they say is false until you see it in writing.

Jeff's Car Buying Physics Rule #5:

If they don't put it in writing, it means they won't do it.

Sales Tactics You Will Likely Encounter

"Please forgive me, I'm new at this. I've only been selling cars a few weeks." I've heard this every single time. This makes you lower your guard. The salesman knows you'll be at ease, thinking you can out smart him. But start to negotiate, he becomes Donald Trump. If your salesman turns out to be a woman, don't underestimate her. Some men wrongly think they can outsmart any woman. As they bask in their ego, she's out maneuvering them.

"Sure, Jeff, I'll give you floor mats. The parts department is closed, so stop by Monday and I'll have them." We showed up on Monday, and guess what? Mr. Liar doesn't work Mondays! They refused to give us the mats and Mr. Liar dodged our subsequent calls. If they promise you anything, no matter how sincerely, make them put it in writing. "We'll be back to buy the car when you have the floor mats."

"Gee, I don't know what that fee is for, we've always charged it." If they claim they don't know what a specific fee is for, they are lying and you should leave immediately. They just don't have the guts to look you in the eye and tell you it's a bogus fee. If the sales manager gives some obscure story that it's to help offset the cost of giving you discounts, do yourself a favor and leave to offset your cost of lining their wallet.

Don't give them your Drivers License or Social Security number!

"Dave has your license, he went out to lunch. In the meantime, what can we do to make you sign?"

Don't be held hostage! Many new car dealers photocopy your license before a test drive. Tell them there is no reason to. They'll say insurance requires it. Some dealers copy your license "in case you rob the salesman." Other dealers copy your license to run unauthorized credit checks during your test drive. Make copies of your license beforehand and when they ask for your license, hand them the copy and get it back when you leave. Write on the copy the dealer may not run a credit check on you. Many dealers are honest and will photocopy your license on a copier at the front desk and give it right back. But some, while you're out on the test drive, run a credit check on you. Don't give personal info until you have signed the buyer's order and are doing dealer financing. How can you tell if they ran a credit check on you? Get your report online from one of the big three credit bureaus. You can run your own credit report as often as you like and it will not lower your credit score.

Credit Bureaus:

  • CreditReport.com - Owned by the Experian credit bureau.
    • You get your 3 credit reports
    • 3 scores by Experian instantly online
    • With enrollment in CreditReport.com
  • TransUnion - One of the big three credit bureaus.

Rude Things You Should Never Do

Your Deposits and Down Payment

Don't pay cash for a deposit on a car! If the transaction goes bad, you'll never get your money back, but you can dispute a credit card charge. You may need a new, clean credit card to handle deposits, and purchases, don't pay cash. What if you can't get credit at all and keep getting rejected? Don't keep applying to credit cards, get rejected, and your credit history damaged even further, find out who will approve you before you apply. They find at least 2 credit cards guaranteed to issue an unsecured credit card to you. If your credit is so bad and If you're in too deep, maybe now is not the time to buy a car.

Now it's time to find out what the dealer really paid for your car in the pressure free comfort of your home.

Chapter 4: Determine the dealer's cost, make your buyer's offer >