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Watch out for car dealer sales tricks

  • Story Highlights
  • People can get emotionally attached to car through test drive, taking it overnight
  • Salesmen try to rush customers through to signing contract
  • "Manager" may be "sales buddy" who will split commission if you buy
  • Expert: Sell men on performance and power, sell women on safety
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By Craig Howie
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New Cars, Used Cars, Kelley Blue Book Values at AOL Autos

(AOL Autos) -- You have a dilemma. You really want a new car but you absolutely despise being taken into that small room with a car salesman and subjected to common sales tactics. You dread the manipulation, being brow-beaten and, heaven forbid, a hefty dose of gold-chain-laden charm.

A former car salesman says husband and wife buying teams are harder to sell to than one person.

A former car salesman says husband and wife buying teams are harder to sell to than one person.

You've tried to get personal recommendations of good car dealerships from friends to minimize that risk, but the car you want is only at one car dealer, which none of your friends know anything about. By definition, every person who walks through any new or used car dealership's door is a sales rep's potential paycheck. But how do you avoid the car dealer hitting your pocketbook for more than its due?

Your friendly new car dealer

Even the greenest of peas -- as new reps are referred to in the trade -- are given a personality test to determine the kind of seller they will be. Dominance and competitiveness are appealing traits. A chameleon-type personality is also useful. Many car dealerships will insist that fresh employees take a sales course, usually about a week long, where they learn their trade down to the introductory handshake: three firm pumps and eye contact.

Having invested in their training, new and used car dealership managers push their teams hard to deliver results. Some car dealers are accused of spying on their sales reps but, really, one look at the numbers is enough to differentiate a hard charger from a pushover. Which one do you think will get told to walk? (Car dealerships have notably high staff turnover rates.) AOL Autos: Best and worst resale value cars

A good car dealer is trained never to be rude, something the car dealership manager often insists upon. That doesn't, however, mean they can't manipulate you. Forget about placing your full trust in the car dealer from the get-go. Remember that while you may be at that moment the most important thing in the world to him, ultimately the rep answers to someone other than you. AOL Autos: Best deals of the month

Knowledge is power

Blogger Ryan Shamus worked as a car salesman in St. Louis for about a year but quit "due to the dishonesty and shady sales tactics that I saw take place day in and day out". He says that tactics vary widely. "When a single guy comes in, you focus solely on engine performance, power, how much of a lady magnet it is or how much mud you can sling with it," Shamus says. "With a lone female, you want to hit on the safety factors, options available, roominess, and how much fun it would be to haul 'the girls' around in it." AOL Autos: Best and worst new cars under $13K

He says that the husband and wife team can be difficult. "For younger married couples, most of the time you focus on any rebates and savings available, and it's worth mentioning a family type of vehicle for future plans. When a salesman is up against two people, it's always a bit more difficult because of the 'hero' factor. Whenever two people come in, one of them is usually designated the hero because their sole purpose is to try to beat the salesman." AOL Autos: Cars with 30 MPG for $300 a month

Husbands often try to play the hero role but, in Shamus's experience, most often the wife is the decision maker. In a dad-and-daughter combo, a car dealer knows that emphasizing safety is key, and that usually a younger driver is "automatically on the salesman's team because they are just as determined to drive off the lot in a new car as the salesman is." AOL Autos: Most popular crossover vehicles

Emotional response

Any car dealer should be very knowledgeable about the cars they sell but the successful ones use the information selectively. Michael Royce, of BeatTheCarSalesman.com, has sold several million dollars worth of American and import cars and trucks and received numerous dealership honors in Southern California. He says the customer's emotional state is key to the rep, and that most buyers get a thrill from driving a new car. Ergo, test drive.

Royce also says that special price or clearance sale stickers are like red flags -- or red capes -- to bulls. "The promise of a bargain price is designed to create a sense of urgency, the feeling that if you don't grab this special sale price right now, it will forever disappear. Lots of buyers fall for that."

Other tactics include allowing a customer to take home a car for the night, where they can see it in their driveway or garage. Again, this elicits an emotional response. Even a joke or shared chuckle does more than light up the car dealer's eyes. He knows he's got you on his side and the odds of a sale improve.

Advice? "Analytical buyers pay less for their new cars than emotionally-charged buyers," Royce says.

Pay attention

The well-informed buyer is the wisest, while customers who haven't done any research frequently get confused by the seemingly endless stream of complex information that comes with buying a car. Car dealers often work around a method which bounces profit potential from one transaction to another. If a customer is set on getting a good deal on their trade-in, a car dealer may then choose to concentrate on inflating monthly payments or the down-payment.

Car dealers are also not legally obliged to offer you the lowest interest rate you qualify for. Once a rep has run your details on the credit check they'll know your income, housing status and if or when you were late paying your rent or mortgage. Some new and used car dealerships obtain this information when the customer is taking a test drive, and the car dealer is already adding up just what price they think you'll pay.

And if you sign up for a higher rate than the car dealership pays back for the car, you've just gifted them some more. Often this difference lies in fractions of percents on your rate. Find out which rate you qualify for first.

Royce says a confused or inattentive buyer can also lead to "slamming." In this case, a car dealer may take charge and hurry them through every step: the test drive, into the office, the write-up, a quick negotiation, sign the papers and drive home. And then, a few days later, enter the infamous "buyer's remorse." Royce says that, unfortunately, this is more common than you might think.

But you, the smart buyer, have negotiated all these obstacles and just when you think you're winning in negotiations, you're introduced to a secondary sales rep that you are told is the car dealership manager. Surprise, he's just another sales buddy brought in when closure on the deal appeared to be slipping. Often the sales team will split commission in this scenario. And they both know that additional options are a car dealer's bread-and-butter, though the practice of "back-ending" a deal, or adding additional charges to option lists without the customer's knowledge, is illegal in many states.

Dedication to the customer

It's not all doom and gloom when you've got that feeling for a new car. Royce says, "If a salesperson is truly dedicated to customer service, then the customers will eventually buy from that salesperson."

For every crooked car dealer, there are probably just as many for whom you really do come first, because the smart ones worked out a long time ago that repeat business and personal recommendations are the key to successful selling. And remember that line that you used to escape the car dealership, that you had to pick up the kids or mother-in-law, and would be back the day after?

Potential buyers may be guilty of lying and manipulating, too!

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