Dealing With Dealers

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
dealing with dealers

Once a car salesman “data captures” you, the calls never stop. Some are rude. Some are sweet. All are pushy. The salesman’s goal: get the sale. Meet the quota (placate the Alpha Dog). Pay the bills (placate the Ex). In America’s cratered new car market, the chances of a car salesman making his nut are only slightly less than that of a squirrel in the Ice Age. Has this stopped dealers from getting up to their old tricks? Hell no. If anything, they’re abusing their customers MORE. Still, if you know how to handle the heat, this is The Mother of All Buyer’s Markets. Here’s how to work the system…

Back in the good old days (for the dealer), when the salesman saw you walking away from a negotiation, they considered it the end of the deal. Hence their “reluctance” to let you go (a.k.a. “We lost your car keys”). While dealers’ “take lots of prisoners” approach is still in force, today, there’s no escape. Phone calls and emails, and emails and phone calls, are headed your way. The good news? All those years of incentives and finance offers have trained salesmen that the deal is all about price. And the price has nowhere to go but down.

So, patience. In a buyer’s market, you hold the cards. For the foreseeable future (well into 2009), the longer you hold them, the more valuable they become. Accept the fact that your purchase should take place over the course of days, maybe even weeks. Again, the greater the delay, the better the deal.

There two types of car customers: “show horse” and “work horse” buyers.

Show horse buyers are looking for one type of car, in one type of color, with a very specific set of options. They’re a dealer’s wet dream. You want a BOSE DVD video navigation system in that minivan? Well, OK! Let’s find you one with option X! Dealers dedicate their lives to “upselling” customers on manufacturer-created option “bundles.” Sound systems, safety packages and other works of “in” technology are carefully packaged so that show horse buyers pay through their proverbial snout for that one cool feature they really, really want.

Salesmen kill to put customers in this psychological/financial box.

The same game applies to paint and trim. When John Q. tells a dealer they will only consider one combination out of hundreds, they effectively eliminate 95-plus percent of the alternative vehicles out there. That gives the dealer, and the parent manufacturer, an awful lot of leverage. For the pistonheads and car lovers amongst us, option and paint specificity is our Achilles’ heel. Overall, the more “choosy” you are, the more you’re going to have to pay. Period.

So don’t be a show horse buyer. Even in today’s doldrums, you’ll save thousands of dollars by tempering your lust with the knowledge that even “dream cars” becomes just another car in a year or two.

The workhorse buyer has the upper hand. They may prefer two or three models. Or they may have several good fits. They may want to consider a wide range of options, paint or trim. Or perhaps just a few combinations. Either way, they understand the most basic law of supply and demand. The broader their taste palette, the better their overall deal.

Take a lesson from the ultimate work horse buyers (also my favorite type of customer): commercial firms. When a corporate purchaser receives a request for three pickups with only a few specifications, they can play the entire field in the pursuit of the deal. They realize the simple fact what’s on the lot has to go out the door. Deal with what they got. If they ain’t got it, or the price is wrong. Move on.

However there is at times an even better avenue than that for the ‘workhorse’ buyer.

As Tony Blair would have said, there is a middle way: the “demo.” Cars set aside for customer demonstration (a.k.a. test rides) often offer better warranties than the new cars on the lot; demos are almost always certified models. The best ones are loaded, owned and driven by high ranking members of the dealership (or their spouses). They see little more than the daily commuting duty. If you’re a show horse who wants all the bells and whistles, and can wait ‘til the end of model year, demos can provide a full list of options for several thousands less than an identical new model.

After more than a decade as an auto auctioneer and car buyer, I would argue that flexibility, honesty, mutual respect and patience are the best lubricators for a successful negotiation. Regardless, the bottom line never changes: the only power you have as a buyer is the power to walk away. Now more than ever, use it.

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2 of 68 comments
  • TR3GUY TR3GUY on Aug 04, 2008
    B_O_T : says: Many people come in and treat us like a piece of garbage and just want the cheapest price. It’s like people are buying the price and not the car/service. I sold cars (Fords) for 8 months in about 1994. I saw the best & Worst. Buyers are liers on the other hand my boss told me I'd never be a success 'cause "I was too sincere." The Explorer & used cars made money. The Aspire did not. The worst were the ones that came in and said I'll give you $200 over invoice, you showed them the invoice and they we gone off to see if they could get it at another dealer for $150 over invoice. I raise money for a not for profit as my profession so I try to understand respect people -- especially when I am asking for $$. I've bought cars by saying I'll give you $500 over invoice. And boom, done. On the other hand when I bought my 06 Miata I understood that wasn't going to fly so why be a putz. I was ok with sticker assuming I'd didn't get screwed on my trade in. With the amount of information out there the salesman/customer relationship is bad to begin with. Knowone believes anyone.

  • B_O_T B_O_T on Aug 05, 2008

    Fair enough TR3GUY. People have to understand that selling cars is a business. If there is no profit in a deal, then why would we sell the car? We're not selling cars to lose money lol. Unless we REALLY want to get rid of a car off a lot. Haha. People come in and think they're doing us a favour by wanting US TO PAY THEM TO TAKE THE CAR hahaha. Discount this, discount that... people nickel and dime beyond belief.

  • Arthur Dailey So they cut the roof off the hatch area of a Dodge Journey?
  • Desertwanderer Across Australia, from Sydney to Perth, via the Nullarbor Highway. Desolate, very impressed to pass a bicycle tourist somewhere in the middle, I think he'd have a story to tell. Oh, and the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, NS, in my S4.
  • Cprescott Please stop production of all Camry's - they are hideous and vomit inducing ugly.
  • Cprescott Excellent! Complete garbage.
  • Kos65701744 A lot of people back then didn't like the downsizing idea, which is why some didn't sell better than before. Which is why in final gen sales were record high in sales. My own father wouldn't buy a downsized GM car, he switched to a Ford LTD, a nice car but he hated it but wanted a big car