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With one foot on the bumper of a broken-down used car, the salesman asks, “If I give you a sweet deal, will you buy this baby today?”
While the car-buying experience is now more transparent — shoppers can find some pricing details online — there’s still some truth in this image of a fast-talking dealer. Salespeople often frame questions to trap buyers into saying “yes.” And they skillfully overcome objections when you say “no.”
If you agreed to buy today if the price was right, then you would be softened up for the close — where you’re pressured to accept a deal. The salesperson would say, “But you said you were ready to buy today if I gave you a sweet deal. So what’s the problem?”
I’m well acquainted with these verbal gambits because I was urged to use them when I sold cars. Later, I wrangled with dealers while buying dozens of vehicles for my employer, an automotive website that tested cars. I learned to recognize these tricks and discovered how steering clear of them could help me get the best deal possible.
Here are five classic traps — and how to avoid them:
1. “What monthly payment fits into your budget?”
This sounds like an effort to help keep you within your budget. But it’s actually the gold standard of verbal sleight of hand. Name an amount, and you’ll lose control of the negotiation. Say you want to buy a car that costs $27,695. Now, quickly tell me what your monthly payment should be after adding fees, taxes and registration costs, subtracting the down payment and dividing by 60 months?
Without a car loan calculator, you won’t know what your monthly payment should be and what you’re actually paying for the car. To avoid this trap, get preapproved for an auto loan. That way you can say, “I’m a cash buyer; let’s just talk about the price of the car.” You can still choose dealership financing if you’re offered a better interest rate. Even if you aren’t preapproved, tell the dealer that you want to discuss the car’s cost first and you’ll talk about financing if you can reach a deal on price.
2. “Besides the price, is there any other reason you don’t want to buy this car?”
Maybe you’re getting cold feet about this deal for many reasons, and you said the car was too expensive and started to walk away. The crafty salesperson will use this question to stop you from leaving and draw you back into negotiations.
Your response? Be firm about leaving and vague about your reasons. “Frankly, I’m just not sure this is the right car for me. I’m going to do more research before I make a decision.”
3. “Up to?”
This costly little question can be added at many negotiating points. For example, say you’ve made an opening offer of $23,000. The salesperson might say, “Up to…?” and without thinking you add, “Well, I could go as high as $23,700.” After the salesperson has taken your offer to the boss, you could hear, “Looks like the best we could do is $24,350.”
A response to “up to?” means you’re negotiating with yourself and bumping up the price. The best defense? See it coming and stand firm. Expert negotiators will tell you it’s best to make your offer, fold your arms and keep your mouth closed.
4. “How long are you planning on keeping this car?”
You’ll likely get this question as the finance manager draws up the sales contract. If you say, “I keep my cars until the wheels fall off,” then you open yourself up to a sales pitch to buy an extended warranty.
Most cars come with a three-year warranty. If you say that you’ll keep it past that point, you’re a target for extended coverage. There’s nothing wrong with an extended warranty — if you get it at a good price — and if you’re planning to keep the car after the included warranty expires. But you don’t want to be pressured late in the deal without careful consideration of coverage and cost. Instead, your answer should be, “I haven’t decided yet,” or even, “I often trade in my cars after about three years.”
5. “Do you want the silver, gold or platinum protection plan?”
Most of us tend to answer a question like this by naming one of the offerings. However, these plans can include features that are overpriced and often unnecessary, such as paint protection that most cars already have. In some dealerships, these plans — which could include coverage for paint, upholstery and extended warranties — are called silver, gold or platinum.
The answer to this question — unless you’ve researched the plans — should be, “I don’t want any of them.”