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Before you choose the right car, make sure you choose the right car salesperson.
I feel I have a unique perspective on this subject because I was a car salesman and, later on, I was a car buyer for an automotive testing website.
Over the course of more than a hundred transactions, I came to admire the benefits of working with a good car salesperson. The right professional can save you time, money and, yes, even turn this normally grueling process into an enjoyable experience. Working with the wrong salesperson can be a costly mistake — literally — and land you in the wrong car with a money-sucking loan.
But how do you know? Here’s what I look for — and look to avoid — when I first meet and test drive a car salesperson.
A good car salesperson ...
Values your time. Before you go to the dealership, call ahead and tell the sales manager which car you want to test drive. Ask for the name of the salesperson you’ll be working with and if they can pull the car out and have it ready for you to drive. If the salesperson and car are ready for your appointment, you’re off to a great start.
Listens to you. Choosing the right car is about you and your needs. So ask your prospective salesperson a question you might already know the answer to. Does the salesperson let you finish talking without interrupting? Is the response accurate and on point? Does the salesperson wait to see if you have additional questions before moving on?
Knows their product. Picking the right car means searching countless choices — trim levels (base, sport, limited, etc.), engine sizes and option packages. Asking a comparative question is a good test: “How is the sport trim different than the base model?” An informed salesperson will answer with specifics and even explain how the features work.
Follows up promptly. If the right car isn’t immediately available or you need to come back later to conclude the deal, take the salesperson’s card and get their cell number. Call or text the next day. If you don’t reach them, leave a message and expect a prompt response. Even on days off, salespeople should return calls.
Doesn’t lie to you. You’ll have to use your intuition for this one. But you can also rely on other people’s judgment by getting referrals and checking Yelp and online reviews.
A bad car salesperson ...
Sizes you up to gain an advantage. Salespeople are trained to “qualify” customers, or learn as much about them as possible to create leverage when negotiating. Seemingly innocent questions, such as where you work, may determine whether the next question is, "Do you have a payment in mind?" or "What kind of vehicle did you have in mind?" I meet these kinds of questions with vague answers like, “Oh, I’m in communications ...”
Uses language that traps you. Salespeople are trained to use your own answers to limit your ability to say no. For example, if you say the car is too expensive, their answer is, “OK, but besides the price, is there any other reason you won’t buy this car?” Don’t work with a salesperson who tries to manipulate you just to close a deal.
Baits and switches. A salesperson's job is to get you in the door. Your call, email or text to ask about a particular car or deal is most likely to be met with a "Come on down and drive it." But if the car or deal evaporates when you arrive in person, you're dealing with the wrong salesperson.
Wastes your time. You’ve been on the lot browsing for five minutes and a nearby group of salespeople is talking and laughing without looking in your direction. Not a great start. You’re tempted to call one over to help you take a test drive. But a good car salesperson will make a timely, low-pressure offer of help.
Pressures you. This is what shoppers fear and abhor most, and it takes many forms. For example, at the dealership I worked at, we were trained to tell the customer, “Follow me!” and march them into the sales office before even taking them on a test drive. If they followed, it showed I could control them. If you experience any form of this manipulation or pressure that makes you uncomfortable, head for your car and don’t look back.