Tips & Tricks on Buying a Car: How to Win the Car Game


Car salesmen are notorious to be the best salesmen out there. From the moment you walk into a dealership, they have a meticulous game plan on how to win your business.

Recently, I was in the market for a new (used) car. I decided to stop by the nearest dealership from my house to check out their inventory. Of course I was flocked to by a coterie of attractive, suited up gentlemen.

The one with the most alacrity sat me down to discuss the specifics: an SUV to carry all of my realtor signs and furniture for staging houses, something gas efficient, my price range.

He immediately brought a few different vehicles to my attention. I don’t need to tell you how those cars sparkled like gemstones in that showroom or in the sunlight on that lot. I also don’t need to mention how the newer hybrid models were also brought to my attention upon disclosing to him that I drove around showings houses for a living.

From that moment on, his sales technique went into beast mode and here’s what I did to fight it.

The Emotional Attachment: Getting Comfortable in that New Ride

The first thing the salesman told me was to do was to get into the driver’s seat and get comfortable. He handed me the keys and said,

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“Let’s take it for a spin. Go ahead, turn it to your favorite radio station, adjust the mirrors, get comfortable, windows down…”

I followed his command and revved up the car. It was a euphoric feeling. I felt like I had full ownership of the car, and I didn’t want it to end. Immediately, you realize that your brain is telling you to buy this car. I could take this car home tonight and drive it to work tomorrow morning. All signals tell you to buy, buy, buy.

This is where it goes all downhill. This is exactly what he wants you to feel. He’s playing into your emotions from the moment you get into that driver’s seat, so be prepared to recognize it for what it is.

After I parked the car back into the lot, the salesman immediately pursued his sales technique and started asking all the right questions to trigger those emotions I had felt while test-driving. “What did you think? It’s smooth, right? …”

This is where you can get suckered in or where you can play them at their own game because hey, “game recognize game,” right?

As Nicolas Cage’s character “Memphis” says to the car salesman in the renowned film Gone in 60 Seconds while in con mode at the dealership prior to his next boost on “Eleanor,”

“Champagne would fall from the heavens, doors would open, velvet ropes would part…” this is exactly what you feel.

Yes, of course it was nice, but I had to remind myself that this was the first car I had ever test-driven since my 2005 Toyota Celica! At this point, anything would’ve been better than that little beat up Betty. Do my buyers put a bid on the first property I ever show them? It would be nice, and it does happen, but that’s a realtor’s dream & a rarity.

Shopping Around

As a realtor, I’ve taken my buyers to look at a countless amount of properties before they even come close to making that decision. They want to know about & see everything on the market before making that executive decision. In the same sense, why limit yourself to one dealership? Shop around. Become an autodidact & do your homework.

There is a plethora of sites and apps out there to do exactly that: Kelly Bluebook, the Black Book, Carfax, Autocheck, and Truecar, to name a few.

The Black Book gathers information on used car values from auctions across the nation and compares this against dealer prices. They determine pricing based upon the condition of the car.

With apps such as Autocheck, you can find out the service history of the vehicle, the mileage, as well as if the car has been in any reported accidents. Some require subscriptions, but if you’re serious about buying, you should put in the work.

Truecar is another source that benefits consumers by providing information related to what others have paid for a vehicle in a certain area along with its availability & estimated prices.

Before you decide to make a purchase, always sleep on it. The car will be there tomorrow, it’s not going anywhere. The salesman will be there too. Let your emotions subside, and then make an informed decision with a level head.

Negotiating the Payments

I learned a thing or two from my dad when he had bought me my first car back when I was still of age to receive such gifts from my father. As we were shopping for my brand new Toyota Celica, the salesman at the time kept asking my dad what an affordable monthly payment would be. His response was always the same, “I don’t care about the monthly payments, I just want to know the out the door price.”

I used the same technique. When you’re making a big purchase like this, it’s natural to think about what your monthly obligations are. What you don’t think about is the total cost of the purchase over 4-6 years! If you decide on a lower monthly payment, the term will generally be longer. This is how most dealerships make money: off the financing.

Take a Look at the Numbers in Front of You

Many people don’t know how to decipher the numbers that are given to them up front. The salesman will give the consumers a tag with information on the different pricing; they just don’t know to look for it or what the numbers mean.

The MSRP stands for “Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price.” This is the marked up price that is suggested for retail, or the list price. Along with this number, you will also see an invoice price, which is what the dealership paid for the vehicle. Finally, you will see the letters “HB,” at the bottom of the tag, which stand for holdback.

For those who are unfamiliar, between the invoice price and the holdback, you will see the amount that the dealerships “hold back” for their overhead costs of running the dealership. So, ask the dealer to get you the invoice pricing & make sure you take a look at the holdback to see what you can negotiate.

Additionally, ask for rebates! Know what the rebates are to get money back on your purchase!

Add-Ons? Forget About It…

Nowadays, almost every website gives you add-on options. Even when ordering at a restaurant, you can add extra meat or cheese to your meal. You’ll see those extra balloons, stuffed animals, or chocolates with that bouquet you’re trying to send your mother for Mother’s Day. I can’t even walk into a nail salon to get a manicure without the technician trying to sell me a pedicure or a waxing service.

The same goes with a car dealership. All those add-ons at the final stage sounds nice, after all, you just completed the hardest part of the car buying process.

Here’s a newsflash: a lot of the options they offer you can be done cheaper elsewhere.

You might be thinking about the extended warranty they offer. This is a tough one. Keep in mind that you already have manufacturer’s warranty for a few years. Cars these days have exceptional reliability, so the price you pay for extended warranty may not be worth it. You can always add on extended warranty at any time, so it’s not necessary at the time of purchase.

So Here’s a Quick Recap…

Buying a car can be an emotionally spontaneous process, which can consequently result in a deeper hole burned into your pocket, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Too many men in their mid-life crisis moments have come home with that shiny new convertible only to admit, “Honey, I had to!” Keep your emotions out of it, & make a logical decision.

Always make sure you don’t make a decision on the same day. Sleep on it, do your research, and then make an informed decision when you’re not at the dealership. Next, make sure you focus on the out the door price instead of the monthly payments. Take a look at the invoice and holdback pricing, and see what you can negotiate. Shop around. And finally, try to avoid those extra add-ons that dealerships will try to sell you. By following these steps, you’ll come out on top and beat the dealers at their own game. As they say, “don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

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