Don’t Fall for Used Car Salesman Dirty Tricks

If you’re in the market for a used vehicle, you’re in luck. There’s never been a better time to buy with a strong selection of pre-owned vehicles. But there’s one caveat: how to have a pleasant experience without falling for the dirty tricks presented by some used car salesmen.

All over the country, lots are filled with used cars for sale. With competition keen, used car salesmen will do almost anything to entice you to buy their vehicles. It’s up to you to learn how to beware of their schemes.


Know Your Financing Options

You’ve searched and test driven a lot of different used vehicles and finally settled on the car of your choice. But there’s a problem—it’s more than you can afford to finance and your credit rating isn’t the best. You know it and the sales manager at the dealership knows it. Rather than telling you outright that you need to give them a higher down payment or you’ll be faced with an unrealistic interest rate, the sales rep takes a different route.

Instead, he tells you all good news—that he’ll get a low interest rate from the bank and allows you to take delivery of your new pre-owned vehicle. But the good news doesn’t last. In a week or so you get a phone call from the dealership. The bank did not provide as favorable of financing terms as the dealer rep thought. Now what? You can take the higher financing rate and monthly payment because the sales rep can show due diligence in asking the bank and working on your behalf, even though he knew full well that it would be declined.

Or you can agree to the higher terms because you’ve already made the car your own and showed it off to your family and friends. Who wants to be embarrassed that their credit rating wasn’t good enough?


The Solution 

Always take the time to secure financing before you agree to a pre-owned vehicle sale. Don’t rely on the dealership to do this work for you. Take the dealership’s rate and see if your local credit union can beat the rate. If the dealer does secure financing for you, ask to see a copy of the bank approval notice. And never, ever, sign a bailment agreement. What’s that you may ask? It’s a contract that allows the dealership to charge you a high fee for using the vehicle if the financing is denied. These bailment agreements charge very high rates that are great deals for the dealership; not so much for you.


Take it or Leave it

Did you know that dealers can mark up a percentage of a vehicle’s interest rate for your used car purchase? The scheme involves ushering you into the dealer’s finance department where you’re interviewed about your finances and credit report. The finance manager pretends that they’ve reviewed the report with the bank and shows them the interest rate with an additional 2% to 3% extra as their cut. It’s a completely horrible way to do business and probably illegal but many consumers fall for it. Who actually questions the dealership to ask to speak to the bank personnel?

Instead, be proactive and get a pre-approved vehicle loan from your own bank or credit union. Or check out the rates to secure a loan through or You’ll get a much better finance rate and you’ll be able to skip over that step.


Good Cop, Bad Cop 

Often, when you’re out looking to buy a pre-owned vehicle, your emotions, rather than practicality and reason, will get the better of you. The sales reps know this and take advantage of you. Here’s how they do it. You visit a dealership of used cars for sale but can’t find the vehicle that you want. Or you see a vehicle but the price is too high. The sales rep tries to sell you the car but you stand firm. Instead, he tells you to check back and see if your pre-owned vehicle has arrived on the lot or if there has been a price reduction.

It’s a lot like fishing; he has cast his bait and waits for you to take a bite. Eventually you do. He pleads ignorance and says you have to come in to complete the deal. Once you’re in the dealership’s office, the hammer comes down. The bad news arrives: there is no lower price, there is no vehicle.

Of course, the consumer takes his anger out on the salesperson. But waiting in the wings is the dealership’s manager. He or she arrives just in time to apologize to the car shopper, thoroughly explain how their demands were not really realistic, and then scolds the salesperson for not doing enough, before providing a carrot to calm the customer down and make them think they are the king of the dealership. In most cases, this scenario works because the salesperson has been put in their place and the car buyer gets some type of reward for their frustration and anger.

What’s the best way to avoid this game of good cop/bad cop? Don’t let your emotions steer you toward one specific car or price. Allow yourself to be flexible when you take possession of your pre-owned car, who to buy from, and how much it will cost. Keep your options open and look around at a variety of dealerships. Do your research online and see what the median price might be for the pre-owned car of your choice. If a dealership doesn’t want to meet that price, walk away. It’s your hard-earned money that is purchasing the pre-owned vehicle. If the dealership really wants your business, they’ll work with you and not play games like having you visit their storefront several times.

Purchasing a pre-owned vehicle can be an exciting, rewarding experience, given the variety available on the market today. Most of the salesmen selling used cars are upright, honest, knowledgeable people. It’s just that small percentage that can try all types of dirty tricks to get a sale. Beware of them.

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