The cliche about unscrupulous car salesmen is funny until you find yourself in need of an automobile. There's good reason to be wary of the rep on the other side of the desk. While most aren't out to fleece you, they may be less than upfront in an attempt to close a sale.
"The nature of the salesman means they may not always be 100% honest with you," says Ron Montoya, a consumer advice associate for the auto review site Edmunds.com. "They want to give you a sense of urgency to buy that day or to get excited about that car."
However, a little vigilance during the sale process can help you determine if your car salesman is straightforward or straight-up deceptive. Remember these hallmarks of an honest sales rep the next time you're in the market for a new ride.
They Don't Insist on An In-Person Visit
You can avoid long waits at the dealership by getting price quotes on your preferred model via phone or Internet. Most honest car salesmen will be happy to remotely negotiate a price with you.
"If the salesman says 'Just come in and we'll talk about it,' that's a red flag," Montoya says. "You want to avoid falling into that."
Be sure to get a written quote you can bring to the dealership when you go in to close the sale and pick up your car. If the price suddenly changes, go elsewhere.
You Find Them Through a Referral
If a trusted friend or family member has a vehicle that's the same make as the one you want, ask who sold it to him or her. A car salesman located by word of mouth is more likely to have been with the dealership for a while, which is a good sign in the high-turnover auto sales field.
"If they've been there awhile, they've probably had repeat customers," says Allen Banez, founder of LetterChamp LLC, a consumer-advocacy service in Tracy, Calif. "That way, you know they're honest."
They Know Their Stuff
It's always important to research the car you want before you make your first contact with a sales rep, but being knowledgeable about the vehicle's specs can also help you gauge his or her integrity.
"Sometimes, I will put a fact out there and make it wrong," Banez says. "For example, I tell them I would like to get the base model with leather, when I know that isn't an option. If they say, 'Yes, we can get that for you,' then you'll know they're making promises they can't keep."
There is one caveat on this tip. Montoya says when testing the car seller's knowledge, be sure to ask a question with a fairly obvious answer. Even good sales reps may not be well-versed in obscure facts like gear ratios and exact wheelbase length. "Not every salesman is going to memorize all the stuff in every car they sell," he says.
They're not Focused on Monthly Payments
If your car salesman tries to negotiate the price of a car by focusing on the amount of your monthly loan payments, it could be their way of hiding the fact the car is overpriced. Even a payment that seems like a bargain could add up to a premium price if the loan term is long and the interest is high.
"You want to talk about the total price of the car," Montoya says. "If you've done your research and found the market value (of the car), you'll know whether they're giving you a good price."
One way to sidestep the financing schemes is to get loan pre-approval from an outside source, such as your credit union or bank, Montoya says. If you have your financing in hand and know about how much you want to spend on the vehicle, you'll already have a ballpark figure for your monthly payment. But be sure to ask if the automaker is offering any special interest rates. The dealer may be able to beat your bank's offer with a superlow promotional rate.
They Don't Use Strange Sales Techniques
If you've reached an impasse in price negotiations with a car seller, the dealership may send him or her away and bring in a "closer" -- a skilled salesperson who specializes in closing deals.
Unorthodox or high-pressure sales tactics from a closer could be their way of trying to shock or guilt trip you into agreeing to an unfair deal. "I knew one closer who used to crawl on his knees and beg people to sign the sales agreement," Banez says. "He said he was able to talk a lot of people into buying this way. If you see something like that, you know it's time to run."