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Buying a lemon? Don't get squeezed Add to ...

We're thinking of trading in our 10-year-old minivan for something more compact and fuel-efficient, so we went car shopping on the weekend. Yet, the tactics that the car salesman used were enough to make us turn around and drive straight home.

We had done our homework -- we knew our budget, we knew which model we wanted and we knew which bells and whistles we needed. But the salesman turned it into a game.

First, he spent 30 minutes telling us all about the vehicle and how we'd get keyless entry as well, provided we decided to upgrade to a different car. Then, we had to wait the better part of half an hour while he "cleaned up" and brought the car out for a test-drive. We were left wondering: Is this simply part of making the process extremely time-consuming, to deter us from shopping around too much?

And then the end game: "Will you be making a decision today? I'll go talk to my manager and see what he can do... but only if you are ready to decide. And I can only tell you the final price if you tell me what price you are willing to pay."

It makes you wonder. Like food, a car is a necessity for most of us -- public transportation in most sprawling Canadian cities is not widespread or reliable enough for most families to be entirely car-free. And yet, if you went to the grocery store to buy bread and milk, can you imagine a similar dance over the price?

So the next time you go out in search of wheels, be aware of some tactics that car dealerships and salespeople will use:

Advertising the most basic model That's just to draw you to the showroom. When you check out the model that has been advertised, the salesperson will tell you everything that's wrong with it and try to get you to buy a fancier model that costs more.

Absurd prices The salesman will quote a ridiculously low price and tell you to shop around to see if anyone can beat it. You spend hours shopping around and, of course, never find another dealer who will. But then when you go back, the salesman's manager will shoot down the price he quoted. By this time, you are so exhausted that you may well cave in.

Creating a sense of urgency You might hear, for example:

  • It's the last car of its kind on the lot.
  • This is a limited-time offer only.
  • We've already sold 20 this week!
  • If you don't buy it, I have another customer who is interested and will buy today.

Creating a sense of intimacy The salesman is suddenly your best friend, and you feel embarrassed walking away after he says:

  • If you were my brother, I'd give you this advice...
  • My wife drives this model.
  • Where are you from? Welland? My wife is from Welland, too!

Good cop, bad cop The salesman promises you a very special deal. His manager appears upset with it and tells him he has to scale it back. The salesman returns with a long face and renegotiates with you and returns to his manager. Repeat this cycle a couple of times, depending on how determined you are. In the end, you walk away with a smaller "deal" but you feel like you still got something out of it. Yup, they squeezed you.

Information overload The salesman sits you down and scribbles down two dozen numbers, scratches some out, writes down slightly lower numbers, all the while mumbling about different add-ons and fees and options. The object: to overwhelm and confuse you. That way, you feel relieved when he finally gives you a price -- and are deterred by the prospect of having to go through the process again.

Switching negotiators Some dealerships will change salespeople in the middle of negotiations, just to see if it fazes you and breaks your stride. Every salesperson has a different style of negotiating. The object: To wear you down.

How to combat these tactics

How do you deal with these people? Consumer Reports has some excellent advice, including: Be aware of costly add-ons, and be prepared to walk away.

Don't be afraid to look the dealer in the eye and say that you don't want to be rushed into anything and you'd like to sleep on it.

Figure out what you need before you go to the dealership, and stick to it.

One way to prevent dealers from wasting your entire morning is to say, at the very outset, that you have a prior engagement in an hour. This gives you a convenient way to exit gracefully -- and maybe even puts some pressure on the sales staff to do as much as they can to close the sale within an hour. Hey, if you have to sit through all the tricks, might as well get it over with fast.

Finally, this tip from another website: See if you can maintain a sense of humour about it and enjoy the game. Making a list and keeping a record of how often you see these tricks used can help make the whole experience entertaining (a great way to keep the kids busy, if you have to bring them along. Maybe tell them not to shout "Bingo!"). Keep score on which dealership scores the highest on manipulative moves -- and tell your friends.

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