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Test-Drive Your Car Salesperson

Don't Let the Next "Up" Get You Down

Walk onto any car dealership's lot and one of two things will likely happen: Either a salesperson will greet you, or you'll wander the lot for minutes before help finally arrives. Regardless of how soon you are helped, the salesperson who arrives was predetermined. You are his next "Up."

The "Up" system at a car dealership is meant to fairly distribute walk-in customers among salespeople. But what if the salesperson who was matched to you gives you a bad vibe or doesn't treat you right? Are you stuck with him? Not necessarily.

Ask plenty of questions before and during your visit to the dealer. Pay attention to how knowledgeable the salesperson is.

Ask plenty of questions before and during your visit to the dealer. Pay attention to how knowledgeable the salesperson is.

You could go to the sales manager, explain the situation and request someone else. However, this may be a bit too confrontational for some people. Instead, we recommend an alternate strategy. This one allows you to test-drive the salesman.

This new strategy requires us to take a step back. You are no longer on the dealer's lot. Instead, you are at home, planning which dealership you want to visit. You'll likely want to go to the one that has your car in stock, so take a moment to use our New and Used Inventory Tool.

Once you've located a dealership, call and ask for the Internet sales manager. Tell him (or her) which vehicle you are interested in test driving and ask whether it's still in stock. Let the Internet manager know you are still early in the shopping process and are still researching other vehicles. The Internet manager will likely have follow-up questions for you. While you are talking, pay attention to how your personalities mesh. Is he or she giving you short answers? Is the salesperson going the extra mile to meet your needs?

If the Internet manager says he'll need to call you back, do you get a return call in a reasonable amount of time? (About an hour is reasonable.)

Here are a few other questions to ask yourself when determining if you have a good salesperson or not:

  • Has the salesperson listened to my description of the car I want and addressed it? Or is he trying to switch me to a car I don't want?
  • If the car I wanted isn't available, has the salesperson suggested a reasonable alternative?
  • Did I feel as if the salesperson was talking down to me?

If there are any warning signals at this time, it is easy enough to shop somewhere else. If you had walked onto the lot and been approached by the first available salesperson, it would be harder to walk away. You could be drawn into negotiations with someone you don't trust, someone who might pressure you, or someone who might bring in reinforcements in the form of the assistant sales manager.

Let's assume that you like your phone interaction with the Internet sales manager. Now you move to step two: the test-drive, which you arrange by phone with the Internet department. You'll continue to deal with someone from the Internet department for the test-drive.

In addition to providing you with the chance to evaluate the car, the test-drive gives you a face-to-face opportunity to size up the salesperson. You have said that you are still shopping, so the salesperson should respect this. However, a little nudging is normal. The salesperson might nicely ask, "Would you like to make something happen today?"

You might also hear this question, which is a little more insistent: "What do I have to do to sell you this car today?" Politely restate that you are still comparing different cars and aren't yet ready to buy. And leave the car lot.

Now it's time to ask yourself another series of questions about the salesperson:

  • Was I treated with respect?
  • Do I trust this salesperson to be open and honest when arranging the sale of this car?
  • Was the salesperson listening to my needs? Or was he trying to sell me the car he wanted to move?
  • If a disagreement arises, will I feel comfortable voicing my concerns?

If you feel comfortable after test driving this salesperson, it's time to take the plunge. Call back and say, "I appreciate the time you took to show me the car. I'd like to move forward with the car I test-drove. What's your asking price on this vehicle?"

By saying "asking price," you show that you know what the sticker price is, but you want to know how much the dealer is willing to sell the car for. In many cases, you will get a quote that is at or below the True Market Value® (TMV®) price. If the quote is higher than TMV, tell the salesperson you want to shop around for a better deal. He will probably drop the price to get you as a customer. Once you've agreed on a price, ask for an e-mail or printout that lists all the deal figures. This lets you see your out-the-door cost.

As you work toward completing the deal, your early decisions about selecting a salesperson should make it a stress-free, enjoyable experience. There are good and bad salespeople in any retail establishment. If you take the time to ask the right questions, you should have no problem finding the good ones.

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