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Top 10 Trouble Signs at a Dealership

Having a good car buying experience means choosing the right dealership. But how do you know, at a glance, if a dealership is going to treat you well? We've compiled a list of tip-offs to help you spot the bad dealerships, so you can go elsewhere before you get too deep in the process. Of course, if you shop online you can minimize the dealership experience. But even then you will have to test-drive the car you are considering. As always, the best defense is preparation and knowledge so, without further ado, here is our list of warning signs.

You know you are in trouble at a dealership when…

  1. 1. Salesmen are hanging around out front of the dealership salivating.

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Dealerships have different ways of deciding which salesman helps which customer. At the enlightened dealerships, the salesmen wait inside until a customer arrives and has a moment to browse the inventory. Then, the salesman slowly approaches and politely offers his assistance. In the bad dealerships the salesmen stand on the curb like hawks looking for fresh meat. Do you want to be their lunch?

  • 2. Your salesman suddenly disappears and another salesman takes over.

  • This means you are dealing with a "turnover house." Turnover is a style of selling where they keep throwing a salesman at you until you are worn down and sign the contract "just to get it over with." The turnover system favors the dealership, not you. Avoid it.

  • 3. You call the Internet department thinking you're getting the inside track, only to arrive at the dealership and find out that they have "set you up with" a regular salesman.

  • You may have just lost most of the advantages that come with using the Internet department. If you have already been quoted a price through the Internet, this price should still apply. If the salesman disavows knowledge of the deal or tries to switch you to another car, it might be time to try another car lot.

  • 4. Your salesman demands, "Follow me!" or "Wait here!"

  • They are trying to see if they can control you. When they say, "I have to talk to my boss," and disappear for a half-hour, they are trying to get you to invest a lot of time in the transaction so you won't go elsewhere. These are old school games. If you want to beat them at their own game, be as unpredictable as possible. Leave the sales office when they go to talk to their boss; don't follow meekly behind them as they lead. It's your car purchase and your money — you should be in control, not the salesman.

  • 5. When you tell them how much of a monthly payment you want, and the salesman says, "up to…?"

  • The "up to?" question is a subtle way to bump up the price without you knowing it. Example: if you say, "I want my monthly payment to be $350" the salesman will ask, "Up to?" If you aren't paying attention, you will probably say, "Oh, up to about $400." You just bumped yourself $50 a month. Listen for the "…up to?" question and avoid negotiating against yourself.

  • 6. They try to "switch" you from the car you want to another car.

  • Salesmen are instructed to "sell from stock" which means they are expected to sell whatever they have on the car lot. This means they might try to convince you that the economy model you wanted in blue isn't going to make you as popular as the luxury model in champagne gold with all the options. The mark of a good salesman is one who listens to your needs and does his best to fulfill them. If you don't have this kind of rapport with your salesman, it will be a long and difficult process.

  • 7. You're talking with your laid-back salesman when a big scary guy suddenly comes in and sits down across from you.

  • This is the "closer" and he is there to sweeten the deal for the car lot. Stand firm on your offer if it is fair and based on True Market Value (TMV) pricing. Any attempts to bully or pressure you to improve your offer should be met with a hasty departure. You can always approach the dealership again via the Internet department.

  • 8. They say the advertised car is no longer available.

  • "Ad cars" are a way to bring people into the dealership so they can be switched to whatever models are on the lot. This is the classic "bait and switch." You can insist to see the car that is advertised and, by law, you can buy the car at that price. But they will probably tell you, "It's already sold" or "There was a misprint in the newspaper" or "It's out on a test-drive."

  • 9. Your trade-in disappears and they say they have lost the keys.

  • The idea is that then you have to buy a car from them. Just tell them you brought an extra set of keys and you'll be on your way home. They'll probably "find" the keys very quickly. Then, leave for good.

  • 10. You feel uncomfortable or intimidated.

  • If you go to a nice department store or a fine restaurant, do they make you feel bad while you spend your money? No. So don't stand for it at a car dealership, either. Besides, if you are intimidated now, what will it be like when you begin negotiating? Test-drive your salesperson and if you don't like what you find then take your business elsewhere.