Status: Useful stuff to know if you're buying a car Florida businessman Earl Stewart has started a blog, Earl Stewart On Cars, that's full of useful insights about the auto industry. Some of his observations about auto dealer scams and deceptive sales tactics are particularly interesting. Here's a few of them:
• The “Big Sale Event”. If you look in today’s newspaper, you will find that most car dealers in your area are having a sale of some kind. It may be because of a current holiday, “too large an inventory” of cars, to “reduce their taxes”, “the manager is out of town”, or some other nefarious lure... If you don’t buy a car during the tight time constraints of a phony sales event, you can negotiate just as good a price the next day. In Hippo Eats Dwarf I noted an outrageous example of misleading advertising used by one car dealership. They had a "half-price sale" during which "The price you see is half the price you pay." Think about it.
• “The Price I’m giving you is only good for today”. If a salesman or sales manager tells you that, it is probably only a tactic to push you into buying the car.
• “Take the car home tonight and see how you like it”... there are two reasons the car salesman offers this. One is that you must leave the vehicle you might be trading in with the car dealer. This means that you cannot shop prices with other dealers. The second reason is the psychological impact of parking that new car in your driveway where your family and neighbors can see it. The slang expression for this is “the puppy dog”.
• The “really big” discount”... Federal law requires new cars to have a price sticker on the window named the Monroney label. A discount from this suggested retail price gives you a fair basis for comparison. Unfortunately, most car dealers today, increase the suggested retail price substantially with the use of an addendum to the Monroney sticker often referred to as a “Market Adjustment Addendum”. This “adjustment” can be several thousands of dollars. Be sure you know what the asking price is for the car when you have been offered a “big discount”.
Carl Sifakis has also cataloged a number of auto dealer scams in his book Hoaxes and Scams: A Compendium of Deceptions, Ruses and Swindles.
For instance, there's the practice (now illegal in many states) of "bird dogging" in which car dealers pay people who refer customers to them. Obviously someone getting paid for a referral might not be objective. Plus, as Sifakis notes, "car salesmen aren't about to give a customer referred by a bird dog an extra good deal." He then relates this story:
New car salesmen tell the standard story of the sharpie to whom a potential buyer was referred. The salesman promptly took him for almost list price, despite the fact that the customer had a trade-in that also netted the hustler an extra commission. The salesman also took the shopper for financing and insurance at very favorable termsthat is, for the car dealer. The kicker to the story showed up on the paperwork when the salesman filled in his contact for the sale. In the space naming the source, he'd written "Mother." Then there's the practices of lowballing and highballing. In lowballing the salesman offers to sell a car for a ridiculously low price, only to reveal later that the manager hadn't approved the price, and that the real price is much higher. Many people will then buy the car anyway, because they've already got their mind around to the idea of buying it. Highballing is the same thing, but switched around so that the dealer will offer to buy a trade-in for a ridiculously high price, only to reveal later that the manager hadn't approved that price.