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9 things you should never say to a car salesperson

You may get a raw deal if you let one of these lines slip out at the dealership.

Updated

You’re shopping for a car, just finished a test-drive — and you’re ready to commit. The salesperson is looking for a quick way to get under your skin and finish the deal. But if you don’t watch your words, you could unwittingly put yourself in a worse negotiating position.

Try to avoid letting one of these lines slip out at the dealership:

1. “I love this car.”

While you shouldn’t be completely negative, saying that you’re in love can be dangerous. It shows the salesperson you’re attached to a specific model or trim, and that may be used as ammunition to increase the price. Make it clear that you’re willing to buy — but only if you can get a good deal.

You can love a car and even be enthusiastic about it, but understand its actual value. And don’t forget: There are always cars out there with similar features that you’ll love. If the salesperson isn’t willing to give you that good deal, chances are there’s another dealer in your area that will.

2. “I can pay $X a month.”

The easiest way to get a raw deal is to negotiate monthly payments rather than vehicle price. Any finance manager can manipulate a loan so that you’re paying as much as possible in interest over a longer loan term. The best defense you have is to focus solely on how much the vehicle will cost in total.

Ask about the final price of the vehicle after interest, fees and taxes are all paid. If the salesperson won’t give a direct answer, do the math yourself. Multiply the monthly payment by the months in your loan term, then add taxes and fees.

Even better, walk into the dealership with a preapproved car loan. You’ll know the exact rate you qualify for and the amount you’ll pay each month. If the dealership can beat that rate, it may be smart to go with it. If it can’t, you can easily fend off upselling by sticking to your guns and stating that you can only afford to spend a specific amount.

3. “I want $X for my trade-in.”

Don’t walk into a dealership and immediately tell the salesperson that you want to trade in your car. Instead, if they ask about a potential trade-in, inform them you may be willing to talk after you settle on the final price of your car.

Why? The salesperson will try and make the car-buying transaction the same as the trade-in transaction. Insist on keeping them separate. Someone skilled in financing may try to push up the price of your new car or lowball the price of your trade-in to make a few bucks.

You’re not obligated to trade in your car at the same dealership you buy from, so shop around at other dealerships to find the best deal.

4. “I need a new car by the end of the week,” or “I’m at the end of my lease.”

This tells a salesperson that you need to buy a car and may be willing to overlook extra fees and higher rates to get one. If you’re desperate, don’t let it show. You should still browse casually and come prepared with questions about fuel efficiency, safety and other features. Your emergency will only make the salesperson more likely to subtly increase the final price.

Likewise, be cautious at the end of a lease. If your salesperson knows you prefer leasing, they may want to get you back to leasing even if you want to buy. And they’ll ask plenty of personal questions to see how much you’re willing to spend — and what kind of payments you can afford.

5. “I don’t know much about cars.”

Ideally, you should go to the dealership with two or three models in mind. But if you’re really at a loss for what you want, don’t tell the salesperson. They may try to upsell you with fancy gadgets and features that have a large impact on the price.

Instead, note the features you like about the models you test-drive. Then ask about reliability, gas mileage and safety features. It will make you look serious, which should hopefully help you avoid sales pressure.

6. “I’m not great at math.”

You don’t have to tell the salesperson your shortcomings. If you do struggle with bigger numbers, bring someone along who can help. By just asking for a line-by-line breakdown of the costs, you show that you’re willing to do the calculations yourself to ensure you’re getting a fair deal.

A reputable salesperson will be willing to let you talk numbers and ask questions. A disreputable one will try to confuse you or pressure you into a bad deal.

7. “I don’t have the best credit,” or “I don’t know my credit score.”

Walking into the dealership without an idea of your credit score is just asking for trouble. If you haven’t looked up your score, don’t mention it to the salesperson. They may lowball your score when they look it up. And since a lower number means higher rates, you’ve set yourself up for a raw deal.

Instead, know your credit score in advance. Even better, prequalify with a few lenders before walking in to the dealership so you know what kind of rate you can qualify for.

8. “I’m a cash buyer.”

You should have a loan lined up or cash to fully pay for a car before visiting a dealership. But the salesperson doesn’t need to know about it until you’re ready to talk financing. You may be able to score a better deal on your car when the salesperson believes they’ll make up any perceived losses with interest on a loan. Mention you’ve already been preapproved by an outside lender after you’ve settled on a price for the car.

From here, you can start talking about rates. Tell the finance manager you’re willing to get dealership financing if they can beat the rate you already have. If the answer is yes, you’ve got a better deal. If the answer is no, you’ve already got a way to pay for your new set of wheels.

9. “I work in a well-paid field.”

Dealerships can and will adjust prices based on your occupation. If you make enough to be considered well paid, a finance manager at a dealership may think you can afford more. This means more sales talk, more pressure and potentially higher costs. Lying won’t get you very far, so being vague may be your best bet. Rather than saying “I’m a doctor,” you can tell the salesperson you work in the healthcare industry.

It won’t stop a salesperson from browsing your social media profile, but it can at least ease the conversation off your job and back onto the car you want to buy.

Bottom line

Knowing what to say at the dealership can be the difference between a good deal and an incessant salesperson who doesn’t understand the concept of boundaries. An easy way to avoid a tough trip is to compare your car loan options before hitting the dealership so you can negotiate with the best of them.

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