5 Tricks Car Salespeople Use to Get You to Spend More Than You Planned

You walk into the dealership with a budget and the intention to stick to it. Yet, somehow, by the time you’ve signed the paperwork on your new car, you realize you’ve been swayed into spending more than you had originally planned.  

You and your desire for a brand-new vehicle have just played right into your car salesperson’s hands.

“I’ve professionally negotiated new vehicles for close to 22 years and I’ve seen it all,” said Mike Rabkin, an industry insider and the owner of From Car to Finish, a national car-negotiating service.

Rabkin has identified five tricks that car salespeople often use to convince prospective buyers to spend more than they had intended to:

1. They change your focus to the monthly payment rather than the total price.

Many salespeople start off by asking you how much you can afford to pay each month.

“They are already ahead of the game if you answer this question,” said Rabkin. “Salespeople can simply do a longer-term auto loan to make the payments fit your parameters, disguising the higher price you pay.”

Your overall cost will likely be more since the car is more expensive and you’re borrowing for a longer period of time. “It’s always better to negotiate based on how much over- or under-invoice they’d sell for,” Rabkin said.

He also suggests going into a dealership already knowing what total amount you want to pay and making sure to stick to that rather than allowing yourself to be distracted by monthly payments.

2. They “pay off” your old auto loan.

“Dealers act is if they’re generously paying off your old auto loan if you buy a new vehicle from them,” said Rabkin. “What they don’t tell you is they’re simply rolling the amount of the payoff into the new auto loan.”

You might end up paying for a more expensive new vehicle in order to get this “deal.” Rabkin said the deal could be worth it, if the new loan had a lower interest rate and acted as a refinance, but you’re still going to end up with higher payments than you expected.

A similar tactic is rolling their trade-in offer into the price of your new vehicle. “This can disguise the prices you may have overpaid for your new vehicle, or how little you got for your trade-in,” says Rabkin. Get everything itemized ahead of time and shop around for a better trade-in value.

3. They keep adding add-ons.

Rabkin points out that even if you got a good deal on your car, you may still pay more than you planned by the time all of the add-ons are included in the contract.

He lists extended warranties, extended service contracts, appearance and protection packages, paint sealant, undercoating, and dealer fees like processing and document fees as unnecessary costs.

“Read the fine print before signing anything,” Rabkin recommended — and don’t agree to all the add-ons.

4. They bait and switch.

“When you call a car dealership, it’s common for salespeople to mention a specific car on their lot that’s a loss leader and priced unusually low,” said Rabkin.

When you get to the lot, though, you’re told the car has already been sold. The salesperson then tries to up-sell you on a more expensive make or model, and it won’t have the same features or be as cheap as you expected.

“It’s always good to call in ahead of time and get a stock number and VIN as proof that the vehicle is there and unsold before going to see it,” Rabkin advised.

5. They create a sense of urgency.

One of the cardinal rules of buying anything is to shop around — exactly the opposite of what car salespeople want you to do. Rabkin warns that some salespeople create a fictional “interested party” to push you to commit.

“Other reasons for urgency include limited availability of a certain color or certain features, and that the price is only good for 24 hours,” he pointed out. If you feel pressured and you aren’t sure you’re being presented the best deal, sometimes the best decision you can make is to walk away.