How to Talk Down a New Car Salesman to Get the Best Deal

No matter how often you change your car, everybody wants to know how to talk down a new car salesman to get the best deal they possibly can, but some buyers get so obsessed by the numbers they can forget they’re dealing with a human being.

As a former car salesman myself, I decided to take a look online to see what information is being given out for getting a good deal on a new car these days, and a lot of it misses some really key advice that I’m going to give you here right now. Yes, you need to have a good grasp on the numbers, but there’s a lot more to talking down a new car salesman than trying to beat them at their own game.

Facts of life when dealing with car salespeople

Let’s face it, a car salesman or saleswoman is selling cars every day that they’re at work, and you’re probably only buying one once every few years or so. That doesn’t mean you’ve no chance of getting the better of a sales exec, but you need to be realistic with your expectations. If you go into a dealership with the intention of getting one over on the sales exec you’re probably setting yourself up for a fall.

Remember, your focus should be getting the best deal and the right deal for you, so focus on that as your primary objective. I’m not saying you can’t do two things at once or trying to belittle you in any way, but if you go into the sale process seeing it as a fight to the death you’re probably going to come out on the losing side 99 times out of 100.

Be nice!

A lot of sales training is based on building a relationship with the customer, and if there’s one sales tactic you need to think about and positively embrace to get a good deal for yourself, it’s got to be the relationship with the salesperson.

The salesperson you end up dealing with could be a complete novice, a hard-nosed experienced professional, or anything in between. Unless you’re unlucky enough to get a real shark, which is increasingly rare these days, you should see them as an ally and your new friend. If they grind your gears you’re unlikely to buy from them, but if you grind their gears they’re unlikely to give you the best deal they potentially could.

Just think about it for a minute. If you walk into a store and need some help from a member of staff and they’re surly, unhelpful and uncommunicative, what are the chances you’re going to buy anything? I’d say they’re pretty slim at best.

I’m not saying be gushing and false, but I am saying be polite, friendly, pleasant and natural. Listen to what they have to say and ask any questions you have.

The wrong customer attitude and the consequences – a true story

A dealership I used to work in had an open upstairs mezzanine where the sales team was located when not dealing with customers, so we could hear everything that was going on downstairs. A particularly memorable couple came in one day, and here’s what happened.

I was the sales manager and one of my relatively inexperienced sales execs went to greet them. The husband was the one who opened the conversation and he said hello and was perfectly ok to start with. The sales exec offered them a coffee and took them to sit down to take some details. This is where it started to go wrong.

Before he sat down the man said he wanted to get something straight. He then went on to tell the sales exec how he wouldn’t be making a penny out of them that day because he was going to drive a hard bargain. He didn’t stop there though, even though that would have been bad enough. He then explained to the salesman that by the time he’d finished with him his wife would then start, and by the time she’d finished the dealership would actually be losing money on the deal.

Needless to say, we offered them well below rock bottom price for their trade-in and not a dollar discount whatsoever off the car they wanted to buy. Even if they’d agreed we would have found another reason to avoid a deal. Some people are just not worth the bother.

The right attitude – and the positive result

Only a few days earlier a guy had come in wanting to buy the entry model of one of our luxury SUVs for his business. He explained that he’d love a higher spec model but it was stretching his budget to the limited even to afford the entry model, but he needed the seven seats and the off-road capability.

The guy was polite, friendly and totally genuine, and it made my salesman and myself feel like helpers or facilitators rather than salesmen. The buyer wanted finance but his budget wasn’t quite enough to do a deal at what we considered a fair price. In the end, after a bit of back and forth, I took every cent of profit out of the vehicle and did the finance at cost.

It was still a stretch for him and he didn’t say yes there and then. The next day he called to see if there was anything else we could do, but I told him the full story of what I was already doing for him and that there genuinely wasn’t any more to give. I even offered to show him the invoice from the manufacturer for the SUV he wanted to prove we were selling at cost.

He then said yes, came in and did the paperwork, and that unit helped me hit a monthly and quarterly sales target that got me my bonus and some holiday vouchers. I didn’t know at the time that his no-profit deal would mean hitting my target, but it’s a great example of a good deal that worked out right for everyone. If he hadn’t been so nice and so genuine I wouldn’t have given him a deal anywhere near as good as I did.

Don’t rush things

Sales execs are still supposed to work to a sales process, and it’s a process that takes time from beginning to end. If you walk into a dealership and the first thing you say is that you haven’t got time, don’t expect to be walking away in a few minutes with a killer deal. Even a proper appraisal of your trade-in alone should take about 15 minutes, so walking in and asking how much for your trade-in before they’ve even seen it is only going to put the dealer’s back up.

It’s ok to hurry things along a little, but if you expect to do a deal from beginning to end in 10 minutes you’d be better off shopping exclusively online and taking your chances. Tell the sale exec you understand they have a process, but that if they could move it along a little you’d really appreciate it.

Tell the truth – but don’t give too much away

Without clamming up and appearing obstructive, try not to give too much away at the start about how much you want to spend or how much you want for your trade-in. Say that just like everyone else, you’d like the best possible price for your trade-in and the lowest price possible on the car you’re looking to buy, and say it with a smile.

If you feel you have to give something away, tell them a budget that’s so wide it doesn’t give anything away at all. If your real budget is something like $350-$400 per month, say that it’s between $200 and $450 per month. You have to understand that the sales exec will have to give his manager at least some level of commitment from you before they’ll get serious about putting a genuine deal together.

Things you really should not do

I’ve just been looking at a couple of high-ranking websites that claim to be telling readers how to negotiate a car deal with a dealership, and I’m scratching my head to imagine who could have possibly written such garbage. One of the lists of things to do should really have been a list of what not to do, so let me share it with you in the correct way. Here are some things you should never do:

  • Flash the cash – Producing an envelope stuffed with cash and putting it on the desk isn’t going to wash, and just makes you look like a fool. If you’re dealing with a dodgy independent used car dealer who sells cars for a couple of thousand dollars then fine, but at a franchise dealership, this is a real no-no.
  • Lie about other buyers – Don’t try telling them you know they can do better because they did a better deal in the past for a friend or neighbour unless it’s true and they did. You’ll be surprised how well some of them remember previous customers, and if they start asking in-depth questions and you’re telling little white lies they’ll soon know.
  • Quote prices from online resources – This is actually a bit of a grey area these days, but I’m still going to warn you. By all means, do as much research on prices for new cars and valuations for your trade-in as you can before you go to buy, but don’t go quoting these figures as gospel. Some online resources are excellent and extremely accurate, but some are just fighting for clicks and traffic and will, therefore, tell you what you want to hear. Unless you know a respected resource from a clickbait site, keep those figures to yourself and just use them as a rough guide.
  • Taking a wingman – I’m not saying you must go alone to buy a car, but taking someone purely as a wingman because they know a bit about cars could be completely counter-productive. If it’s a used car you’re looking at and your friend is an auto technician then fair enough, but if it’s a new car they’re not going to be any use unless they know about sales. You’re not in control of what someone else is going to say, and they could just as easily drop you right in it as to be of any quantifiable help.
  • Emotional sob story – The guy I mentioned above who got a cost-price deal on a luxury SUV didn’t give me a sob story, he was just being straight up about his budget and his needs. Trying to tug on the heartstrings of a sales exec is very unlikely to wash, and that’s because they probably won’t believe you, even if you’re telling the truth. This is purely a financial transaction after all, and it’s not exactly trying to get a dying kid accepted onto an experimental clinical trial, is it?
  • Make up better offers you’ve had – If you have had a better offer somewhere else on the same vehicle then, by all means, pull out an official quote to use as leverage. But do not under any circumstances make up a fictitious offer from another dealer to try and get the deal you think you should have. The chances are you don’t know what the best possible deal that can be done on that model really is, and if your claim is ridiculously low the sales exec will know you’re making it up.

I hope this article has given you a good idea of some of the things you shouldn’t do when you go to talk down a new car salesman, and a couple that you should. If you want to know more details about some of the salesman’s tricks you might encounter and how to deal with them, make sure you check out my blog on the subject here.

Sean Cooper

Former retail auto industry professional for almost a decade and now an automotive writer and journalist for the last 7 years

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