It’s such a firmly cemented stereotype, it hardly bears explaining: The Used Car Salesman. Typically, he manifests as a greasy-looking fellow sitting in the thinly veneered office up the back of a car yard, strewn with plastic bunting. He’d take advantage of men and women alike, spinning tales of headlight fluid and palming paddock-bashers off as great deals.
It’s not an image we’re particularly proud of, which is why we want to say something about it, and do something about it. Because in all honesty, you deserve better than this, and we want to give that to you. So, here’s four ways you can spot the swifty-pulling salesman, and four things you can do about him.
1 – They’ll lie (or deceive) to secure their preferred option
Say you walk into a car yard with a clear budget in mind. You’re approached by a salesman, you tell them you want something that fits your budget, and they walk you over to a car that clearly, isn’t what you’ve asked for.
You ask if that car is within budget, and they reply with some kind of diverting answer that it’s ‘what they’d recommend’, or something similar. Which…isn’t really an answer to your question.
If you’re interacting with a salesman who doesn’t answer your questions directly and truthfully, lets his/her actions imply something that’s not true, or straight up ignores your requests, you may be dealing with a stinker.
What to do: Have a clear idea of your needs for a car before you head into the dealership, and be assertive with those needs. You don’t have to have a particular make or model in mind when sorting out your needs – these would be things like ‘it needs to deal with this terrain’, ‘it needs to carry this many people on average’, ‘it needs to fit in this price range’. Once you get on the ground, you can start looking at vehicles that fit those requirements, and stick with your list.
2 – They’ll try and oversell
Overselling is when a salesperson recommends the most expensive option from the get-go, regardless of the needs of the customer. This is a common occurrence in professions that are commission-driven, but that doesn’t make it excusable.
This is different from upselling, which is when a salesperson will offer something that’s slightly north of your budget because it suits your needs better than your current options. Overselling looks like all of the bells and whistles, plus metallic paint, plus ultra-deluxe-super-premium care options when you don’t have a particular need for any of it.
What to do: If your salesperson is so insistent on the top-shelf options, get them to justify their reasoning. It may be that they’re aiming to upsell to you, and if that’s the case, they should be able to explain (in terms that make sense – more on that in a minute) why the current option suits your needs. Keep in mind your list of non-negotiable points and weigh any options they give you up against those.
3 – They’ll try and swamp you with jargon
This is one of the most common issues that crop up with car purchases. The automotive industry is one that’s full of technical jargon, and those that speak it will often try to overwhelm those that don’t to get what they’re after. This power play hinges on assuming the customer doesn’t understand the lingo and doesn’t want to let that on – “Well, I’ll just tell them the mechanical specs. They don’t know what these numbers actually mean, and they’ll feel the need to act like they do, so they won’t ask about it.”
What to do: Any salesperson worth their salt should be able explain what industry-specific terms mean. And I’m not just talking about expanding the acronym – if you’ve encountered a salesperson who’s unleashed a swag of tech-sounding terms, ask them what those mean for you.
(Take ABS for example. ABS is a safety feature installed in newer cars, and the acronym stands for Anti-lock Braking System. The feature helps stop your car brakes from locking up should you suddenly stomp hard on the brakes. Once you lose your brakes, you lose control of the vehicle, so ABS provides better vehicle control on wet roads, over gravel, and across intersections where the other guy wasn’t giving way and you had to stop in a hurry. That’s the kind of explanation you’re after.)
4 – They’ll guilt you into a decision
Emotion is a powerful motivator for making a purchase. It’s why salesfolk will push for you to make a decision right after a test-drive; while you’re picturing yourself owning the vehicle you’ve just taken for a spin. You’ve had a taste, and surely it’ll be easy to get you to buy the whole cake now.
Of course, this can go the other way, particularly with features that are palmed off as additional safety features. A salesperson pushing for a more expensive purchase is going to use every single feature as a reason, and this is where things like getting a reversing camera in the car can be presented as the difference between enjoying your new ride and knocking down every bin in existence. (For high-riding cars, a reversing camera can save lives. But if you’re looking at a small hatchback, building a habit of head-checking is probably sufficient.)
What to do: Rationally weigh up your decisions. Take what the salesperson says with a pinch of salt, and then have a walk around the block (at least) before you sign anything. Salespeople might pull the ‘but this is a popular car and I’ve got three people looking at it and it could be gone by the time you get back’. Sometimes, they’re right. Most of the time, they’re trying to provide the incentive to make a purchase decision right away. If it’s a popular vehicle, it won’t be hard to find another, so stick to your guns.
I said at the beginning that you, as the customer, deserve better than to deal with the dodgy car salesman. This is a stereotype that needs to be put to bed, so if you find yourself dealing with a seller who looks a little greasy, or starts exhibiting the signs described above, call it out. Leave, if you have to.
At the end of the day, it’s you who makes the purchase decision on your vehicle. Our job is to help you work out the best option for your needs, and supply it if we’ve got your best solution. If we want to put this stereotype down, then it starts with car dealerships communicating better with their customers, and customers taking no lip from an outdated, outplayed, and all-round awful sales method.