The Art of The Buy: Hide Your Time Wisely

In an ideal world, the salesman is a doctor diagnosing your problems and needs and prescribing remedies. But let’s talk about the real world and the need to keep your timeline for buying a secret.

Another car buying travesty came across our desk and while interesting in its own right, one sentence in particular got our knuckles cracking for the post.

“I was trying to beat the 1% sales tax increase in New Jersey, so I really only had a few days to make the deal on the car final. Once I explained my situation to the dealer his demeanor changed for the worse…”

All you did there is point to a big lever in your back and say “pull here for easy access.” When negotiating, never let the salesman know when you need to complete the sale. A salesman’s worse fear is that you will walk off the parking lot without buying. By saying time is of the essence, he figures he’s got you locked down and can ratchet up the pressure. He figures he can force concessions. Your time is your own, so keep it a secret from those who would use it against you.

The rest of Dawud’s letter is after the jump. Ultimately, he did the right thing by walking away from a high-pressure salesman. But how else could he have responded in the first situation?

Dawud writes:

“Hey guys/gals,

I just wanted to share my pain. I recently bought a new VW Rabbit and I shopped around a bit first to try to get the best deal. Anyway, the first dealership I went to was Hamilton VW, I should mention that this is my first time buying a new car, so while I did a lot of research I didn’t know what to expect from the dealer but I was optimistic. I’m a bit of a geek so I was pleased with VW’s whole ‘build your car’ feature, it takes you through and lets you choose your options and everything, and then it sends your information to a local dealer for a quote. A few days later I was contacted by the internet sales manager via e-mail about my quote and we set up an appointment for a test drive, so far so good. When I actually got to the dealership things started to go down hill.

The first problem I had was that the dealer was pushy, I wanted a 2 door and he kept trying to push me into a four door every time I asked about a specific feature he would start pitching the four door again which was irritating but I didn’t let it get to me.

Next we go in to talk numbers, I had been saving for the car for a while so I already knew how much I wanted to pay and I was willing to pay pretty much exactly what they were asking for the car, but for some reason what should have been a painless procedure turned into another hassle. In the middle of this we get interrupted by some other customers of his, apparently they wanted a Passat, which costs about 30k more than the Rabbit, and for some reason that’s beyond me the dealer basically indicated to me that I was small potatoes and he really had to take care of the Passat people.

Now I felt insulted, but it was about to get worse, the dealer left me at the desk to go talk to the other customers for about 20 minutes, afterwards he came back to tell me how sorry he was and pitch me the four door again, before leaving for another 20 minutes to woo the people who wanted the Passat. At this point I was getting really frustrated, but not knowing any better I stuck around and waited for the guy to get back to me.

So he finally comes back, apologizes again and asks me how I was intending to pay for the car. Being the responsible young man that I am I had been saving for a new car for the past two years so I had ~half the cost of the car covered with my down payment, and I had already secured a loan for the rest with a sweet 7% interest rate. I should mention here that time was of the essence because I was trying to beat the 1% sales tax increase in New Jersey, so I really only had a few days to make the deal on the car final (it was Wednesday and the increase was scheduled for Friday).

Once I explained my situation to the dealer his demeanor changed for the worse, he started telling me that he could only get a deal done that quickly if I went through VW’s financing and that if he did he probably couldn’t get me an interest rate as good as the one I had. I explained that I had good credit and that it wouldn’t hurt to put in a credit application for me to see what kind of number I would get back, and if it was agreeable I would see what I could do. Then he told me that it would be $500.00 for the credit application. I was surprised because I was under the impression that credit applications were free. Sales guy replies back that the $500.00 is for the deposit on the car, and that I need to put down a deposit before he can do the credit application.

I had never heard of this before, but as it was my first time buying a new car I conceded and gave him the $500.00 bucks. On my way home I’m feeling mildly violated, like that feeling you get when someone touches you in an intimate area and you can’t decide if they did it on purpose or if it was an accident. TMI? Okay, moving on. So I’m waiting for him to get back to me optimistically hoping that I’ll still manage to beat the sales tax thing.

On Sunday I gave up and went to another dealer (Princeton VW/Audi) and my experience there was completely different from Hamilton, the dealer treated me like I was there to buy the most expensive car on the lot, when it came time to fill out a credit application not only was it free of charge, he told me that I shouldn’t have given the other guy a dime, and he didn’t try to sell me any more or any less than exactly what I wanted.

So now everything was great except I was short the $500.00 I paid Hamilton for the credit application. I called up the Hamilton guy and got his voicemail and explained the situation and asked for my money back. Still didn’t hear back from him, so I sent an e-mail (remember this guy is supposed to be their internet sales manager) and I still didn’t hear back. So then I contacted American Express, because no scumbag pushy car salesman is going to cheat me out of my money. That’s the end of my story, to sum it up:

If you’re buying a VW in central jersey don’t go to Hamilton VW because they are douche bags. Do go to Princeton VW though, those guys are awesome and don’t leave you waiting around so they can whore themselves out to someone who looks like they have more money than you.




Edit Your Comment

  1. bambino says:

    The two mistakes I can see immediately are the disclosure of your time frame already noted in the post, and also telling the dealer how you intended to pay for the car before you decided on a final figure.

    With that said, sometimes you can use your ‘time frame for buying’ to your advantage. Walk into a dealership looking like you know what you want, and tell the salesman that if you arrive at an agreeable figure, you’ll definitely be buying today. They won’t take the chance of mistreating a ‘sure thing’ and losing their commission. Of course, it goes without saying that if he can’t accomodate you, you must be prepared to walk out without hesitation.

  2. Your first mistake was believing any of the bull this salescritter told you. Well, that’s really your second mistake. Your first was not taking somebody with you who’s been through this before. And the moment the sales rep started acting disrespectfully you should have walked out the door. Either he’d have let you, or he’d suddenly have gotten a lot more polite. And either way you’d have been better off.

    I was once in the market for a car and was in a high pressure dealership. At one point in the discussion they took my car keys to do an evaluation of its tradein value. And when they came back, they kept the keys. When they wanted me to look at a car they had on the lot (like you, a 4-door when I wanted a 2-door), I asked for my keys back. They tried to stall. I insisted. They stalled some more. I stood firm. And finally they blinked and went and got them. I knew they wanted to control when I was able to leave. And I wasn’t about to be manipulated that way.

  3. Yozzie says:

    Jesus Christ – you might as well have gone into the dealership with SUCKA tattooed on your forehead, maybe in Gothic script.

    Here’s my take on car-buying – some people just should not EVER go into a dealership by themselves, especially when they’ve got in the vicinity of $7-8k burning a hole in their pocket. If you don’t know much about the process and/or don’t really feel all that confident about it, find a friend/family member/acquaintance who does, and take them with you. Go in knowing exactly what you want and don’t let the dealer fuck you into a higher-margin vehicle.

    And don’t get played for a fool by something as dumb as “It’s $500 for a credit application”, which is fucking stupid – have you heard about how the auto industry is doing? Every paying customer coming through the door is a gift from god (especially those who are totally unprepared for the royal ass-reaming in store for them).

    So research, research, research, and assume that a good percentage of anything you’re hearing from a car salesperson is 14k gold-plated crapola (yeah, I know there are plenty of great, ethical salesfolks out there, but they’re damn hard to find). Go into the situation forearmed with as much knowledge as you can, and if you already have half down and your own financing, you basically own that transaction.

    My only other piece of advice would be don’t buy new, especially on something like a Rabbit, because you’re going to get royally hosed on the resale, but that’s down to you. Some people just love that smell of mixed toxins that emanates from new cars; however, you can get the same aroma and save a considerable amount if you buy a demonstrator model. And if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, where you should be the top man but instead are on the receiving end of the retail dick, just walk away. A 1% sales tax increase is really not that much, and you could certainly negotiate a comparable discount from another dealer anyway.

    Besides, a VW dealer should be prepared to come back to your house and wax your fucking floors for the chance to sell you a car, those guys have spent several years until recently watching their recall-prone, mostly Mexican-made econoboxes gather dust on showroom floors as their once-beloved hipster market went to Scion.

  4. bambino says:

    Man Yozzie, you’ve got a great way with words. And I’m not being sarcastic when I say that.

    Hank, the problem I see with your situation is that you started talking about your trade-in before you arrived at a final figure for the car you wanted. In my experience, you NEVER even MENTION a trade-in until the dealer thinks he has a final deal on his hands. You knuckle him down on price as far as he’ll go, which he expects, and then whip out your Oozinator (TM) of a trade-in & spray it all over his face, walking away with a helluva deal in the process. I overheard a deal the same day I bought my new car in which a young couple committed this very sin, and I literally wanted to jump up & start banging my fists against the plexiglass cubicle while screaming for them to just ‘GET OUUTTTTTTTTTTT!!!!’ before they got screwed.

  5. misskaz says:

    I actually disagree with the “don’t buy a car by yourself for the first time!” hysteria. How else are you going to buy a car, especially if you are in a city without nearby friends/family? Just do your research and be prepared to walk away.

    I also disagree with the advice to not tell them you already have financing lined up, etc. If you let them think they might be able to finance your car for you, you’ll end up haggling over monthly payments rather than final purchase price, and that’s where they can really screw you. If you have your money, and know what you are willing to pay, just tell them up front you are dealing on purchase price only, not financing and other voodoo.

    I did both of these things (bought a car by myself for the first time, and told them I don’t need their help financing the car) and got a great deal from a really nice dealership and a salesperson that treated me like he was grateful for my business.

  6. bambino says:

    simple solution: refuse to bargain on monthly payments. Always stick to the final whole price of the vehicle. It goes without saying.

  7. gvonk says:

    Yeah, it’s pretty much a given dealing with salesmen. The “poker game” is a pretty apt metaphor. You must not reveal any information until you’re sure the salesweasel can’t use it against you. Because he will. What do you think he’s going to do with each and every piece of information he gleans from your eager beaver smile? Use them to help you get the best deal?

    Financing– If you can help it, get approved for the loan ahead of time through a credit union, bank, etc. Even if you pay the same rate as the dealer offers you (you usually get a better one), it’s always advisable to institute these checks and balances. You absolutely know the bank can’t fuck with the price of your car, the options, etc. And on the other hand, the dealer can’t play games with the payments, residuals if it’s a lease, or any of these details that they like to play with in order to screw you, because you already obtained the financing. But does the dealer know this? No. Play dumb when he asks about financing and don’t bring it up until after you have a price on paper. Then, you can whip out your check and slap your salesman in the face with it. This was most enjoyable for me.

    Trade-in– As bambino mentioned, your trade-in is just another pawn that the salesman will use to screw you even more.

    Bad Credit– Mentioning that you’ve had “a few slight credit issues in the past” is probably as boner-inducing a statement you can possibly make to a car salesman. At this point in the conversation, he’ll tell you he’ll have to “see what he can do”, while he plans his assault on your wallet. The easy fix to this is what I mentioned before: obtain your financing before you set foot in the dealership. If you can’t get a loan through a bank or credit union, you probably can’t get one through GMAC or whoever. This, again, separates the interests of the bank from the interests of the salesman, which in my opinion should always remain separate if you are to be a smart consumer.

    Time Constraints– Do not tell them you need a car by next weekend because [whatever reason]. If they have a car you want at a price you want to pay, you can complete the transaction in 90 minutes, no matter what, so there’s no reason to tell them you’re in a hurry.

    Personal Preferences– If they know you’re in love with the periwinkle blue, they’ll stop trying to make a deal for you because–guess what???–they have the only 2 in that color for miles. I only found the car I wanted in the color I wanted at one dealership, so I had to pretend I was interested in several other vehicles at other dealers just to get him to give me a deal. If I had told him how much I loved that color, he would have known that he had the only car I was interested in within a 150-mile radius.

  8. Fenni Fentu says:

    So what do you say if the salesman asks you how you are going to pay for the car or whether you have a trade-in?

    My employer has a number of arrangement with car manufacturers, in which you can get a price below invoice. The one I was looking at was the Volkswagen one here. Has anyone had any experience with these, particularly with the VW one?

    Also, Dawud, how do you like the VW Rabbit? I was thinking of buying one.

  9. TedSez says:

    This letter reminded me of an episode of “The Cosby Show” from many years ago, when Cliff Huxtable took his son Theo to a dealership to buy a car. He dressed down to give the dealer the impression that he had very little money to spend. But Theo let it slip that Cliff was a doctor, and all of a sudden the salesman started asking for a lot more money.

    Of course, this isn’t the way things really work — a car salesman is just as happy to rip off a poor person as a rich one, assuming the loan goes through. But the show dramatized the fact that that negotiating for a car isn’t a happy little discussion, it’s war. And if you let the salesperson get the upper hand, you’re bound to lose.

  10. bambino says:

    Salesman: “How were you thinking of paying for this?”
    You: “How about we decide on a final figure first and come back to that.”
    Salesman: “Well I need to know so that I can blah blah blah etc.”
    You: “Thank you for your time”
    Salesman: “Well hold on let’s get back to this figure…”

    Salesman: “Do you have a trade-in?”
    You: “Not at this time, no” (You’re being completely honest, you only happen to decide to trade in your car when the deal is finalized)
    If the dealer says he won’t sell you the car because you ‘lied’, then he wasn’t willing to sell you the car for that final price in the first place. Thank him for his time and walk away. Above all, do not cater to their demands.

  11. Smoking Pope says:

    If I was in a situation where a salesman bailed on me for any amount of time to cater to a customer making a larger purchase, I’d be out the door in a flash. Then at home I’d call the manager to tell them why.

    When you sit there and take an insult like that, it just tells the salesman that you’ll probably stand for being pushed around on any number of shady practices.

  12. Ben Popken says:

    Duster writes:

    “What is it with Americans and poorly built, expensive to repair VW’s?

    But seriously, you should be researching more than just the vehicle when you’re ready to buy. Ask around and look on the internet to find a local dealer that has a reputation of being honest, low-pressure and easy to deal with (They do exist). A good dealer won’t use a restrictive timeframe to try to put the screws to you. A good dealer is interested in the business relationship as much as the sale, and it will be evident in how they treat you. But all that still doesn’t mean you’ll get the best price. It will probably be close, but being upfront doesn’t leave alot of room for adding on profit by pulling cheap tricks after the fact.

    That said, if the single most important thing to you is PRICE above all else, then you will probably end up paying for it in poor customer service and attempted shady tactics at one of the “not so upfront” dealers. And even after you fight through all that, the great deal you were so sly in getting may not be all that great after all. It’s the unfortunate carnival game that is alluded to in the previous posts, you try to screw them before they srew you and back and forth it goes. By the time you cut through all the smoke and mirrors and get to the goods, sometimes you walk away with the top-shelf prize and sometimes you just waste your money. It’s up to you.

    (Full Disclosure: I do work at a family-run dealership)


    Duster “

  13. Miguel Valdespino says:

    For a lot of good suggestions, many of which mirror those given here, check out I got a good deal by emailing all of the dealerships within a 50-mile radius (I’m lucky enough to live in southern California, so that’s a lot). Most were sleazy and tried to pull tricks, but one guaranteed the price (lower than invoice) and didn’t try to shaft me when I showed up. He didn’t even try to sell me rustproofing or window etching.

  14. bambino, in my own defense, I didn’t mention the trade in; they asked. And I’d already figured out that I wasn’t likely to buy there, although I wasn’t quite ready to pull the plug. Just the fact they were trying to tack another $2000 over MSRP on the car had me determined to find a better deal. Which I did; I ended up getting it at another dealer for $500 under MSRP. (It was a new model and in short supply.) And I went through the fleet manager, who was as nice as could be. Since then, I only buy from dealers who treat me with respect.

  15. Ben Popken says:

    Dan writes:

    “I love the web sight but I think consumers need to be educated every once and a while about the business end of an industry, especially the car industry. My family has owned a car dealership for over 80 years, I am the fourth generation to work at the business and have alot of insight into the business and the daily workings inside.

    First off, while it is nice to be considered some sort of evil genius, car dealers and salesmen are far from it. I would say 90% of car dealerships are perfectly ethical when it comes to the business but, of course, there are many shady ones too. I am sure many consumers think they are going to get “screwed” when they walk into the dealership but it is far from the truth. Do you realize that profit margins on new cars are razor thin? Take this for example a new $40000 dollar SUV has about $4-$5000 grand of mark up in it, most dealerships while immediately mark this vehicle down $3000. When all is said and done, we usually walk away with about a $1000 dollars in profit. But consider that we have to service the vehicle, floorplan it (dealerships dont own their inventory, they floor plan it, or finance it) which has huge over head. Out of that $1000 also gets deducted the salesmans pay etc. So, on a $40000 vehicle you end up with a $500 to $800 profit.

    We have no problem giving people “good deals” but what is wrong with trying to make a profit? I sympathize with the VW buyer, the salesman he dealt with sounded very unprofessional and I dont blame him for leaving. But in regards to the $500 deposit, that is standard operating procedure for 99% of dealerships. But the saleman also lied to him about needing to use the VW credit acceptance customers own crecompany, that is bullshit. Most dealerships prefer to go through their own sources but have no problem using a credit union or bank.

    Bottom line: if a dealership is shady leave! But dont go into a car dealership thinking you are getting screwed, it makes the process alot harder than it needs to be”

  16. With all the great comments here, Consumerist should put together a car buying guide.

    Personally, my wife and I had the same experience with disinterested and slimy salesmen at the Naperville Toyota that was mentioned in another article. We ended up buying Scions from another dealer primarily because there were no negotiations involved…

    Oh and Dan, go screw yourself and learn to spell. Cars are not precious commodities. They are not unique and one-of-a-kind, so there is no need to have negotiated pricing unless you are trying to bilk someone. There is nothing wrong with trying to make a profit, and you claim that after all expenses your dealership only walks away with $500-800 profit…well, sounds to me like a flat price would guarantee a profit for your dealership and a fair deal for the consumer, and what’s wrong with that?

  17. Andy S. says:

    Sometimes the only way to get a dealer to turn down the obnoxiousness dial is to be a complete dick. As with the issue with the dealer trying to railroad you into a four-door, I have been forced to suffer through a salesman who took every opportunity to try to convince me to buy an SUV. Thing is, I hate SUVs. I was polite the first four or so times, giving a simple “no, thanks, I just really want a car”, but after a point I simply had to tell him, “listen, I don’t want an SUV. If you try to sell me an SUV one more time, I’m walking out of here and not coming back.”

    It worked. He didn’t mention the SUVs again. So I guess the thing to remember is that it’s not you who has to deal with the salesman in order to get a car, it’s the salesman who has to deal with you in order to get paid.

  18. Jesse in Japan says:

    Just tell the guy you’re looking to buy a car at some point over the next two or three years.

  19. Trai_Dep says:

    Keep in mind that there are 3 and only 3 revenue generators*

    1) Purchase price of car. Only refer to total price, never in $$/month. Calculators exist precisely for this reason, once you’ve nailed down a firm final price

    2) Trade-in. Ideally, sell it yourself. Really. Or they’ll screw you.

    3) Financing. Arrange your own. The more down you have, the better. Don’t tell them you’ll be bypassing their financing until the previous two negotiations are done. *Rarely* they might be able to beat what you’ve got. Assume they don’t until proven otherwise. Many times Financing is the “gotcha” they reserve to provide “reasonable” profit to the deal. Save it for last, then screw them out of it.

    * well, and mfr incentives and mfr rebates. Check these out before stepping foot on the lot. Ask about them (they’ll probably lie but they may not). Subtract from your starting price out of hand.

    Beware short cons like $500 “processing” fees, anti-rust coatings, consumer electronics (have done at different store for 50% off).

    If they get “cute” with ploys like taking your keys, getting a deposit, talking past you to sell your partner, questioning your manhood, leave you twiddling your thumbs, ganging up on you, tell them politely but firmly, you’re gone if they get “cute” again. Big world, lots of dealerships. They’re only one.

    Take nothing personal. They’re Satan. They sell dozens a week while you buy once every four years. They train, you window shop. Assume every word they say is a lie and every action they do a strategym to trick you out of money. It’s what they do – they’re car salesmen.

    Take nothing personal. They’re not your buddies. Be the guy that makes them cry when you leave, whose picture they throw darts at after they’ve gone thru therapy. Don’t be the guy they laugh at when you leave because you gave them hundreds extra.

    Oh, best way to save 30% off the purchase price? Don’t buy new. Kiss thousands away the instant your new car leaves the lot.

    It’s funny. I don’t buy new cars but I hate car salesmen SO much I like tagging along with friends to make them miserable. It’s a LOT easier driving a hard bargain when it’s not my car. (remember, there’s always another dealer down the road)