|Having a good car buying experience means choosing the right
dealer. But how do you know, at a glance, if a dealership is
going to treat you well? Here’s a list of tip-offs to help you spot
a bad dealership, so you can go elsewhere before you get too
deep in the process. Of course, if you shop online you can
minimize the dealership experience. But even then you will
have to test-drive the car you are considering. As always, the
best defense is preparation and knowledge so, without further
ado, here is our list of warning signs.
You may want to avoid a dealer when…
1. Salesmen are hanging around out front of the
dealership salivating. Dealerships have different ways of
deciding which salesman helps which customer. At the
enlightened dealerships, the salesmen wait inside until a
customer arrives and has a moment to browse the inventory.
Then, the salesman slowly approaches and politely offers his
assistance. In the bad dealerships the salesmen stand on the
curb like hawks looking for fresh meat. Do you want to be their
2. Your salesman suddenly disappears and another
salesman takes over. This means you are dealing with a
"turnover house." Turnover is a style of selling where they keep
throwing a salesman at you until you are worn down and sign
the contract "just to get it over with." The turnover system
favors the dealership, not you. Avoid it.
3. You call the Internet department thinking you're getting
the inside track, only to arrive at the dealership and find
out that they have "set you up with" a regular salesman.
You may have just lost most of the advantages that come with
using the Internet department. If you have already been quoted
a price through the Internet, this price should still apply. If the
salesman disavows knowledge of the deal or tries to switch you
to another car, it might be time to try another car lot.
4. Your salesman demands, "Follow me!" or "Wait here!"
They are trying to see if they can control you. When they say, "I
have to talk to my boss," and disappear for a half-hour, they are
trying to get you to invest a lot of time in the transaction so you
won't go elsewhere. These are old school games. If you want to
beat them at their own game, be as unpredictable as possible.
Leave the sales office when they go to talk to their boss; don't
follow meekly behind them as they lead. It's your car purchase
and your money — you should be in control, not the salesman.
5. When the salesman keeps talking “Payment” instead of
“Price”. Dealers often times hide the price or extra charges in
the lease or payment. They also can make more money from a
sale if the car is leased or finance through them. Even if you
are looking for financing, get the sale price first and then work
into the financing. You can always shop the financing
elsewhere if it’s not competitive, but at least you know your
best price and whether you want to buy your car from that
|6. They try to "switch" you from the car you want to
another car. Salesmen are instructed to "sell from stock" which
means they are expected to sell whatever they have on the car
lot. This means they might try to convince you that the
economy model you wanted in blue isn't going to make you as
popular as the luxury model in champagne gold with all the
options. The mark of a good salesman is one who listens to
your needs and does his best to fulfill them. If you don't have
this kind of rapport with your salesman, it will be a long and
7. You're talking with your laid-back salesman when a big
scary guy suddenly comes in and sits down across from
you. This is the "closer" and he is there to sweeten the deal for
the car lot. Stand firm on your offer if it is fair. Any attempts to
bully or pressure you to improve your offer should be met with a
hasty departure. You can always approach the dealership
again via the Internet department.
8. They say the advertised car is no longer available. "Ad
cars" are a way to bring people into the dealership so they can
be switched to whatever models are on the lot. This is the
classic "bait and switch." You can insist to see the car that is
advertised and, by law, you can buy the car at that price. But
they will probably tell you, "It's already sold" or "There was a
misprint in the newspaper" or "It's out on a test-drive."
9. Your trade-in disappears and they say they have lost
the keys. The idea is that then you have to buy a car from
them. Just tell them you brought an extra set of keys and you'll
be on your way home. They'll probably "find" the keys very
quickly. Then, leave for good.
10. You feel uncomfortable or intimidated. If you go to a
nice department store or a fine restaurant, do they make you
feel bad while you spend your money? No. So don't stand for it
at a car dealership, either. Besides, if you are intimidated now,
what will it be like when you begin negotiating? Test-drive your
salesperson and if you don't like what you find then take your
|The best way for you to determine if a car is right for you is to
actually get behind the wheel and drive it. But what do you do
once you're there? Many people don't really know how to
properly test drive a vehicle to really see if they like how the car
performs. Here's what you should do on a drive and what
questions you need to ask yourself about the car.
|Test driving a vehicle will also help wipe away all of the
unnecessary information that you may have accumulated along
the way. Forget about the facts and figures you may have
heard from the salesman, or the image that was suggested by
the television ad. Only you can tell if the vehicle feels right.
|Before you drive ask yourself:
|1. Determine your comfort level. Can I get into and out
of the vehicle easily? Does the seat adjust to the right
distance? Can the steering wheel adjust to a good
position? How does the seat belt feel?
|2. Look at your needs. Is there enough cargo space for
my needs? Is the trunk adequate? Do I need room in
the back for passengers? How about access to the
trunk or back seats?
|3. Check for visibility. Can you see well enough over
the steering wheel? How's the vision over the hood? Do
the mirrors work for you? Is there enough visibility
behind you? Can you clearly see over your shoulder to
change lanes or back up?
|4. Browse the instrument panel and the dash
accessories. Can you read the gauges? Do they
illuminate properly? Can you access the instruments
easily? This is the viewpoint you will have most of the
time. Is it appealing to you? Does the layout allow
adequate storage for essentials?
|Now it's time to drive. The test drive should help you
assess whether the car is right for you or not. It is
your time so take your time. A good test drive should
last 15 minutes. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
|1. Drive the car on the highway. Does it handle well on
the on-ramp? Does it merge well into traffic? How's your
vision when changing lanes?
|2. Check steering and breaking. Take the vehicle to an
empty parking lot and brake hard. Also, test the brakes
while steering aggressively. Does the car handle well?
Do you feel safe and secure?
|3. When possible take the car to familiar routes. This is
where your driving is most familiar and comfortable, so
it's a great place to really get a feel for the car. Will it fit
into your driveway or garage?
|4. Make sure you listen to the car. Listen to the engine
at different speeds. Check the AC and heater to see if
there is any excessive noise. Is there a lack of power
when you turn the AC on? Listen to the stereo.
|5. Test the car's steering and handling in tighter
situations. Make a U-turn. Does the car have an
adequate turning radius? Parallel park.
|6. In an automatic, feel the gear shifts as you increase
the speed. Do they shift smoothly?
|7. Check the acceleration of the car. This can be a
critical factor when merging onto the highway or when
avoiding a potential accident. Does it respond? Try
|8. Ask about warranty information. Does it still have
any factory warranty remaining? Price the car with an
extended Warranty, tax and registration. Is it still in your
|Once you've decided you've chosen the right car you will
have more confidence in entering into negotiations for that
car or an easier time finding comparisons to that exact
vehicle. Your drive home in your new car will be much more
enjoyable knowing you've done your homework.