New or used. Lease or buy. Trade-in or sell. Even before you start considering make and model, not to mention color, it seems like there are so many choices in buying a car. And it’s easy to feel that you might be getting caught up in a car dealership scam.

Stay in the driver’s seat by avoiding these 5 common cons.

1. “Come on down to see what we got!”

The golden rule of car dealerships is to get you in to admire those shiny vehicles. So, when you call and ask the sales manager what they’d take for your trade-in, they’re likely to quote high. Once you’re there, though, they may offer you a lower price which might be fair, but not what you were expecting.

The best bet is to find out market value for yourself by first checking average prices online at a site like Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds. That way, you’ll know which price range to aim for as you shop.

Another angle on this scheme is that some dealerships will quote you a low price (ads are famous for this!) and then when you get there, they’ll say that car isn’t available, but they’ve got a sweet deal for something very similar … for a slightly higher price. Before you visit, ask the salesperson to confirm the details in writing via email so you have proof of your conversation on that particular car. And if they don’t have the car you want at a price that works, walk. You’re in charge.

2. “Do all your transactions here to save money!”

It might seem expedient to do a trade-in, purchase, and loan all at one dealership, but make sure you’re getting the best price for each element. Do your research by visiting various dealers and shopping your loan to multiple lenders, ideally setting it up before you hit the dealership. Of course, you might be getting the best price doing it all together, but don’t you want to know for sure?

3. “Nope, this car has never had a problem.”

A common car dealership scam is to claim that the car hasn’t been in an accident, even if it has. Luckily, there’s a simple way you can check for yourself. The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS), operated by the U.S. Department of Justice, offers a database of approved service providers where you can request vehicle history information. And some websites, like Carfax, also offer free car reports on many cars. If yours isn’t included, you can purchase a report. And it’s never a bad idea to have a trusted mechanic check out the car before you buy it.

4. “That rust protection is (almost) free!”

It can be easy to focus exclusively on the monthly payment that your budget will handle. The car dealer knows that. Which is why some will add in a bunch of extras like service contracts, extended warranties, rust protection, etc. that you might not choose to pay for if you knew what the true cost was. Have the dealer itemize the car payment and all the different services and add-ons. That way, they won’t be disguised in the monthly payment, so you can decide if they’re worth it.

5. The dreaded good cop/bad cop routine.

It’s a movie cliché: the salesperson says, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly go that low, but let me ask my boss,” then heads back to that mystical back room and comes out with a new number. In reality, you could eliminate the back-and-forth shenanigans by doing your negotiating with the sales manager over email. Then, simply bring the messages with you when you head to the dealership.

And what else should you do before you drive off in that new car? Yep, make sure you have the right car insurance. Get a quote today.



Safe and smart | Financial safety


about Cathie

Cathie Ericson writes about personal finance, real estate, health, lifestyle, and business topics. When she's not writing she loves to read, hike, and run. Find her @CathieEricson.