How to Spot a Good or Bad Car Salesman

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Before choosing the right car, make sure you are choosing the right car salesman.

I feel like I have a unique perspective on the matter because I was a car salesman and later a car buyer for a car testing website.

In more than a hundred transactions, I’ve admired the benefits of working with a good auto salesman. The right professional can save you time and money, and even make this normally arduous process an enjoyable experience. Working with the wrong salesman can literally be a costly mistake and land you in the wrong car with a money-sucking loan.

But how do you know? This is what I look for – and try to avoid – when I meet and test a car salesman for the first time.

A good car salesman …

  1. Appreciates your time. Before going to the dealer, call ahead and let the sales manager know which car you want to test. Ask for the name of the salesperson you are working with and if they can pull out the car and keep it ready for you to drive. When the seller and the car are ready for your appointment, you are off to a good start.

  2. Listen to you. Choosing the right car it’s about you and your needs. So, ask your prospect a question that you may already know the answer to. Does the salesperson let you finish the conversation without interrupting? Is the answer accurate and to the point? Does the seller wait to see if you have any further questions before moving on?

  3. Knows your product. Choosing the right car means Look for myriad opportunities – Equipment variants (Basic, Sport, Limited, etc.), engine sizes and option packages. Asking a comparative question is a good test: “How does the sports equipment differ from the basic model?” An informed salesperson will answer with details and even explain how the features work.

  4. Follows immediately. If the right car is not immediately available or you need to come back later to close the deal, take the seller’s card and get their cellphone number. Call or text the next day. If you can’t reach them, leave a message and expect an instant response. Salespeople should also return calls on days off.

  5. Don’t lie to you. You need to use your intuition for this. But you can also rely on others to judge by getting recommendations and reviewing Yelp and online reviews.

A bad car salesman …

  1. Adjusts to get an advantage. Sales reps are trained to “qualify” customers or learn as much as possible about them in order to leverage negotiations. Seemingly innocent questions such as: For example, where you work, you can determine if the next question is, “Do you have a payment in mind?” or “What kind of vehicle did you have in mind?” I encounter such questions with vague answers like: “Oh, I’m in communication …”

  2. Uses language that catches you. Salespeople are trained to use your own answers to limit your ability to say no. For example, if you say the car is too expensive, the answer is “OK, but besides the price, is there any other reason you are not going to buy this car?” Don’t work with a salesperson who is trying to manipulate you just to close a deal.

  3. Bait and switch. A salesperson’s job is to get you in the door. Your call, email, or text asking about a specific car or business will most likely be answered with a “Come down and drive it”. But if the car or deal evaporates on your personal arrival, you are dealing with the wrong seller.

  4. Wasting your time. You’ve been browsing the property for five minutes and a nearby group of vendors are talking and laughing without looking your way. Not a good start. You are tempted to call one for a test drive. But a good auto salesman will offer help in a timely manner and with little pressure.

  5. Urges you. This is what buyers fear and loathe most, and it takes many forms. For example, at the dealership where I worked, we were trained to tell the customer: “Follow me!” and march them to the sales office before you even take them for a test drive. When they followed, it became apparent that I could control them. If you notice any form of this manipulation or pressure that makes you feel uncomfortable, go to your car and don’t look back.


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