Buying a Car, to suit up, or not to suit up (other car buying advice welcome as well)

This is the sort of question I thought could only be answered at Car Talk. I was recently walking through my car buying strategy – get online quotes from all the dealers in my region, compare, ask dealers to beat the best offer, then when the day comes, suit up so they know I mean business – and at this point he stopped me and said “Don’t wear a suit, if you do they’ll think you’re rich.” This lead to a lengthy debate about on the appropriate attire for purchasing a vehicle.

So my question is whether to suit up or not – and does it change based on the vehicle in question?

I don’t believe the suit would make much of a difference either way.

YOUR attitude is what usually dictates the sale . . . or lack thereof

If you are not assertive, the salesman will beat around the bush and waste your time

If you are assertive, the salesman will USUALLY get down to business quickly

For me, one of the most important thing is to resist the extended warranties, underbody coating, “prepaid” maintenance plans, plus all the other upgrades that you were NOT planning on buying

Have a realistic bottom line, present it, give them 5 minutes, then leave if they don’t come back with a reasonable offer.

Back in 2006, I was looking for a new minivan as I had sold my 2000 Windstar to my son. I was driving my 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass which was showing its age. I was dressed in ordinary work clothes. I was ignored for at least 10 minutes, until finally a younger sales person asked if he could help me. I told him I was looking for a minivan and let him know that I would be purchasing one within the next several days. I took a test drive in what was called a program vehicle. I told him that he was in competition with other dealers and I wanted his best price. If he had the best price, he would see me again. I got the price and left. The next day, I came to the dealer again, but this time professionally dressed (I had just taught a class) and driving my 2000 Windstar. All kinds of sales people approached me. I asked for the salesman I had talked to the day before and was told that it was his day off. I replied that I would only talk to the salesman that I had worked with the day before. Suddenly, the salesperson I had worked with appeared and the other sales people were red-faced.
I did buy the minivan.

I don’t think the suit will matter either and best stay out of the office.
Do not have a seat while they go “talk to the sales manager”. Tell them they have one shot at the best price or…


I’m glad that you specifically asked for the original salesman.

It sounds like the guy was a straight shooter and deserved your business.

I’m really disappointed, but not surprised, that the other salesmen tried to steal the business from their colleague.

@db4690-- my wife and I had a similar experience at a furniture store. We were making quite a large purchase in new bedroom furniture and the saleswoman had been helpful in making our selections. We had the price, but decided to shop one more store. We liked the merchandise in the first store better and decided to make the purchase. When we went back, the saleswoman had the day off. We refused to talk with anyone else and waited a day.
Price is important for me in buying a vehicle, but I shop for the dealer as well as the vehicle. I did business with a small town Ford dealer about 15 miles from my home. The price was competitive, but the service was excellent. I always got a free loaner when I left my vehicle. Unfortunately, I need a minivan and Ford, in its great wisdom, decided to no longer make minivans. That is why I had to go to a Chevrolet Uplander in 2006 and, since GM no longer makes the minivan, I’ve gone to a Toyota Sienna. As far as I am concerned, if you’ve driven one minivan, you’ve driven them all. I would probably be driving Ford minivans purchased at the small town dealer if Ford still made them.

That is very decent of you to stick with the original sales people. I can’t speak for the furniture world but car salesmen are under a gargantuan amount of pressure and every sale helps a bit to relieve some of that pressure. It also aids in job preservation…

Just my 2 cents, but I hate to see small town dealerships going the way of dinosaurs. Their disappearance eliminates a lot of that personal touch in every department.
It seems like everything is becoming essentially Wal Mart Supercenters.

The small town dealerships either are faced with upgrading their showrooms to the current standard or not being new car dealers anymore. The Ford/Toyota dealership a ways south of here is great to work with (better than some big city dealers) if the salesman had checked into what was on the next truck coming in we possibly would have bought there instead of the big city dealer that ended up selling us the car. My dad stuck with the same salesman for over 3 years while he made up his mind about his new car then a few months after dad bought the car the salesman moved to Arizona to be near family.

True enough about upgrading showrooms but the small guys also get hit on the parts inventory, service department equipment and schooling, and a plethora of other things related to sales and so on.

Both the Chevrolet and GMC dealers here are comparatively small when weighing them against the large dealers in major metro areas.
They were required to go through the new facelifts that GM came up with and the newspaper stated that the one at the Chevy dealer was a shade over a million dollars. The GMC dealer is probably close to that number.

The dealers have to foot the bill and paying back a million dollars with interest likely means they’re going to be pushing paint protectant, undercoasting, and extended warranties pretty heavily.

I wouldn’t worry about the suit. Who wears suits anymore? Most people prefer being in a more casual atmosphere and its always better to foster a partnership relationship than a one-ups-man one.

The only suits I see are on valet parking dudes. Nobody will be impressed, or care. When we bought last year we checked out models at a few dealerships (very low pressure) , test drove a couple, narrowed our selection down to two at home, and never went back to either dealership until it was time to sign papers and drive our car home. All the negotiations were done via e-mail. It was so much more pleasant that way. No being left in an uncomfortable chair while they got ‘approval from the sales manager’ , or whatever the newest variant of that is. We told them we’d be in touch if we were interested, and they smiled and said, “Thanks for coming by.” I don’t know whether that’s typical now, but all the sales people we dealt with were quite pleasant and none of them pressured us in any way. You might even think they were trying to be helpful.

Indicate your bottom line by being specific in your price. If 24k is the most you’ll pay, after they give you their bottom line, pretend you’re looking something up on your smartphone and then wait theatrically to say 23,997.98
The psychology behind ^that is that you’re indicating that from your end there is no wiggle room.

Don’t worry about the suit. Be knowledgeable, about what you want and what you should pay (Edmunds & can help) and let your offer be reasonable. The last point, be ready to walk away if the dealership plays games with you.

I dealt with a small town Ford dealer on a used car I wanted. The priced it $2500 higher than their website listed, they offered $2k more on my used car than they should and added $1500 more to “tax and title” than the tax and title would cost. So they tried to screw another $2000 from me on a car that was overpriced by about $1500 per the website price! I walked and said I’d think about it. I sent an email to the salesman outlining every way I thought he was pumping be for money and told him what I’d offer on the car, no trade-in. based on what KBB and Edmunds said his delaership should have paid for the car and he STILL tried to sell the car at a $5K upcharge 3 days later when he invited me back in! We did make the deal at $450 more than my price… its just business, no hard feelings BUT … Beware! Take your time, research and be ready to walk away.

When I sold cars, I actually would go for the customer who came to the dealership wearing shorts/jeans and a t-shirt who is walking around the lot on a Tuesday afternoon. These are the people with money. The guy in a suit who shows up at the end of the day or during their lunch break work for the guy in the t-shirt and jeans.

One of my teachers used to sell cars and he told us about a farmer who came in in overalls and all, One of the salesman tried to sell him a basic pickup and the Farmer ended up buying the top of the line example on the lot and pulled out a wad of bills to pay for it.

The small British automaker Bristol cars once had a gentleman who appeared to be homeless walk into the showroom and asked if they could match the color on the frying pan he pulled out of his bag “certainly sir” the salesmen replied, he thanked them and went out the door. An hour or so later an assistant to a very wealthy gentleman (who would dress shabbily and visit a particular business to see how the staff treats him) walked into the showroom to place his order.

I remember those who flaunt it most have it least. My 2 millionaire brother in laws do not dress up to buy a car, why should you! They make a deal on the numbers, not the clothes they wore into the dealership.

Thanks everybody!

BTW, I’ve mostly done the negotiating online, since I can fit it in at odd hours, and it’s so easy to copy & paste a competitor’s quote into an email to a dealership. Having said that, I do need to go in for the trade in and to actually get the car, so I’ll be on the lookout for any funny business.


Here’s more advice

The dealer will offer you a good deal on the trade in, yet screw you in some other way to make up for it.

Don’t allow that to happen.

Negotiate the price for the new car, WITHOUT THE TRADEIN, then buy it.

Sell the old car yourself on craigslist, or what have you.