Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Tricks car dealers have tried to play on you

My husband and I have been trying to buy our first new car from a dealership. I’ve been really bothered by all the tricks the salesmen have been trying to play, especially when it come to price negotiations. Examples:

– When I asked during the negotiation phase for them to tell me all extra taxes and fees that would be added on top of the base price (so I could calculate my out-the-door price before agreeing to anything), one dealer mentioned all other government fees but “forgot” to mention the $200 licensing fee until they typed up the contract. It’s a legitimate charge, but if you remember to mention the $8.75 California tire fee, you need to remember the $200 vehicle licensing fee.

– Two separate dealerships have overcharged sales tax by exactly $5, which makes me wonder if this is a common scam. $5 isn’t much, but if you overcharge every customer by $5, that quickly becomes hundreds of dollars.

– Under the “Cash for Clunkers” program, I am supposed to get a $4500 credit (untaxed) plus the scrap metal value of my clunker (less $50 for dealer fees). One dealer attempted to tax the $4500 and wouldn’t adjust his calculations, thereby overcharging me by about $500 dollars. The other refused to give me credit for the scrap value – he estimated it at $200 but subtracted the full amount for his dealer fees, even when I showed him on the CARS website that he was only supposed to keep $50 in dealer fees.

What tricks have dealers tried to play on you? Any advice for dealing with these tactics? I certainly can just walk out, but I can’t walk out on ALL dealerships, or I won’t be able to buy a car. I need to find someone to do business with.

Do your homework on the web for the car you are looking for. Shop local dealers and get them to bid on your car. Or, give them your “out-the-door” price to meet or beat.


Dealers do have more tricks up their sleeves but customers have a few also,like getting the dealers “absolute lowest price” and THEN saying OH Yeah I have a trade and wanting the Dealer to stick with the “no trade” price.

I think its best going into the process with eyes wide open knowing that you are probably being “assesed”, that is they are checking you out to see just how far to push it.

The list of tricks car dealers play is too long to post here, You seem to be paying attention to the bottom line, which is the thing to do. I think you should stop worrying about the tricks. As long as you catch them before you sign the contract they don’t matter.

If you don’t like the numbers, don’t deal with that particular dealer. If you point out their “errors” they should correct them, in which case you’ll be fine.

I’m betting half the dealers out there don’t really understand the details of the cash for clunkers program and are making honest mistakes. The other half, of course, are using it to rip people off, but that’s the way the game is played.

Keep negotiating until you get a deal you’re satisfied with, then sign and drive away in a new car.

Dealers like to make the process as confusing as possible. Have all kinds of add ons etc.

The method I have used since 1970 has worked every time for me.  (Worked means I got a fair price with minimal bother.)

I decide what specific car I want.  That includes color and everything on the accessory list.  I make sure I can wait for a couple of months if needed.  

Then I visit three to five dealers, at least one out of town. I tell each one the exact same thing.  I want the car I already decided on.  I am not in a hurry so I can wait a couple of months for you to find and deliver the car. I explain exactly what I am going to do (visit other dealers) and that I will not bid one against the other, but each will have one bid opportunity and no dealer will know what another bid.  

I stick with that policy and the one with the lowest bid will get the sale. The longest I have had to wait was about two months. After we have a final price for the new car I offer them the opportunity to buy the old car. If not I sell it myself.

The last car I bought came with a surprise.  They had a price drop on the car over those two months so I got it for $500 less than I had agreed to.  In addition they had contacted me to explain that they had not found the exact match, but had one with one feature missing and would reduce the agreed price by the sticker cost of that item.  

At the very least, keep your deal as simple as possible.  For example try to have financing arranged with your bank, before shopping.  

Never let them have the key to your car.  In fact if possible drive a different car than the one you are replacing so they can't control you by having your car on a test drive for 45 minutes.  You need to have an escape.  Don't give them control of you.

One way to avoid the dealerships that tend to be trickier than most is to ask one pertinent question when you first encounter a salesman. That question is, "Can I buy a car at this dealership without a “dealer pack”?.

A dealer pack consists of varying amounts of aftermarket equipment installed at the dealership, and it could include any or all of the following:
tape stripes, chrome wheel well mouldings, bodyside moldings, “pimp wheels”, “pimp roof”, paint protectant, fabric protectant, “off-brand” alarm system, etc.

A clue about the presence of these items is a small sticker placed on the car window, next to the original manufacturer’s sticker. All of these items are of lower quality than original equipment, and they are grossly overpriced. Yes, the price of these “extras” is always negotiable, but their very presence is a tip-off that the dealership is looking to make an outsized profit in the first place.

So, when I walk into a showroom and see those extra stickers on car windows, that sets off an alarm bell in my head. That causes me to ask whether they sell cars without a dealer pack. If the answer is “no”, or if there is a lot of hedging about the answer, I simply walk away.

Yes, I think some of them really are unaware of all the Cash for Clunker rules… but it bothers me that when I’ve shown them printed documents from the website or from the California State Board of Equalization, they’ve gotten very defensive. One salesman told me that his manager resents young people telling him how to run his business.

I often wonder if it’s fair to call these “tricks”.

Dealers are professionally trained to get as much money from you as they can, and to hopefully have you smile and be happy as possible after the transaction.

It really is a game. They will have invested in their homework. You’d be foolish to not do yours.

Would you go war with water pistols when the enemy has guns?

I agree that car dealers deserve to make a profit and that salespeople deserve to make commission. While it certainly doesn’t count as a “trick” to try to make money, some of their tactics do qualify as tricks. For example, charging extra sales tax beyond the county’s fixed tax rate is probably illegal (though it’s something few people would catch). And forgetting to mention a $200 fee when asked to disclose all taxes and fees that would apply to the out-the-door price of the vehicle is certainly deceptive.

Well, that’s exactly the kind of place to walk out of. There are plenty of dealers out there who WANT to sell cars. Find one. When you do, be polite, be firm, and don’t let them push you around. They are trained, and I mean trained, to take charge and “lead the customer around by the nose.” Those are the exact words told to me when I sold cars.

If you don’t let them control the situation you’ll be much better off. Doing all the research you’ve done shows that you’re on the right track. You don’t have to give your hard-earned money to someone who doesn’t show you some respect.

You’re the customer. It’s your money. Make them earn it.

Oh, they’re definitely “tricks,” no question about it. Taxes and fees should be the same wherever you go. The tax rate doesn’t change from one dealership to another, and the fee to register a car or transfer a title is established by the state. If one dealer has a fee the others don’t it can be negotiated away.

“Losing” your car keys after a test drive of your trade-in is one such trick. It’s designed to keep you in the showroom so they can keep working you over. Never give them your only set of keys.

“Losing your car keys after a test drive of your trade-in is one such trick.”

I forgot about that one!

That happened to me, back in '92 at a Honda dealership on Rt. 9 in NJ. I calmly responded that they had exactly 10 minutes to locate my keys before I telephoned the police, and I then strode over to the payphone on their wall and began fishing in my pocket for change. (This was in my pre-cellphone days, of course)

Within about 2 minutes, my keys were miraculously found. As I accepted the keys from the salesman, I looked him in the eye and stated, “Of course, you do realize that you and this dealership have lost any chance that I will EVER buy a car here.”

Collecting money for taxes and licensing fees and then pocketing these fees has the potential for criminal charges and the profit from this practice is not worth the exposure to these potential charges. I call these issues honest mistakes.

Not giving the required scrap value to a customer surley is a dishonest practice but I don’t understand how the OP worded it, “he estimated it at $200.00 but subtracted the full amount for his dealer fees” shouldn’t it read “He estimated it at $200.00 and kept $200.00 when he was only entitled to keep $50.00”.

Taxing the $4500.00 credit (what was this tax called?) and then keeping this “tax” could get the Dealer in hot water.

None of these tricks are very sophicticated and all carry great risk of punishment for very little return. Risk your business license over some hundreds of dollars?. You may say if you do it enough it adds up,this is true but the more you do it the greater chance you will get caught.

I’ve bought most of my vehicles from the same salesman for the past 20 years, and I have all the homework done and the numbers figured out before I walk in, so I don’t get much of the trickery. That probably costs me money, because my negotiations at that point are minimal.

When I have shopped, usually with a friend, probably the most aggrivating thing is when they ask up front “how much can you afford”, or otherwise try to get financial information before even showing a vehicle. I walk out on those.

At one Mitsu dealer I asked to take a test drive. They required the saleslady to ride with me and she would only allow me to go their “approved test drive route”. She was young and all apologetic about it, so I went along, realizing it wasn’t her doing. That dealer closed last year.

But I’ve not dealt with this Cash for Clunkers program. That adds a whole new wrinkle, a whole new area the salespeople can manipulate to play games with and take money from the customer.

I’m the original poster.

Yes, the dealer did estimate the scrap value as a $200 credit to me on the contract, but then he applied what he termed an “adjustment” (i.e., a debit) of $200. When I asked him about it, he tried to say that since the net effect of the $200 credit and $200 “adjustment” was $0, I shouldn’t worry about it. I explained that he should actually credit me $200 and debit only $50 (I showed him the CARS webiste for verification). I should thus receive a net credit of $150 for the scrap value of my “clunker.”

He claimed he couldn’t do that, and said rather angrily, “What? You think you’re supposed to get the $4500 credit PLUS the scrap value of your car?!”

I replied with, “Yes, that’s exactly what I think, because that’s what the law says I am entitled to.”

Needless to say, the deal didn’t go through.

I realized where the extra $5 sales tax is coming from: they are charging sales tax on their $55 document fee. Does anyone know if fees are taxable?

Many times automobile salesman will try to steal another salesman’s customer. Three years ago, I drove into a dealership to see about a minivan. I was in my then 28 year old Oldsmobile and was ignored by the sales people as I looked at a minivan. Finally, a young salesman came over and I told him my interest. He put a plate on the minivan (it was a 2006 ‘program car’) and I took it for a ride. We talked it over and I got a guaranteed price. I told him I would be back with the next three days. I left and looked at a couple other vehicles and went back the next morning. This time I drove my much newer Ford Windstar. A salesman came up right away. I asked for the saleman I had talked to the previous day. “He is off today”, the new salesman replied. “That’s o.k.”, I said. “I’ll come back tomorrow”. Suddenly the orginal salesman appeared. I did buy the minivan and felt that the deal belonged to the original salesperson.

Some car dealers have used less than scrupulous practices for years. I was trying to buy a car back in 1971. I went to one dealer and gave the salesperson a description of the car I wanted. He told me that I would have to make an offer before he could give me a price. I said $1. He said that he had to have a serious offer. I told him that I wanted a firm price and would be back if his price was the best. He became indignant and said, “You’ll just take my price and use it to get a better deal elsewhere”. “No”, I replied. “I have a couple of prices in my pocket for equivalent cars and I haven’t told you these prices”. “You didn’t get these from a local dealer”, he responded. “Would you really go out of town to buy a car?” “Yes”, I relied. I left the agency and that is exactly what I did.

I go to a dealer ready to pay cash. My line is this: I have some money and you have a car. We need to determine how much of my money it is going to take to buy the car. One car I bought from a small town dealer and we agreed on a price. I then said, "I have a car. If you want to buy it, tell me what you will pay for it. If you don’t want to buy it, I understand and I will sell it myself. The dealer took my old van for a test drive and offered me $1000 more than I expected to get. When I questioned him about offering so much, he said “I have a customer for this car and I’ll make a little profit on it”. That was fine with me. I have had others dealers in the past that have told me that they didn’t want my car.

This “cash for clunkers” puts a new dimension on the negotiations. My real clunker, a 1978 Oldsmobile, doesn’t qualify. It’s probably just as well.

What’s is the idea on excluding pre-1984 cars? Perhaps people will be turning in the cars that really pollute? (I say this in all seriousness)There must be some reasoning for excluding these cars. Are we making a judgement about the people who own the pre 1984 cars (as in they are not the people who should be buying a new car) Any idea? because I don’t have one.

Why would you offer someone $4,500., or even $3,500. on a car that is that old? Maybe if they offered something like $500, it might make sense. But, $4,500 or $3,500 for a car that is at least 25 years old??

Yea sure no private party would offer 4500 for a car that old but we are dealing with three things, its the government making the offer,the offer is a arbitrary amount and third its your money they are spending.

The idea is supposed to be to get “polluters” off the road.

The guy that turns in a 1983 might just be as likely to buy a new car as a guy who turns a 1984,so if you want to stimulate sales open it up.Do you think a 1984 deserves 4500 more than a 1983?