CarDomain Network: CarDomain Autoholics
The Dealership Demystified
Posted On: 11/18/2010 7:15AM

Have you ever purchased a car from a dealership? For a lot of people it's an experience worse than a root canal; the general car-buying public would have you believe that being ripped off is inevitable, and being completely duped by a cynical sales force is par for the course. But it doesn't have to be like this: I work at a dealership, and have seen both the good and the bad, and there are a few basic things you can do to avoid the most common pitfalls. Follow the jump for my tips on what to do to avoid a horrible dealership experience.

There are a few things that you absolutely need to know before you get to the dealership. Think of it as a major responsibility that you owe yourself: do your homework, and make absolutely certain that you know exactly what you're looking for and exactly what you're able to spend (don't forget to include tax and titling costs). Many dealers will attempt to push a vehicle on you that has big money coming to them from the factory, or that's been sitting on the lot a long time. Car sales people absolutely love shoppers who aren't certain on what they want, and you'd be amazed how easily they can take advantage of this situation at the customer's expense.

Same thing applies if you're planning on trading a vehicle in: do your homework. Check a few websites, such as,, and to give yourself a reasonable range of your trade's worth. Know what your vehicle is worth, but remember to be realistic about it. You'd be surprised how many people come in and demand an absurd amount of money for a 5-10 year old car with over 100K miles on it. A dealer is likely to lose money on such a vehicle, as it will probably get sold via auction for a few hundred if they're lucky.

The rate at which a new vehicle loses it value is astronomical, which is why it's sometimes a better idea to sell your potential trade-in privately instead where you can obtain more for it (especially if you still owe money on it!). Sure, the salesman might talk about "rolling it in" to the deal with your new car, and this can be tempting, but beware. Rember how your new vehicle begins depreciating astronoically? Now add all the money you just "rolled in" and then you're what we call "flipped": you owe more money than your vehicle could ever hope to be worth. This is an excellent example why you need to do your homework!

So now you've struck the "deal" and you're ready to sign the paperwork. This is the point where it becomes important that if there were any promises of free oil changes, free installation of accessories, etc, it'd be in your best interest to make sure it's written on this "buyer's order" or "sale agreement" when you and the dealer sign it. Your deal will pass through a lot of hands and if it's not written down, no one will remember what happened except you. Sales people see many customers in a day, and it's often because of this that later disagreements and unhappiness arise: details and promises are forgotten if they're not written in stone.

This next piece of advice may seem a little silly, but when the dealer presents you with that large stack of paperwork wherein you "sign your life away," read it! The whole thing. Ensure the little details, things like the correct spelling of your name, which can save you huge hassles later with insurance and registration. If you're trading in your old vehicle, make sure you have your title and lien release (as applicable by state), any extra keys, key codes, etc. This will make things easier for everyone.

Keep these tips in mind and hopefully your next car purchasing experience can be a positive one. Maybe even when your sales paerson asks you to fill out the survey, you won't even mind giving them all 10's!



Comments (10)
Avatar By: 66Mope
11/18/2010 8:26 AM

Good info. I've never bought new but came close once or twice. In those instances I had good luck by dealing exclusively with the internet/fleet sales manager.

Avatar By: SouthernGuy8503
11/18/2010 8:32 AM

Actually both trucks I've had (current one and my 1st one) I've bought from a private seller. Only time I've had to deal with dealerships and when I go walking around the lot just looking. I don't think I'll ever buy brand new since the value drops a lot as soon as you drive out of the lot. If I want basically brand new I'll just look for something that's used but only about 1 year old. That way I pay the actual value and still pretty much brand new.

Avatar By: cknarf
11/18/2010 4:06 PM

As a salesman myself, I can offer a few simple tips. 1. Don't expect a new car, they're called used for a reason. 2. Be nice to the salesman, 'cause I'll run your ass. If you don't buy it, SOMEBODY ELSE WILL. 3. YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. Don't complain when your $400 Honda with 300k miles Doesn't run as well as the $2500 Grand Prix on the front row. 4. If I say, "You don't want that one, it's more trouble than its worth." THEN YOU DON'T WANT THAT ONE. Because it IS more trouble than its worth. 5. Don't treat us all like crooks, we're people too. Despite what the movies say, most of us are just tryin' to make an honest living like anyone else. 6. Yes miles count for something, but don't make a decision solely on that. The Crown Vic interceptor with 250k, will most likely outlast the cirrus with 97k. It's all about prior maintenance. 7. No, we're not giving you $3000 for your 95 taurus. 8. If you're shopping for your daughter, Don't let her get the 'pretty red neon' with a questionable motor. Put her in the ugly ass honda, that will last a few years.

Avatar By: JoeCool6972
11/18/2010 4:21 PM

I've worked as a technician at independent shops, and dealers, and I cannot understand why the dealer has the reputation of being so bad. Heck most independents charge way more! Example: Hiester Chevy oil change is $25, Jiffy Screw $42. And a lot of the independents buy their parts from a dealer, then mark them up way higher than we ever would. Then there is the issue of who would you rather trust: A guy who works on everything withe little experience in any, or someone who works on the same make all day with years of experience and factory training.

Avatar By: SouthernGuy8503
11/18/2010 6:26 PM

JoeCool - Actually it more of less depends on who you go to. The mechanic I normally go to (only if I don't have a tool I need for the job or just don't trust myself trying) actually doesn't mark up on the part. The mechanics around here don't go to the dealership for parts, they get them from the parts stores (have 4, just opened a 5th). If they do go to a dealer it's only because it's a part that's not sold at parts stores. I remember once the mechanic I went to had me get the part which wasn't a huge deal because it only took 30 minutes to go to th store from my house and buy the part, then go take it to him. He also charges the lest out of any mechanic. The dealerships also charge the most for labor, might be a mechanic or 2 that charges roughly the same. It just depends on where you live. I would never go to the dealer for work. The mechanic I also go to knows a guy that works at the Chevy dealership. Once he had to get him to come by his shop for my truck and he didn't charge me any more for labor because it wasn't that much. Also I'll never take my truck to a quick lube type of place that you're talking about that has people with hardly any experience. I'd rather take my truck to a mechanic that I truck 100% that wouldn't BS me than a dealer or a quick lube type of place. Only way I'd go to the dealer is if I had a vehicle with a warranty and I would have to go to a certified dealer to not void the warranty.

Avatar By: SuzyBruisy
11/18/2010 7:41 PM

I developed a severe distrust of used-car dealerships last year when I worked for a Firestone in a seedy part of town. There were a lot of scuzzy car lots in the area that would bring us their previously-wrecked/totally jacked vehicles for cheap alignments. Sometimes the cars would be basically bent in half but with a fresh Maako paintjob so they looked nice for the sale, and they'd be like, "we don't care how pretzeled it is, just throw an alignment on it!!" These cars would literally be going down the road sideways. All I have to say after that is, if you're buying a cheap car from a dealer lot, ask who they use for their service and then demand service records for that car (by VIN) and/or go and cross-examine their service people. Seriously go over the car with a magnifying glass for crash damage and recent front-end work. Be smart.

Avatar By: cknarf
11/18/2010 8:33 PM

Oh! You know what I also hate? people that ask for a carfax on a $500 beater off the back lot. lol wtf? Well, actually, I hate CarFax period. It's like $50 bucks a car, so we tell customers "The VINs out there on the dash, feel free to look it up." Then I'll offer a Car Fox instead. It's hilarious! You can always tell those who don't know much about cars, because instead of asking for the key, and looking it over, they immediately ask for mileage and a car fax lol. Get outta here witcha yuppie asses I say!

Avatar By: retroman
11/19/2010 12:18 AM

cknarf, good point. CarFax is useful for some stuff though, but it doesn't list a complete vehicle history. People fail to realize that if some Joe did the shady repairs himself in a dimly lit garage, that wouldn't show up on CarFax.

Avatar By: Mbeezy3405
11/19/2010 1:30 PM

Haha some of these are comments are funny, "no you wont be getting 3,000 for your 95 taurus" im sure you hear that all to often.

Avatar By: cknarf
11/19/2010 9:50 PM

Almost every day! Oh god, you should see the '87 Fleetwood guys... They want TOO damn much money.


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