How to negotiate a new car deal on your terms and avoid the 'false urgency' scam
Dealing with a new car dealer: So much fun. Like the bubonic plague, or taking a toothpick to a knife fight in a phone box. Let’s deconstruct a classic rip-off that happened just last week
Dealing with a car salesman is like wrestling with an octopus. It doesn’t seem fair - and sometimes it most certainly is not.
So I get this e-mail last week. (I’m inferring it’s from an elderly couple - ‘his & hers’ unified e-mail address - that’s usually a dead giveaway. Nobody under 60 does that…) I have no wish to embarrass this nice old couple, taken to the cleaners. Gutted on the showroom floor.
The context is: We’ve been lied to and we've made this terrible mistake, please help. And frankly there’s not much I can do one you sign and pay a deposit. Even if you back out, the deposit is toast.
Hopefully, however, shining a spotlight on this disgraceful event might serve to protect you from being similarly violated. And for us all this might be a frown going upside-down. Here’s hoping.
Because this could easily happen to you.
Learn more: Top 20 ways to beat a car dealer >>
Browsing Vs buying
The victims in this saga have gone to the dealership to browse - not buy. They’re doing research. They just want to have a look around. Next thing you know, there’s a deposit paid and a signature on a contract. They’ve taken a bath on the trade-in, and even signed up for the paint protection, which you should never do.
I’d suggest, when the Sons of Anarchy pull up, get off their Harleys and advance towards you with that telltale vengeful gleam in their eyes, it’s easy to know you’re in a deeply adversarial situation.
When you’re at a dealership, it’s not like that. There’s handshaking and smiling, and you’ve probably been handed an espresso during an outbreak of polite conversation.
But the situation you’re in is just as conflicted, and the stakes are pretty high. It can cost you thousands if you fail to be an effective advocate for your own interests.
Conflicts of interest
You and the salesman do not want the same thing. You might want to browse - check out this particular car and maybe two or three others from different manufacturers. Make a fair and balanced decision based on some comparative observations and after you’ve had time to consider the purchase carefully.
This is the last thing the sales guy wants you to do. He does not want you walking out the door and visiting his competitors. He knows that if he lets you walking out, the chance of you and your money walking back in, in the days to weeks ahead, are greatly diminished. He hates that.
The incentive to sell
And despite the politeness, you should never lose sight that he (or she) is an expert at this. A sniper. Heavily incentivised to sell. Today. Now. To get you off the market, with a signature and a deposit. With an armoury of manipulative weapons at his (or her) disposal.
Not selling today is a cardinal sin. The sales manager will kick his arse for it. But only because the dealer principal will kick his arse. But only because the importer will kick his arse for failing to sell.
And in this latter case, by ‘kick his arse’ I mean ‘not pay a huge, undisclosed monthly bonus for meeting a pre-determined sales target’. Car dealerships live or die on bonuses.
Trust me on this. There’s a cascade of arse-kicking flowing from the failure to sell. This is a highly competitive industry. The products cost heaps to make. And the margins are always under pressure.
If you’re a carmaker, there’s a really simple viability equation: Production equals sales, otherwise, you go tits up. Therefore the squeeze to sell is on. It’s never off.
So you’re in there, just browsing. You fully intend to visit two or three competing dealers to check out two or three competing cars. You intend to go home, think, decide. You know that, and he knows that. And one of you really hates the idea of you doing this.
So, if you were negotiating with the Sons of Anarchy here, it would be easier to see what’s going on. They’d probably shoot you in the knee and thus see if you could be prevailed upon to alter your plan.
And oddly enough, metaphorically, philosophically, this is pretty much what happens in a dealership. The salesman needs to present you with a compelling, imperative reason for you willingly to upend your plan and do the deal now.
And I just want to take a moment to explain the ethical dimension you stepped into when you walked through the door. If you’re a person with a functional moral compass, it’s a mistake to imprint these values into how you see this process working.
I’m not saying all car salesmen are snakes who’d sell their mothers into slavery if there was a deposit in it for them - but there are enough ethically ambivalent car salesman out there for it to be insane for you not to acknowledge this risk and deploy appropriate countermeasures.
I always think of this situation in terms of the time. I imagine being face to face with a car salesman, and casually looking down casually at my watch. Like: What do you know? It’s ‘bullshit o’clock’. Agin.
It’s always ‘bullshit o’clock’ in a car dealership.
Professor Harry Frankfurt is the authority on bullshit. It’s not necessarily lies. Liars respect the truth enough actively to misrepresent what they believe to be true.
The bullshitter is not bound to truth and falsehood in this way. He just presents statements designed to serve his underlying agenda - they can be true or false, in endless permutations. It doesn’t matter. He’s, in a sense, unplugged.
Hence the term ‘bullshit artist’, which the car salesman almost certainly is. In this case, he’s presenting you with a set of compelling alleged reasons to drop your plan and buy right now, which serves his agenda.
The most common bullshit gambit here is: False urgency. There has to be a good reason for you to go now. To inject urgency. To up-end your plan. To get a signature and a deposit out of you. Now.
And the most expedient falsely urgent gambit is the allegedly unbeatable deal, allegedly expiring when the doors close this evening.
I mean, when you think about it, this is unbelievably lucky, right? (Key word: unbelievably.)
You just happen to have darkened his door in the closing stages of the very last day of an unbeatable deal, which will never be repeated, which would represent a missed opportunity of epic proportion, bordering on a financial tragedy, should you not embrace it right now by signing on the dotted, and paying a deposit.
How ‘unbelievably’ fortunate. What a coincidence. Please..
Or you could just look down at your watch. (Goodness me: )
Logic beats bullshit - if you use it
We all want to believe we’ve been unbelievably lucky, but ask yourself: Why would this deal not be available tomorrow, or next week? If this is actually a genuine carmaker incentive, it would be on the website. It would have a stated closing date. It would be available from all other dealers of the same brand.
If it’s just a special the dealer has cooked up, flying solo, there is no commercial reason why he could not do the same deal on this car tomorrow, or next week. If it’s in stock, he’s already purchased it from the manufacturer. There’s no economic reason for that special to end tonight.
If you front up tomorrow, or next Tuesday, and offer that exact sum, do you really expect to be shown the door. “You had your chance mate: get out. I don’t think so.
You might have to dig pretty deep here, to cast a net of skeptical disbelief capable of containing this expertly coiffed bullshit. Or, you could fight bullshit with bullshit:
“I understand this would be a missed opportunity - but I really do want to make the right decision. And I haven’t done my due diligence yet. You’ll have other specials down the track, I’m sure.”
The rabbit hole gets deeper
Just remember, the cake of bullshit is baked according to a complex recipe. Once you’ve bought into this absurd proposition that you are the lucky-est car-buyer in the western world this year (just sign here)...
...it’s very easy to gut you on the trade-in and the finance, because, hey, we’re giving you an unbeatable deal on the new car. We can’t throw the trade-in and finance away at cost, too.
Then they trot out the Ming Mole, and her gravity-defying silicone breasts offer you the paint protection, the tinting and the rustproofing, and somehow, you can’t say ‘no’...
Just remember: It’s an adversarial situation. The path of least resistance is just to say yes, and watch your finances bleed out, all over the floor. My advice: Man up (even if you’re a chick). Start saying ‘no’.
Be properly skeptical of everything that is said. And do not underestimate how convincingly it comes across in the moment.
Do the deal on your terms and don’t get taken to the cleaners at every turn. Look at your watch. Remember the time. Don't get ambushed by stealth.
More info: Here's how to make buying a car at the end of the month work for you >>
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