Cars & Garages > Guides

Buying a used car? Here are 8 sales tricks to look out for from dealers

Robin Bowman

Robin Bowman
Jul 18, 2017

Car sales are booming.

They’ve been fuelled in the last few years by the huge popularity of Personal Contract Purchase plans (PCP), that have allowed millions to buy cars they could never have dreamt of owning in the past.

They’re great for dealers, too, because it means they can earn fat commissions shifting brand new cars off the forecourt.


Road silhouette

But entering a showroom when you’re interested in buying a new car can be daunting.

And if it isn’t, well, it should be because car sales people are some of the best in the business.

They may well be totally ethical, but at the same time, they are there to sell and they know a lot of tricks to do just that.

If you want to get a great deal on a new car, it pays to be aware of what’s going on, so you can make a careful and rational decision before spending you money.

Keep reading to find out the 8 tricks to watch out for, but first...


1. Superior test drive model

Watch out for – a superior test drive model.

A sales person will want to get you behind the wheel as fast as possible. They want you to feel the way the new car drives, which will almost certainly be far superior to your old one.

You’ll often be offered a car for a weekend, just to allow you a little longer to fall head over heels.

This is a time to keep a calm head. Ask: 

* Is the car you’re driving higher spec than the one you’re considering buying?
* How does it compare to others in its class?
* Is it stuffed full of optional extras you probably won’t be able to afford?

Try and test drive a model that is exactly the same as the one you’re considering.

Better still, put off the test drive until you’ve sorted out costs, terms and the many other details. Let the drive be the clincher, not the first thing you do or you may end up letting your heart rule your head.


2. Is cash still king?

Watch out for – Believing that if you are buying with cash, or mostly cash, you can drive a hard bargain.

Actually, unlike most walks of life, this is no longer true in the new car sales world.

The sales person will be far, far more interested in selling you a finance deal, whether it’s a PCP – they like these because they allow them to sell you a car that you could not normally afford – or a regular finance deal.

They want you to sign up to these as they make money on the interest you pay.

They’ll typically earn a lot from selling a finance deal, and, to be fair, this is how most people buy new cars.

But you should be very careful here because, while you might be told the deal on offer is “tailor made”, or “offers excellent terms”, it's the interest rate that should do the talking.

Don’t be talked into a quick decision on finance. You may find a personal loan, for example, will be much cheaper.

Don’t focus on how much a payment is each month, fix on the interest rate you’ll be paying.


3. Extras that drive up your final bill

Watch out for – Extras that add up to ££££s.

It’s easy when you are excited by the prospect of driving away in a new car, and you consider you’re making a big financial commitment anyway, to think adding a few extras won’t make much difference.

 But they can really add up.

It’s easy to get carried away. So, don’t! Add up what the extra costs will be and make sure you know what difference they’ll make to your monthly bill and that you can afford them.

Read more: Car insurance extras - are they worth it?


Road silhouette


4. Freebies

Watch out for – Being swayed by extras that the dealer is happy to throw in for free instead of shifting on price.

These may be of real value, but equally (and more likely) they might sound impressive but in fact they may well be freebies that are actually cheapies.  

Ask yourself whether they really amount to much in the scheme of signing up for a car-package worth tens of thousands.

And don’t be persuaded that something is a free extra when you should expect it as part of a new-car package anyway.

A quick plug: to get money-saving tips like these straight to your inbox for free, join our community using the box at the top. We'd love to have you on board!


5. Time-limited offers

Watch out for – Time-limited offers.

We’re not saying that all offers that run out on a certain date in the near future offer bad deals.

But it should be kept in mind that this is an age-old sales tactic designed to create excitement AND fear – fear that is of missing out and overpaying.

And it’s age old because it works.

A special offer may be spot on for you, but the pressing need to make a decision to take advantage of such an offer should never stop you from running through a checklist of need and affordability.


6. Special editions

Watch out for – Special editions.

These often pop up when a model is coming to the end of its shelf life and is about to be updated.

A special edition can just be a way of creating a bit of excitement around an older model and getting them shifted.

They might be offered with unusual add ons, or in unusual colours, or with varied interiors.

They may, in truth, be barely any different to a standard model.

On the other hand, you can easily check to see if indeed this model is due to be replaced by an updated version and use this to drive a bargain price for an outgoing model of the car.


7. The charm offensive

Watch out for – the charm offensive.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a sales person being friendly and pleasant. But don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. The warmth and friendliness has replaced the oily and pushy salesman of yesteryear.

They’re both aimed at achieving the same thing: getting you to relax, to trust and to fall in love with one of the shiny pieces of engineering in the showroom.

Be polite and friendly back, but don’t let the charm offensive persuade you anything.

Let the hard facts influence you – price, specs, payment terms and how suitable the vehicle really is for your needs (or wants).


8. Trade in tactics

Watch out for – Trade in tactics.

If you have a car to trade in, you may well be offered far less than its worth on the private market.

The dealer will know exactly what it's worth.

There can be a win-win here for a canny dealer.

If you’re smart and have done a bit of research and so know exactly what your car is worth, you’ll argue the price up.

The dealer gradually gives way and you feel like you’ve done well, both catching him out and getting a better price than he offered.

But have you in fact only got what it’s worth?

Or there’s a chance you’ll accept this lower trade-in price with explanations like “this is a difficult model for us to sell”, or “there really isn’t the demand for this car.”

Equally, if you’re offered a so-called “guaranteed minimum” on your old car, the price of the new one will go up to take into account that price.

The key here is to know the trade-in value of your car by checking online with Glass’s Guide or other tools and not accepting less.


Road silhouette

Could you be paying less for your next phone?

Fancy an upgrade? We compare prices on all the latest phones and tariffs