How to Avoid Buying Something You Don’t Need When Talking to Car Salesmen

My most recent trip to the car dealership has me thinking about selling tactics. I recently received a scratch-off game piece from a local dealership. All I had to do was bring my game piece into the dealership during one of their special events to collect my prize and an opportunity to win a new car. I like free stuff, so of course I went to redeem my prize. What I received was a $5 gift card and an opportunity to get the hard sell from a car salesman.

I’m happy to inform you that I came out $5 richer instead of spending $19,995 on a new car that I didn’t need. While I’m not the type of person who is easily moved, luring people in with games to sell to people not looking to buy a car must work or else dealerships wouldn’t invest the money.

What I wanted to share is some of the selling tactics the car salesman used to try and create a need for a new car, though none existed when I walked through the door.

Scare Tactic

Since I was walking onto the lot having no need to buy a car, the salesman had to start the selling process by trying to create a need. It sounds so obvious when I put it like this, but experienced salesmen are good at this type of thing.

He took the make and model of my current car – an old Nissan – and thought he saw an opportunity to discuss my risks of not buying a new car.

“So, your car is getting old and you are still paying $230 per month on a car payment. Honestly, I’d recommend to anyone in your shoes to think about a newer car. If your car kicks the can, you won’t have any trade-in value and you’ll be shopping for a new car while still paying for your old car. I could put you in a newer car for the same monthly cost with a trade-in.”

The idea is to create value in a new car and devalue (or create risks) in not buying. I may have been satisfied with the reliability of my car so far, but every salesman knows that people value certainty over uncertainty.


Car salesmen are notorious for adding fluff to the sales pitch. For example, “this car has more features than James Bond’s car.” This kind of talk is usually more of a ploy to build rapport and tends to be obvious for consumers. The fluff that is harder to notice is when salesmen start talking numbers.

Remember, you don’t have a calculator on hand, so who’s to say the math they are quoting you is correct?

“So you are paying $230 per month on your car? That’s pretty close to $5,000 a year. Why not put that money into a new car instead and you’d have half the car paid off? You also have to think about the age of your car, because spending a $1,000 a year in repairs almost like doubling your current payment!”

Just in case you were about to break out the calculator:

  • I spend $2,760 each year on a car payment; a far cry from $5,000
  • Even if I were to put $5,000 into a $20,000 car, I’m only a quarter of the way paid and not half
  • A thousand dollars a year in repairs works out to $83 a month and is not even close to doubling my car payment

Most people aren’t good at math, which means the car salesman will either go unchallenged or can claim that they themselves are bad at math if they get called out. I need to stress that these are the numbers the salesman actually used, so someone accepting these figures could easily start being convinced that a new car is a smart financial decision.

The Deal is only Good Today

The problem with sales tactics like these is that they only work so long as you are in the immediate selling position. They need to close the deal, otherwise there is a fair chance you might actually run numbers or realize other benefits to walking away from the dealership without a car. That’s why you’ll likely hear something like I heard:

“Look. You are welcome to go home and think these things over. However, please take into consideration that if your car breaks down between today and tomorrow, you’ll really be at a disadvantage. You should lock in your trade-in today, because there might not be a tomorrow.”

How to Beat Sales Tactics from Car Salesmen

The enemy to all these tactics is knowledge. The less knowledge you have, the more vulnerable you become.

Confidence usually defeats the scare tactic. I know how to do many of my own car repairs and I’ve owned nearly half a dozen old cars in my lifetime. I’m well aware that fixing a car is nothing to be scared of and I have a good emergency fund to back me up should Carmageddon occur. I had no reason to fear a car breakdown.

The salesman also lost out on the exaggeration. I am good at doing math in my head, and corrected his math at every turn. I know not everyone is like that, so when you hear math bandied about, have the salesman take out a calculator and do the math in front of you. There is no reason why you have to accept exaggeration at face value.

There are plenty of dealerships in this country and they are always having sales events. Even if you have a deal today, there is no reason to think you couldn’t find a deal somewhere tomorrow. The risk to losing money by walking out is minimal. You may even find a better deal somewhere else.

I used a car salesman as an example, but it’s important to understand that these tactics are not unique to selling cars. You’ll run into these tactics whenever someone tries to sell you something you weren’t looking to buy. However, the solution is also universal.