What You Should Never Say When Buying A Car

Getting a deal and driving off in a new car is a victorious feeling. Shopping around for that vehicle isn't typically characterized by nearly as much fanfare or triumph. Car sales professionals often put the buyer on edge and may even deploy a series of dubious tactics to create a pressure to purchase that can leave a sour aftertaste to the experience.

Fortunately, there are clear signposts that help guide buyers through this gauntlet of searching, financing questions, and the dreaded price negotiation. Primarily, it's worthwhile understanding some of the things that you should actively avoid while shopping around for a new ride. Keeping some of these key phrases and ideas to yourself will set you up for greater success when sitting down to barter over price, trade-in value, and financing options. People in car sales are plugged in when it comes to the psychology of the buyer. They're constantly looking for an "in" that will help seal the deal or increase the price — and their commission, as a result. With these key things remaining private in your mind, you can retain a strong bargaining position that will make the experience more fruitful and far less cutthroat.

'My car isn't going to make it much farther'

It's easy to start talking about your life and some of your car requirements when an engaging member of the sales staff approaches you. They will be looking to build rapport and disarm you in an effort to understand the kind of car you're seeking. For many people in the business of car sales, this is a natural process focused on friendliness and professionalism. There's nothing inherently nefarious about an employee asking you about your current car and general needs. However, it's impossible to trust that the specific agent you are communicating with isn't prying for little details that can help swing the deal in their favor. Many people in the market for a new car have hit a breaking point with their existing vehicle. In fact, many buyers are on the hunt for an emergency replacement because their vehicle has driven its last mile already.

While it may be easy to share details surrounding this state of your existing mode of transportation, it's impossible to put that genie back in the bottle. Once a salesperson knows that you are under the gun to replace your automobile, the leverage shifts into their favor. This small detail illuminates the time crunch you're under to find and secure a new car. Add in the pressure that a salesperson can apply and you'll be looking at a potentially stressful buying experience rather than easy browsing.

'I want to pay $400 monthly'

Naming a monthly cost that you can afford or have targeted as a budgeting priority is an excellent way to shift the point of focus on your negotiation away from the car itself and the specifics of the transaction that matter the most to you, the buyer. It can be easy to forget, but car dealerships aren't just in the market to sell vehicles. They also frequently act as the financing vehicle for car sales that go through their offices. This means that dealerships double as a sort of financial institution that engages in lending as well as the sale of physical assets.

When you shift the conversations focused onto the monthly payment figure a salesperson can easily pivot into talking solely about the dollar number you'll pay every month rather than how long these payments will last or what type of car you can afford or want to drive. Generally speaking, when you focus on monthly cost rather than the total price of a vehicle, a dealership will be able to easily sway you into lengthier financing terms that ultimately ramp up the cost of the vehicle by a wide margin. With any lending product you use to make a purchase, the longer it takes you to pay off the loan the more you'll be paying over its lifetime.

'I want $10,000 for my trade-in'

Another specific feature that should never cross your lips is the value of your trade-in vehicle. Once again, it's important to do your research and understand the generalities of your existing vehicle's value, but sharing is a no-no. By spitting out a number that you hope to receive for your car, you allow the salesperson to shift the conversations focus. More importantly, when offering a number first you are negotiating against yourself.

Your car may have an average trade in value of $10,000, but saying this figure out loud caps the value you can get for the vehicle. By offering a number first, the sales staff you are working with know that they don't have to offer you more than that number, even if it might be worth more. The result is the potential to leave money on the table, perhaps even quite a bit of it. Similarly, that same car might yield $8,500 first offer from the dealership, allowing you to counter with an ask of something more to the tune of $13,000. By keeping specifics surrounding your trade-in expectations vague until your sparring partner has delivered their first round of bargaining, you retain a much stronger negotiating position. You may ultimately settle for less than you would have hoped on a trade-in's value, but by offering a number first you kneecap your negotiating mobility and virtually guarantee a low offer.

'I have a car to trade'

Perhaps surprisingly, it may actually be a bad idea to mention your trade-in car at all before homing in on the vehicle that you want to purchase. Of course, many shrewd sales executives will buzz around this topic of conversation until they've gained an understanding of your position. It's not a problem to suggest that you already have a car, but committing to trading your vehicle for a new one early on in the conversation is a mistake that can punish you down the line.

Instead, it may be a smart idea to note that you have a car you may be willing to trade while focusing on the fact that you haven't finalized your plans for the vehicle yet. Making the car an option but not a certainty might help sweeten the pot when the time comes, giving you a valuable trade piece that adds solid value to the negotiation. However, this also maintains your freedom to sell the vehicle independently if you find a better deal elsewhere. Even if you tell a dealership you intend to trade in your car you aren't obligated to go through with it, but a bait and switch approach might backfire on you if you set the expectation high and then pull the rug out from under your bargaining partner. Maintaining a distance or avoiding the topic altogether will give you the best position possible when it comes time to decide what to do.

'I work in finance'

It might seem like a trivial question but when a salesperson asks about what you do for a living they are often prying for valuable information that they can use against you later on. Price discrimination is something that car dealerships are absolutely allowed to practice. Of course, dealerships cannot discriminate based on things like race, gender, or sexual orientation, but other non-protected parameters surrounding your personal identity can and often will be focused on by a dealership in order to maximize their profit. If you tell a dealership's sales agent you work as a lawyer, enjoy a career in finance, or do anything else that often yields a high salary, expect to receive a higher price tag when it comes time to hammer out the cost and specifics of the deal. Conversely, it's also not a good idea to lie. Whether in an effort to "big up" your financial standing or minimize it, sowing the seeds of a mistruth can come back to bite you later if the veneer begins to slip.

The reality is that personal details about your life aren't relevant to the car buying experience, so keeping as much as you can private is always a good idea. This salesperson may just be trying to build rapport with you, but no decent sales professional will be offended if you say you'd rather stick to the task at hand and keep it professional rather than divulging your life's story.

'This is my first purchase' or 'I don't know much about this'

Another piece of clarifying information that you should keep to yourself has to do with your experience in the car buying marketplace. For those who are new to this task or even complete novices who have never bought a car before, placing your limited experience on display can be a fatal mistake. On the flip side, it's not a great idea to overhype your experience. Sales staff may be looking to take advantage of gaps in knowledge that you bring to the table as a buyer, and flaunting your experience can be an off putting choice that ends up putting the salesperson on edge and looking to overcompensate.

Inexperience is a natural part of car buying. You are never going to have as much expertise in this transactional conversation as the person sitting on the other side of the table. Asking questions and seeking clarification on anything that seems confusing or fishy is a fine approach, but explicitly tipping your hand exposing that you don't know what you're doing creates an opportunity for the salesperson to take advantage of you. It's never a good idea to divulge more information than you have to surrounding your vulnerability, so keeping this one close to the vest is a good idea.

'I don't need to test drive it'

Some car buyers may be tempted to close the deal quickly if they are on a tight deadline to replace their existing vehicle. A pressurized sales environment can also lead someone to quickly seek the end of the negotiation rather than prolonging it with additional checks or time to consider options. But it's never a good idea to skip the test drive. There's simply no way to know a car in all its facets before you purchase it. Most vehicles, especially new cars (although buying a factory-new car model is an excellent way to waste your money) tend to perform roughly the same as any other example of the same type. However, you can't be sure that the vehicle will in fact run as expected without driving it. Similarly, it's impossible to know for sure that a car lives up to your own expectations without getting behind the wheel and exploring its turning, stopping power, and acceleration for yourself.

Even if you are completely satisfied with the look and specifics of a vehicle based on a visual inspection and conversation, it's crucially important that you get the keys and take a quick spin around the area to get a little more acquainted with the vehicle you plan to purchase. Driving in traffic, accelerating onto a highway, and playing around with the climate controls and stereo are all part of the experience and must perform in a way that supports your individual needs.

'I don't need financing' or 'I'm paying in cash'

As mentioned previously, car dealerships often act as lending partners to help close sales and get buyers into their new cars faster. Rather than working out the specifics of a sale and then taking the details away to secure financing, dealerships are able to approve buyers right there in the office so that they don't lose momentum in the sales pipeline. Getting a buyer to finance their purchase in-house can be nearly as important as the actual sale. Therefore, you should never suggest early on in the negotiation process that you won't need financing or that you're paying in cash.

Of course, saving up for a car purchase so that you don't have to rely on borrowed funds is a great way to save a significant amount on your vehicle. Without monthly repayments, you'll have more money in your budget going forward for other routine spending needs. Similarly, there won't be any interest rate to weigh down the figure you agree upon. But telling a salesperson straight off the bat that you won't be using the dealership's financing can result in less negotiating power when it comes time to discuss price. The dealership may be willing to knock off a larger percentage of the sale price when they know they'll make up the difference in interest payments later on. With financing already off the table, sales staff may be far less amenable when you ask for a larger discount.

'I already have my financing secured'

In the same way that signaling your intention to pay in cash can hamper your negotiating power later on, telling a salesperson that you already have your financing secured (a critical step that many people fail to consider when buying a car) and therefore won't be using an in-house product results in the same positional weakness. Many credit card users will routinely see offers of pre-approval for auto lending from their credit card company. You may have walked into the dealership with great terms already secured for your auto lending needs. For context, the average car loan as of May 16, 2024 is extended with an interest rate of 9.73% for used car buyers and 7.01% for a new model with a good to great credit score (661-780). You might walk onto the lot knowing that your mortgage provider or credit card company will give you the money you need for a used vehicle at 6.5%, for instance. But you shouldn't tell this salesperson this.

Instead, if the conversation about financing does arise it may be a good idea to suggest that you haven't settled on a payment option yet. Outright lies remain a relatively poor approach in the car buying process, but a small fib about your certainty can keep the door open for better negotiating strength later on while also indicating that you might realistically be looking elsewhere to fund the purchase.

'I want to speak to the manager'

Pop culture has established a semi-bizarre fascination surrounding the relationship between managers and their staff members. Many customers believe, often incorrectly, that speaking with the manager provides a window into getting something for free or having the price knocked down by just a bit more than a salesperson can accomplish. Generally speaking, asking for the manager to get involved in your negotiation isn't a recipe for success when seeking a better deal. Sales staff working at car dealerships have had plenty of experience working through this particular ask. With so many people falsely believing that getting a manager involved in the conversation can yield positive results, dealerships may have developed a natural counter to this request. 

The salesperson might clam up and get defensive, leaving you to backpedal and lower your guard against their next offer. Alternatively, a salesperson might eagerly invite their manager into the room in order to create an imbalance of power where two adversarial sales personalities are working against you in the negotiation — one that already favors them as the party with the thing you want. Bringing a second sales professional into the conversation rarely works in a buyer's favor and should be avoided, even if it might seem like a good idea on the surface.

'This is the car!' or 'I've got to have this one!'

Finally, in the same way that telegraphing your timeline for buying, specifics of your financial or workplace circumstances, or your experience in these kinds of negotiations tends to work against buyers, excitement creates the same vulnerability. Buyers who go all in emotionally on a vehicle after finishing a test drive or doing a walk around signal to a seller that their heart is set and emotional manipulation might be on the table. The reality is that it's rarely a good idea to show a seller you really want something they are offering. Allowing a salesperson to know how much you like a car gives them even more leverage when it comes to closing the deal. If you are emotionally invested in a particular car — keeping in mind that any given vehicle is essentially a unique, one-of-one product unless it's truly new — a salesperson can weaponize your attachment.

If you signal anything beyond routine interest in a particular vehicle you may end up paying more to drive that specific one off the lot. In the same way that a tight timeline to replace your existing car can result in temporary willingness to accept worse terms, emotional attachment creates the same weakness when it comes time to negotiate. You will obviously need to tell the salesperson that you want to buy a specific vehicle, but keep your excitement in check during this part of the conversation.