10 Secrets Car Dealerships Don’t Want You to Know

Learn the insider tips to negotiating a better deal on your next car.
Updated May 8, 2024
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young african couple buying new car at dealership

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Buying a new car can be an exciting endeavor. Perhaps you’ve researched and chosen a few makes and models that suit your taste and lifestyle. 

You’re ready to go into a dealership hoping to find the best deal. To be fully prepared, you’ll want to know all the things that may not be common knowledge.

Navigating the sales pitches and negotiating may be part of it all, but there are more ways to empower yourself at the dealership. 

Here are some secrets that car dealerships don’t want you to know. Knowing them can help you avoid throwing money away.

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Advertised sales prices aren’t always the best deals

Africa Studio/Adobe for sale sign on windshield of car

You may have seen advertisements in the mail or online touting unbeatable prices for the kind of car you want. Remember that those ads are just designed to get you onto the lot.

Check the fine print first to see if monthly deals are based on how much you put down or how many months you have to pay. Ideally, you can lower your car costs at the point of purchase and monthly.

If you plan to lease a car, make sure to take the length of the contract into consideration. If you do go into the dealership, ask the salesperson for any unadvertised deals that may work better for you.

You can and should negotiate price

bnenin/Adobe client shaking hands with car dealer in showroom

Before you go into a dealer, spend time online and compare the prices of the cars you are interested in with other shops, and keep notes.

You may want to visit more than one dealer and get a feel for the salespeople and if they are interested in negotiating. Knowing other offers in the area arms you with knowledge, hopefully enabling you to get the best deal.

Salespeople may prolong your time with them

luckybusiness/Adobe kindly car manager with customer

It’s widely assumed that a trip to the dealer to find a new car is naturally a long process. But it doesn’t have to take that long. 

Some salespeople may prolong the process as a sales tactic. Anticipating that the process will be long might make you want to seal the deal even faster — and that often doesn’t work in the buyer’s favor.

Instead, try to have a clear idea of what you want and the questions you have to keep the process running smoothly and on track. If it’s taking too long, it might not be the right day to buy a car.

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Upselling is part of their plan

NDABCREATIVITY/Adobe salesperson working in car dealership

Salespeople may ask you different questions to bolster their effort to upsell. 

Don’t have a large down payment? They may tell you that’s not an issue or that you may not even need a down payment. (But will that cost you more in the long run?) Buying a car for a growing family? They might try to sell you a bigger car than you need. 

Before you go to the dealer, carefully research the kind of car you need within your budget.

Year-end sales are a good time to buy

chartphoto/Adobe handshake of two businessmen when selling a car in a motor show

Dealers are trying to hit their sales goals near the end of the year, which means they may be more willing to make a deal in order to get a car off of their lot and into the final sales numbers for the year.

But be aware that they may be busy over the holidays, so come prepared with a pre-approved loan or check the dealership’s inventory online before you arrive so you’re prepared to negotiate a deal and hopefully save money.

Used cars make more

Prostock-studio/Adobe smiling car seller shaking hands with female customer

Dealerships usually make less of a profit on a new car than a used car, so be cautious if a salesperson tries to steer you away from that brand-new car you’ve been researching for a used car on their lot.

And if you decide a used vehicle fits better in your budget, ask the salesperson if it’s a certified used car. That may give you peace of mind that the dealer has inspected the vehicle and that you can get an extended warranty.

Incentives and rebates may be available

InsideCreativeHouse/Adobe young businessman in formal clothes reading about new car

Car manufacturers or dealers may offer incentives or rebates on certain makes and models throughout the year, and it’s good to research this information before you walk into the dealership. 

Look into the latest incentives and rebates on sites such as Edmunds or J.D. Power to further inform your purchase.

Pro tip: Instead of selling your current car, sites like Edmunds are a good place to help you determine how much it could be worth as a trade-in and use that information as part of your negotiations with a dealership.

Sticker price doesn’t reflect the extras

HappyAlex/Adobe several cars for sale

You may think arriving at the paperwork portion of the deal is the last step, but that’s not always the case. Just as you get close to finally getting out of the dealership, you may be bombarded with the offer to add extras. 

Dealers may suggest things you may not need, like an undercoat, Wi-Fi access, or emergency services for your vehicle. 

Keep an eye out for any of these add-ons that drive up the price, especially near the end of your buying process.

Hidden fees could crop up

Orathai/Adobe car dealer provides advice on loans

There may be dealer document fees, key protection, and other charges that you may be able to negotiate if you find them on your final paperwork.

Carefully review the contract before signing to see if any of these fees are on there and could be reduced.

Pro tip: Another additional fee you should include in your calculations is car insurance. You might find a great car with a good deal, but the monthly insurance cost may be higher than expected based on the make and model.

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Loan terms may be better elsewhere

pathdoc/Adobe happy smiling young man sitting in his new car

If you’ve been saving up to buy a car, being able to pay with cash may be the best way to get a deal. But if you can’t do that, consider shopping around at different banks or credit unions to find the best deals on a car loan. 

You may find that you can get better terms and rates with a local bank than if you go directly through the dealer for financing. Though it‘s possible to climb out of debt, the last thing you want is a steep climb.

Bottom line

Prostock-studio/Adobe black man sitting inside of new car and shaking hands with salesman

Buying a new car is a big decision, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming if you make sure that you are prepared and financially fit

Being cautious when you go into a car dealership may help you be a more savvy shopper. A good dealer, however, will work with you to learn what you need and respect your budget. 

If you aren’t happy with how you’re being treated when shopping, there are other dealerships out there that may be better at helping you get the best deal for you.

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Author Details

Jenny Cohen Jenny Cohen is a freelance writer who has covered a bit of everything, from finance to sports to her favorite TV shows. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and FoxSports.com.

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