If you're about to buy a new vehicle, here are some tips as you prepare to deal with a car salesperson.

For starters, have the proper perspective. Remember that you only buy a car once every few years, but these folks negotiate sales all day long, every day, for years. Who's more skilled at this game? You're clearly at a disadvantage.

Some tips:

  • Remember that you have the upper hand. You're the one whose business the salesperson wants.

  • Think about this old adage from the world of negotiations: "Whoever speaks next, loses."

  • Don't offer any more information about yourself than you have to. The more a saleswoman knows, the more she can tailor a strategy to you.

  • Rein in any enthusiasm. No drooling in the showroom. Don't let the sales guy see your hand trembling in excitement as you caress a fender. If you must buy a car this day or this week, don't reveal that. Any urgency on your part transfers some bargaining power to the salesman.

  • Understand that, if you're talking to a salesman on the phone, he desperately wants to get you into the showroom. If you're in the showroom, he desperately wants to sell you a car right then and there. If you're ready to buy a particular car, he desperately wants to switch you to a more expensive car, or at least get you to pay as much as possible for whatever car you buy.

  • Be prepared. Do a lot of reading and researching so you're not thrown for a loop if you're suddenly offered an extended warranty or some feature you don't know much about. Better still, by doing a lot of reading, you'll also be prepared for the many ways that salespeople will try to manipulate you into buying something you don't want or paying more than you need to.

  • Don't negotiate alone. Take some friends or relatives with you.

For some shocking revelations about what goes on at dealerships, check out a special collection of articles we ran online a few years ago -- confessions of a former car salesman.

For much more scoop on the ins and outs of the car-buying process, check out the Fool's How to Buy a Car area and ask any questions on our Buying and Maintaining a Car discussion board.

And as an extra bonus, below are two notes we received from Fools after we first ran this piece. They offer some additional perspectives.


Our car-buying story
We just purchased a new minivan for my wife a couple weeks ago. It replaced her Lexus, which she's had for a couple years. When we bought the Lexus, the two local dealers refused to talk about selling below sticker price. We then purchased her Lexus from carsdirect.com, for $6,000 below sticker.

When we bought the minivan a couple weeks ago, I printed out the pricing information from carsdirect.com. We went to the local Chrysler dealer and said, "Here's what we want, and here's what we'll pay for it." A few minutes later, they came back with an offer that was less than $100 above carsdirect.com's price. We had a deal. We were in and out of the dealership, including a test drive and the paperwork for financing (2.9%) in less than two hours. That has to be some sort of record.

If the local dealer hadn't come down to carsdirect's price, we would have thanked them for their time, made a quick exit, and ordered the minivan from carsdirect.com. Our previous buying experience with them was a total pleasure! -- F. F.


A car salesman's point of view
As a car salesperson, I read your article with some apprehension. However, I was pleased that you did not take us apart too badly, and much of your advice is good. People should educate themselves before coming in and consulting with a salesperson. I did not agree with your advice to limit information offered to the salesperson.

These days there are many models available for sale from dozens of manufacturers. This means that salespeople need to be knowledgeable of competing vehicles for the people they are selling to. If a person has five kids and a dog, it is helpful to know, so you can ask them, "Will you need to ferry your entire family in this vehicle?" Whatever the answer, it will help to save time by allowing the salesperson to select one or two vehicles that may be suitable.

An important note that you did not include in your advice but is paramount: If you do not like the salesman you're dealing with, ask to be excused and ask the receptionist to get the sales manager. Tell the manager that you don't like the salesperson you have and would like him to recommend a different one.

If you find a salesperson you like, go out of your way to refer business his/her way. The benefits are: The good will survive, and your friends will thank you. -- Jay Meakin