Common Scams to Avoid When Buying A Car: How to not get ripped off!
It’s no secret that car dealers have an unshakable reputation for shady deals, dishonest stunts, dirty
tricks, tomfoolery, shenanigans, and other undesirable actions that you should prefer never to have to
Fortunately, not all car dealers are guilty of these dreaded sins. There truly are a group of committed,
ethical, honest, good, and professional car dealers out there who are looking out for your best interest.
Unfortunately, a few bad apples have spoiled the business for those of us who run a tight ship and an
Because there are a few bad apples out there, my personal advice to you is to arm yourself with as much
information as possible about the scams the dishonest dealers try to pull so you can spot them a mile
away and run down the street to another dealer who really deserves your business.
The problem is in knowing how to spot the bad dealers and in being able to identify their tricks and
So I’ve listed the most common scams the bad guys like to pull so you can be on the look out.
Now you’ll know—when you see one of these games being played, run the other direction
SCAM #1: The Add On Dance: Paint Sealant, Rust Proofing, Fabric Sealant
Once you’ve found the car you love, spent hours researching your options, taken the vehicle for a test
drive, inspected the vehicle, negotiated for a fair price, applied for and obtained financing you’ll find
yourself staring at a dotted line at the end of several pages of fine print.
Most likely you’ll be exhausted and worn down and ready to get out of the dealership and on with your
This is where dishonest dealerships will extract the last few dollars you have left in your bank account.
And these last few dollars often represent a hefty chunk of their profits.
You see, buried in the pile of paperwork will be a few lines that mention one or a combination of paint
sealant, rust proofing, or fabric sealant. These add ons can range anywhere from 200 up to 1000.
When performed legitimately, these add ons can extend the value and life of your vehicle. But all too
often, the add ons are “added on” without your permission. And by the time you get to the paperwork,
you’re so tired of the whole process that you don’t pay close enough attention to notice them.
In some cases, the additional services are not even performed. For instance, you’ll pay 500 for paint
sealant when all the dealer did was wax the car. That’s not a good deal. Or you’ll pay 700 for fabric
sealant just for the prep department to spray 30 worth of ScotchGuard on the seats.
Even worse, you may pay for rust proofing that was included in the factory paint job. You could have—
and should have—received it for free. Of course, car dealers are running businesses just like any other.
All dealers deserve to earn an honest profit—and valuable add ons can be a win win situation for the
customer and the dealer. But the add ons should be clearly explained—and their benefits should be
obvious—so that you, the buyer, can make up your own mind about whether or not to purchase the
If you think you may be interested in any of these protectant add ons, I encourage you to research the
third party options beforehand and compare those options to what the dealer is offering. If it’s a fair
value, go for it. But don’t pay any dealer 600 extra to spray your seats or wax your car. To avoid being
ripped off by this scam, be certain to carefully read all of the paperwork—line by line—and point out any
additional items you didn’t agree to.
If you do see addIons you didn’t agree to, or feel like you’re being forced to make a decision, this should
be a red flag that the dealership or salesperson you’re working with is not as honest as they need to be.
It might be time to reconsider.
SCAM #2: Bump Grind
This little gem is a classic “negotiating” tactic used in car dealerships across the country and probably
It goes something like this:
You finally find the vehicle you’re looking for and you decide to make an offer. In your mind the offer is
a little low—but still seems fair. You’re willing to move a little bit, but don’t want to show your cards.
So you present your offer to the salesperson. He shakes his head and explains that he’s on your side, of
course, but he thinks he might get fired if he went to his manager with your offer. He goes on to ponder
the situation and decides that if you would just increase your offer by a little bit—maybe 200—he
thinks he could take it to his manager. Being the reasonable person you are, you agree to increase your
offer by 200. Heck, you were willing to pay a little more anyway.
Now comes the grind. The salesperson disappears for 10 minutes or so. He says he’s going to go talk to
In my experience, this means he’s going to take a coffee break, a restroom break, a TV break, or a smoke
break. He may talk to his manager, but it will most likely be to tell a joke or talk about last night. All the
while, you’re sitting there believing he’s in the office “grinding” away for your benefit trying to work out
the best price. You may even think to yourself that you’re a great negotiator and really have these guys
working for your business.
A few minutes go by and he comes back to where you’re waiting. “Ahh shucks,” he says. “I thought
200 would do it, but I guess I was being a little optimistic, it’s got to be more like 500 or the boss won’t
even consider it.” At this point you have so much invested that you’re no longer willing to walk away. So
you agree. Maybe you even split the difference.
This game can continue round after round through the price negotiation, to the trade appraisal, to the
credit approval, to the add ons. In the end, much like a casino, the house always wins. When you spot
the bump and grind routine going on, that’s a sure bet that you’ll wind up paying more than you wanted
to. Here’s how you can avoid the bump and grind scam.
For starters, you may want to indicate the fact that you’re wise to typical car dealer games. Explain that
you don’t think they’re THAT kind of dealer, but that you’ll be on the lookout nevertheless. Another
surefire way to end the bump and grind cycle is to negotiate directly with the sales manager. By doing
that, you’ll effectively shut down their negotiating engine and they’ll be forced to deal with old
fashioned face to face selling.
That’s what you deserve.
SCAM #3: The Credit Crunch
After you’ve found the car and the price has been negotiated, you’ll usually enter the credit approval
phase. This is where you complete a loan application, which is forwarded to the finance department for
These days, approval can be rapid. And smart, honest dealers develop strong, valuable relationships
with lenders locally and nationally in order to provide their customers with the best financing choices
available. But the dirty bird dealers use the finance process as another way to squeeze more dollars out
of your bank account.
Here’s how it works:
The salesperson returns with your application looking all disheveled and frustrated. She explains that
your credit wasn’t exactly as good as they thought it would be—and that they weren’t able to obtain
financing through their preferred source. Your heart sinks and your face turns red. You’re embarrassed.
And you’re worried that you may have wasted all of this time and now you won’t be able to be
approved. Perhaps the salesperson even tells you that she’s not sure they’ll be able to get you approved.
This is a point of minor desperation for most people.
Then you start to explain your virtues to the sales person. That you pay all your bills on time, how this
must be some sort of a mix up or a mistake. She tells you she’s going to have one last conversation with
the finance manager to see what can be done. She’s going to “go to bat for you.” Now back to the
coffee or smoke break. In the meantime, you’re sweating bullets and wondering how you screwed up
your credit. At this point you’re just hoping you can get approved.
10 more minutes and back she comes.
This time with a smile on her face. “Great news ” she exclaims. “I pushed my finance manager and
made him call in a favor with another bank and he’s able to get your loan approved ”
What she didn’t tell you was that the interest rate is 2 points higher than it should be. In many cases,
bad dealers will misrepresent your ability to be properly financed—for instance, if you have A credit,
they’ll tell you that you have B credit, if you have B credit, they’ll tell you C. They’ll use this as an excuse
to mark up your interest rate to above competitive levels. But after the stunt, you feel lucky just to get
approved at all—so you’ll take the loan no matter what. It’s all emotional.
Then you pay the price over the life of the loan through a higher interest rate than you could have been
approved for. Once again, car dealers deserve to make money for the service they provide. But you
don’t deserve to pay an erroneously marked up interest rate.
Here’s how you beat this scam:
Get a copy of your credit report before you begin shopping for a car. I recommend you get a copy from
Equifax, TransUnion, Experian (www.equifax.xom, www.transunion.com, www.experian.com). You
can also check out my free special report called “How To Legally Improve Your Credit” which can be
found on my web site.
Have a solid understanding of your credit score and what it means so that you won’t have the wool
pulled over your eyes.
Consider getting a rate quote from your bank or credit union to use as a comparison at the dealership.
A savvy dealer can often beat the rate of your bank or credit union—but a dishonest dealer will convince
you that you need to pay much more.
Use a comparative rate as a benchmark.
SCAM #4: Life Insurance Scam
There you are, sitting in the finance office, dotting I’s and crossing T’s, barely paying attention. The
finance manager slips in a Credit Life Insurance Policy. “It’s standard,” he explains. “It’s simply to
protect your family in the case that you pass away before this loan is paid off.”
True. This policy will pay off your loan for you if you kick the bucket before you kick the loan. That could
be a good thing for your family if you’re not otherwise insured.
But it’s not standard, and it’s not for everyone. My major point about Credit Life Insurance is that that it
must be your choice to include it or not. You should request a full presentation of the features and
benefits of the policy and talk it over with your family, taking your existing insurance coverage into
consideration before making a decision.
Under no circumstance should this be snuck in or presented as a mandatory item.
It’s up to you.
SCAM #5: Keys On The Roof
You may have heard a similar story before. It’s no wives tail—this really happens. You come into the
dealership with your existing vehicle to have it appraised for trade in. An hour goes by and you still
haven’t gotten your keys back.
Eventually, you’re ready to leave—perhaps you haven’t struck a deal on the car you want. The sales
person explains that the guy who has your keys is at lunch and won’t be back for an hour. And his office
is locked. So you can’t leave yet. “Why not test drive another car?” This is just a cheesy excuse to keep
you around the dealership longer.
They know that the more time you invest, the more committed you become, and the more likely you are
to agree to terms you aren’t really comfortable with. In the most extreme cases, people have virtually
been held hostage at dealerships for hours on end waiting to get their keys back. A lot of “car guys”
laugh about this sort of thing, but it shouldn’t happen at any respectable dealership.
Here’s how to keep this from happening to you:
Bring two sets of keys to your vehicle. If you get into a bad situation, get in your car and drive away. Call
the police and tell them that the dealership tried to steal your car. You’ll get your keys back in no time
Another variation of this trick is for them to request your driver’s license before letting you take a test
drive. Then, when you want to leave, they can’t find it, etc.
Solution: make photocopies of your driver’s license and only give them the photocopy. That way it’s
impossible for them to hold you hostage.
A Final Thought On Scams
I’ve included these common scams and ways to avoid them. Of course, there are many other scams –
but these are the most common—and by learning about these scams, you’ll be able to spot the others a
I would like to point out, however, that the most effective way to avoid these scams all together is to
find a reputable, ethical, honest dealer you can trust and depend on.
Find someone who has proven his or her commitment to your wellIbeing and satisfaction, someone who
stands up for what is right and demonstrates an unwavering sense of consumer concern. Look for
someone who presents them self as an expert in the car business and a consumerIminded person.
That’s no coincidence. My team has worked hard to create a car buying experience that is unlike any
other. So why not settle your nerves and eliminate the feeling of anxiety that comes along with buying a
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