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Six things your car dealer doesn't want you to know

Carlton Boyce / 17 March 2016 ( 07 November 2019 )

Just like any other profession, car dealers have secrets, hacks and shortcuts. Here are six things your car dealer doesn’t want you to know.

Salesman at a car dealership
Just like any other industry, car dealerships have secrets, hacks and shortcuts

Just like every other successful business, the world of the car dealership is a closed one. And, just like all the rest, it has its secrets, hacks and shortcuts.

If you know the secrets, you have more chance of spotting the tricks and driving away with a deal - so here are six things your local car dealer doesn’t want you to know.

1. The target price

When you are trying to decide which new car to buy, it’s worth looking for the Target Price on the What Car? website. These are prices that have been verified as being genuinely available to real customers, so can be relied upon to be accurate.

This is the maximum you can expect to have to pay for any particular model, so it enables you to either see what savings are available, or to see if you can move up a class for the same money.

Dealers hate you having this sort of information, with good reason.

Seven things you need to know before buying a new car

Saga Car Insurance: Join over a million drivers already benefiting from our outstanding cover and personal service for the over 50s. Get a quote and find out more!

2. Margins are not that tight

The profit margin on a new car is tight. This means that a dealer’s hands are often tied when you ask for a discount - or that’s what they’ll tell you…

Haggling is an art, and it’s one that your dealer has been perfecting in front of the bedroom mirror since they were 12. This means that they are an expert and you aren’t, so don’t even bother trying.

Just go online and ask someone like carwow or Drive the Deal for a quote for your new car. You can then use this alongside the What Car? target price as leverage with your local dealer – and if they don’t at least match the quote, you can walk away and order it at that price anyway.

Your rights when buying a car from a dealership

3. Consider selling rather than part exchanging

Car dealers love it when you have a car to part-exchange against a new one, which should alert you to the possibility that the odds are stacked against you.

The reason they love them is that they can offer a low price for your old car, hoping that you’ll be so giddy at the thought of buying a new one that you’ll accept, just to keep things simple. 

They'll encourage you to do so by pointing out every mark, scratch and ding, while simultaneously remarking in unflattering terms on your choice of colour and specification.

Doing this enables them to ‘flip’ it quickly at a profit, meaning that they make money on both your old and your new cars. 

For this reason, it might be worth considering selling your old car privately to maximise the value of your assets.

Think you're above the law? 10 rules motorists ignore or forget.

4. Cost to change

An alternative scam is to offer you a very good price for your old car as a part exchange, a tactic that lulls you into thinking you’ve got a good deal. The reality is that it probably won’t be and you need to focus on what is known as ‘the cost to change’, the amount of money that it is going to cost you to drive away in a shiny new car.

So, if the new car costs £20,000 and you’re being offered £5,000 for your old car, the cost to change is £15,000. It doesn’t matter whether you are offered a huge discount on the new car, or a great price on your old car: the important figure is the total amount of cash you are having to pay out.

One way round this is to negotiate the purchase of your new car without mentioning your old one. Once you’ve hit the What Car? target price you can ask them how much they’d give you for your old one, and if you’ve done your homework you’ll know how much it’s worth, helping you drive the best possible price.

Don't become a victim of the flash for cash scam

5. Forget the monthly payments

Your dealer knows that they can drive the price up by ignoring the true cost of any extras and adding the cost of them as a relatively small amount to the monthly payment: £20 a month extra doesn’t sound much, but that could equate to thousands of pounds on the screen price.

Remember, it’s all about the cost to change. If you focus on that, then the overall price will be as low as it can possibly be, which will automatically translate into a smaller monthly payment.

6. I need to sleep on it

The dealer wants you to sign NOW! They know that if you walk out without signing a contract they have probably lost you, so they’ll offer you coffee, biscuits, and buckets of charm to keep you there as long as they can.

This means that you should always tell them that you’d like to sleep on it. I promise you, the same offer will be available to you tomorrow, no matter what they say.

Saga Car Insurance: Join over a million drivers already benefiting from our outstanding cover and personal service for the over 50s. Get a quote and find out more!


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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.