My Conversation with a Car Salesman

by Mike on May 15, 2010

Those of you that follow the stuff I write here, on Twitter, or a Facebook know about my car being rear-ended by a drunk driver, and that I’ve been asking the readers for advice as I prepare to purchase a slightly used vehicle. I’ve weighed my options and I’ve decided to finance through a local credit union. The good news is my new loan is smaller than what I owed on my previous vehicle, so I am still on track to start my modified version of Dave Ramsey’s Drive Free – Retire Rich plan.

I decided to take the advice of some commenters and Mr. A and check out sales from rental companies. The word is Enterprise takes really good care of their vehicles. So we dropped in, and the conversation went something like this:

Me: Hello, I’d like to speak with someone in your sales department

We are then escorted down a corridor and sat in an office. A few moments later a clean cut gentleman walks in with a smile and firmly shakes our hands. He pulls out a blank sheet to gather our requirements for a vehicle. We’ll call the guy “Mr Sales” – he introduces himself and asks

Mr. Sales: What type of vehicle are you looking for?

Me: A small or mid-sized SUV to replace my 2004 Outlander. I’m looking for a 2007 or later.

Mr. Sales begins to drill down to the specifics (must haves & would be nice) for my next vehicle: power locks, foreign or domestic, moon roof etc. Then he asks THE BIG QUESTION:

Mr. Sales: What is your price range?

Mr. A and I give each other a look. I’ve already set my price, but I didn’t know if I wanted to disclose it. Should I go high and then try to get him show me cars and negotiate down? Should I go low so he can “think” he’s talking me up? Wait a minute! These are the exact games I loathe! I give him an honest answer:

Me: $10,000 or less

At this point Mr. Sales face sinks in just a little. He turns to his computer to search is inventory. I watch his eyes scan the screen. There was a long silence, but someone once told me during negotiation that silence is powerful. I looked around his office and noticed an old copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War on his desk. I chuckled to myself and thought – know your enemy!

(Side note: Not only has The Art of War been heavily influential in developing military strategies, but also leadership, business, and management)

Mr. Sales: Hmm…I’m not finding anything…with that price point your options are going to be limited, which is kind of what I thought before I even started looking.

Me: OK… (as in…OK….see ya later!)

Mr. Sales: Hold on a minute….

He gets up and goes to talk to another gentleman. I can see them through the glass but can’t hear what they are saying. A few moments later they both return. Mr. Sales introduces me to Mr. Sales Manager.

Mr. Sales: This is Mr. Sales Manager, sometimes they can see things in the inventory that we can’t see, so I wanted to see if there was anything out there for you.

Mr. Sales Manager: We only keep cars under 85,000 miles, so with that price point its going to be very difficult to find something for you. We have some inventory in the $12,000-$15,000 bracket

I’m already shaking my head no…

Mr. Sales: May I ask what’s your personal budget

Me: It’s actually irrelevant, I’ve budgeted $10,000 for a vehicle and that is the max I’m going to spend.

Mr. Sales: How much monthly payment can you afford?

Warning – this question is the car sales death trap! I’m generally a fan of paying cash for cars, but I’m not really in the position to do that right now and the car salesman knew it. If they can get you to focus on what you can afford per month as opposed to the final cost they’ll reel you in with promises of payments within that range. What they don’t emphasize is you’ll be paying for 5 to 7 years and mega interest. I responded:

Me: Well, if I’m only spending $10,000 and don’t plan on financing for more than 3 years, that should work out to about $300/month right?

Mr. Sales: right

I could tell by the look on his face he wasn’t getting the answers he was hoping for.

Mr. Sales Manager: Does it have to be an SUV? We have some full size cars and sedans in that price range.

Me: If I’m going to buy something today, it is going to be an SUV. I still have several options yet to explore and I’m convinced I’ll find what I want. However, if that does not pan out, then I will consider cars…but it won’t be today.

Mr. Sales Manager: (obviously surprised by my candid response, chuckles): Thank you for your honesty

I smile, and Mr. Sales Manager excuses himself.

Mr. Sales: (grasping at his last sliver of hope) Would you be interested in a crossover vehicle? We have a Dodge Caliber that would meet your requirements

Me: I’m not familiar with the Caliber, can you pull it up
I’m mildly disappointed that I allowed him to catch me off guard. But hey, I’m no motor head, I don’t know the specs and reviews on every car out there. Mr. Sales jumps at the opportunity. His enthusiasm returns as he searches for the car and talks it up.

Mr. Sales: This is one of our best sellers (blah, blah)….

Me: Do you have one on the lot we can physically look at?

We go outside and look at the vehicle. It’s roomy, and has some nice features. Mr. A asks if we can test drive it. Soon as I get in..I don’t like it. I let Mr. A drive first. While he’s driving, I’m on Edmunds and Kelly Blue Book to get some intel on this car. Personally I don’t like the way it “feels” from the inside. Mr. A pulls over for me to drive. I told him not to bother…if I don’t like to sit in the car, I’m not going to like driving the car!

We return to the dealer within 5 minutes. Mr. Sales sees us walking back through the glass. I think he knows by our quick return that it’s a “no”. A common sales tactic is positive affirmation questions and statements that lead you to agree. As we enter Mr. Sales greets us again and says:

Mr. Sales: Isn’t it a great car? Don’t you like the way it handles?

Mr. A says no at the same time I say it’s not for me. We go on to describe what we don’t like about the car. Mr. Sales gets back on the computer searching through the inventory. He knows defeat is imminent. After several moments of silence I cued that we were leaving:

Me: You have my information and if something comes in that you think I may be interested in you can contact me.

We stand, shake hands and depart.


OPERATION VEHICLE PURCHASE is ongoing! I’ll keep you posted!

Share your experience with buying vehicles in the comments!


{ 1 trackback }

Carnival of Money Stories #55
May 24, 2010 at 10:57 am

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Squirrelers May 24, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Thanks for sharing, it sounds like you handled it well.

I have learned from my experience. I once bought a new vehicle (don’t know about that part now), and actually purchased the extended warranty. Did everything right except that part. Live and learn:) Good thing is that was many years ago.

Anyway, you handled the situation well. Good post.
.-= Squirrelers´s last blog ..Delayed Retirement to the Extreme =-.

2 ETinCA May 24, 2010 at 8:36 am

I had hoped that with the turn of the century the car sales dance would go away. You’d think that at least if Mr. Sales realizes the buyer is on to him & has realistic intel on what they’re looking for, he’d drop all the dumb moves & just show you what you’re looking for, in your price range, & go off script. I’ve walked away from a car I actually would have bought otherwise, just because the guy was being Mr. Sales.

I also once went in to buy one where they were offering rock-bottom interest rates to people with good credit. They check my credit rating, tell me it’s the best they’ve ever seen, but unfortunately the specific vehicle I was interested in didn’t qualify for the special deal. Walked out.

3 Financialbondage May 23, 2010 at 9:40 am

I have found that most car sales people don’t listen. They don’t care what we want or our price range. They want us to spend as much as possible so their commission is higher.

Sorry to see you plan on financing a car. Did you ever think of trying Dave Ramsey’s plan?

4 PF Journey May 23, 2010 at 10:27 am

Thanks for stopping by. If you read my earlier posts you’ll gain further insight into my decision. Particularly:

1 – Dave Ramsey says I can Drive Free Retire Rich
2 – Weekly Roundup 13 – The Don’t Drink and Drive Edition
3 – Ask the Readers: Help my purchase a Slightly Used Vehicle

5 Donna Freedman May 22, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Good for you! I think you handled it perfectly.
Last August I gave my car to my daughter, who has a chronic illness. I’m lucky to live in a city with decent public transit, and to live within a mile of most of the services I need (library, post office, bank, stores).
Frankly, the idea of ever having to buy another vehicle makes me tired.
.-= Donna Freedman´s last blog ..Postcards from the edge of the world. Also: A giveaway reminder and a gun-related memory. =-.

6 Jason @ One Money Design May 22, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Lakita, good job in not falling for the monthly payment trap. I so do not envy you right now. 🙂 It’s a painful process. Not sure if you’ve found anything yet, but you’re on the right track by researching online. You might also consider buying used from someone who is selling a car themselves. Just make sure you have it inspected before buying if you go that route.

Have you thought about doing a search for a car for half as much? Obviously, safety is priority one, but maybe something $5K or under would get you by for a while and allow you to save more?
.-= Jason @ One Money Design´s last blog ..Accountability [Devotion] =-.

7 Funny about Money May 20, 2010 at 11:14 am

Infuriating! This is the specific reason I buy cars through a car broker. Let a male voice handle these chuckleheads. I will NOT do business with people who treat me that way.

Mercifully, I keep enough in savings to buy cars in cash, about once every ten or twelve years. That brings a screeching halt to the “monthly payment” ploy. Drops their jaw, too, when you tell them you’ll be paying in cash.
.-= Funny about Money´s last blog ..w00t! Carnival of Money Stories headed this way! =-.

8 Lakita (PFJourney) May 20, 2010 at 11:23 am

I’ve never heard of a car broker. Oh well, I got a vehicle and I’ll be closing up this saga soon with that post. My plan is for my next vehicle to be a cash purchase.

.-= Lakita (PFJourney)´s last blog ..Don’t Finance a Vehicle without GAP Insurance =-.

9 Car Negotiation Coach May 18, 2010 at 2:11 pm


My latest post is on monthly payment buying. I’ve had the idea on my whiteboard for a few weeks, but your post inspired me to get it done!

.-= Car Negotiation Coach´s last blog ..Are you a Monthly Payment Buyer or Budgeter? =-.

10 PF Journey May 18, 2010 at 2:15 pm

I just read it, great information!

11 Peter May 17, 2010 at 9:34 am

Personally I like to do all my car shopping online, and find exactly what I’m looking for before I go out to the dealership. Most dealerships will have almost a real time look at their inventory online, so you can see before you go out if you’re wasting your time. I found my last car by searching online at sites like,,, edmunds and the like. I ended up finding the car I wanted, at the price I wanted (less than 10k – like you! ) and was able to negotiate the price down a bit at the dealership.
.-= Peter´s last blog ..Living On Less Before You Need To: Getting By With One Income =-.

12 PF Journey May 17, 2010 at 10:18 am

I’m using a similar approach. I find cars on autotrader, then research them on Edmunds.

13 PF Journey May 17, 2010 at 9:17 am


Nice! Maybe I’ll break out the laptop and spreadsheets….haha!

And some of those charges are ridiculous…..$200 administration fee….REALLY?! I asked what that was for and the finance guy said “sending and mailing the paperwork”. I said USPS isn’t that expensive. He kinda smirked.


14 Khaleef @ KNS Financial May 17, 2010 at 10:27 am

Yeah, they can be ridiculous! They wanted to charge me $600 for an alarm/starter kit! I told them “no”, and while we were wrapping up the paperwork the sales manager said, “so…what time should we schedule you for the alarm installation, we’ll just incorporate it into your monthly payments”. They are relentless at times.

FYI – I got the alarm installation from they company they sub the work out to for about $240 (with extra remotes)!

I can’t wait to hear how the rest of your adventure plays out.
.-= Khaleef @ KNS Financial´s last blog ..What Does the Old Testament Teach About Tithing? =-.

15 Khaleef @ KNS Financial May 17, 2010 at 9:09 am

Yeah, it’s funny how they try to reduce everything to monthly payments…as if the price no longer matters. The last time my wife and I went car shopping, I had my laptop with me and every time we talked money I consulted my spreadsheets (one with an amortization schedule and the other with comparisons and notes). They were all so upset once I did that.

We actually caught them adding charges to the car that we ended up buying!!!
.-= Khaleef @ KNS Financial´s last blog ..What Does the New Testament Teach About Tithing? =-.

16 Kevin@OutOfYourRut May 17, 2010 at 9:03 am

I despise the whole car sales game, and that’s what it is. Everything you described is exactly the same experience I’ve had every time I buy a car. It’s pathetic that you knew what would happen next–that’s how predictable the whole process has become.

You employed the car buyers Nuclear Option by getting up and leaving. Since it’s basically a dog and pony show that you’re getting, and not at all what you want, it’s best not to waste anymore time.

Side note: I’m very impressed that you’re familiar with The Art of War; I don’t think most people are.
.-= Kevin@OutOfYourRut´s last blog ..Why Leasing a Car is a Bad Deal =-.

17 PF Journey May 17, 2010 at 9:14 am


It is very draining! I don’t like shopping, and I especially don’t like car shopping, and I REALLY don’t like USED CAR SHOPPING. ACK! There is going to be a part 2 of this story from my weekend experiences, but I’ll wait until everything is finalized.

We studied a little of Sun Tzu’s philosophy in my Aerospace studies classes in college 🙂

18 Car Negotiation Coach May 16, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Lakita, You handled yourself well, especially how you didn’t succomb to the old “monthly payment” trick.
.-= Car Negotiation Coach´s last blog ..Trade-it, Junk-it, or Give it to Charity? =-.

19 PF Journey May 17, 2010 at 8:59 am

Thanks. I fell for it 5 years ago (Reference my dumbest financial move EVER:

20 Khaleef @ KNS Financial May 15, 2010 at 11:25 am

I love the way you handled the situation! And I love that you were very candid at every point and didn’t entertain those silly sales games.
.-= Khaleef @ KNS Financial´s last blog ..Should Christians be Required to Pay Taxes to an Ungodly Government? – A closer look at God’s commands regarding taxes and government. =-.

21 PF Journey May 17, 2010 at 8:55 am

Thanks. If I want a salesman to be remotely honest with me, then I need to be upfront with them.

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