The Non-Expert

How to Buy a Car

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. This week we demonstrate to a wary customer how best to maneuver the purchase of a new car, while keeping accidental singes to a minimum.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is updated on Fridays, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


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Question: Can you please give advice on how to buy a car? I am worried about getting ripped off. —Elizabeth

Answer: The most valuable tool for successfully purchasing an automobile in this fast-talking era is a good bullshit meter, though a shield bearing your family crest and lance may also prove vital. Low-balling your initial offer, not revealing how much you can afford for a down or monthly payment, kicking the tires—these are all great rules by which to abide. But ultimately, if you let your guard down even once, they are going to incinerate you. There is a reason why car salesmen are ascribed such notoriety in modern lore: They are slimy, scaly fucking dragons among men.

Understand this: You really are not dealing with a human being. This will be difficult to discern sometimes. Car salesmen (yes, most ARE male) are suspiciously well groomed and have green eyes that sparkle hypnotically no matter what their perceived ethnic background. Car salesmen share a complex secret handshake that, like it or not, you could never reproduce in a million tries. They get away with silly, inexplicable, offensive things like drinking vermouth on ice and calling women “sweet titty face,” and their sweat naturally smells like Cool Water by Davidoff. Their faux designer suits look eerily like real designer suits.

Descriptions can only get you so far, however, so I’d like to take this little lesson into their world. Let’s walk you through a step-by-step simulation of what you will likely encounter once you hit the sales lot.

The Approach

This will be one of the scariest moments of your ordeal. As you draw near the many shiny new cars displayed row after row, an unsettling and formidable sight will distract you: a half-dozen 20- to 40-something dudes in pistachio or bronze sports coats, silk ties, lurking under a tent or awning. Are these guys having a greasy-hair competition or something? No, these are car salesmen. They are not quite large, tough, or trustworthy enough to be nightclub security guards, but they’re going for that sort of look nevertheless. And you better believe they want to rip you off. (They probably want to have sex with you, too, but don’t worry about that now.) Don’t approach the group. You will cave and buy the first car you see out of sheer fright and intimidation—the salesmen refer to these buyers as “sluts.” Beware of the group tactic, and be strong.

You’re taking this puppy for a spin. Just go with it. Don’t resist. It won’t take long for you to register on the dealership’s radar, and you’ll kind of notice the sales team all noticing you, which will be really awkward and make you want to shower. They’ll talk amongst themselves for a split second, until one finally starts to hover over to you. Recall your college days when you frequently were hit on by sleazy fraternity guys in bars—remember how they would stand in a group and decide which one got to “have” you? It’s like that. If you are carrying a coffee or bottled water, keep a lid on it at all times and don’t let it out of your sight.

Now you will meet him. Avoid looking into his green eyes or at his face in general if you can help it. His teeth are another entrancing display he will use to suspend your powers of reason. How can teeth look this way?, you will wonder, stupefied. They are beautiful, clean, white as fresh-fallen snow. But they are sharp like icicles. This is because car salesmen commonly tear at raw venison to get pumped up before hitting the sales floor. (The break room is disgusting.) Try just staring at his shoulder or marveling at his shiny, petrified hair.

He will ask if you need help or something to this effect. And you will wake up—a few minutes, hours later?—sitting behind the wheel of a brand-new car, him next to you in the passenger’s seat, eyeing you lustily. You’re taking this puppy for a spin. Just go with it. Don’t resist. And check to make sure your pants are buttoned.

The Test Drive

Few individuals can resist the allure of a new car: that smell, the buoyant welcome of the new seats, and the pristine shine of a freshly Armor-All-wiped dashboard. You look down at the odometer and it reads “7.” And they even had it in your color (surprise). It’s the automobile you’ve been dreaming about, and now you’re driving it, and it’s perfect.

This part of the salesman’s job is just that easy, because he knows you will convince yourself everything is right about this car since you have already envisioned yourself owning and driving it. And that’s OK. At this moment, look over and notice that your trusty guide to all things auto looks like he is peaking on pure liquid MDMA. He must know he has you, and is already deciding which tack to pursue once you return to the lot…to his turf. What kind of sucker are you? How does your blood taste?, he is probably wondering…

Also, did you notice how he insisted on rolling down the window at the beginning of the test drive, even though it’s only 40 degrees outside? That was actually so his breath wouldn’t melt the dashboard.

Getting a Price

Two things every buyer should know: NEVER negotiate off the sticker price, and never take a car salesman’s “final offer” at face value. (Or anything he says for that matter.)

This ruthless tactic is designed to make you feel like a jerk, and you’d be surprised how often it works. Once you have done thorough research across multiple dealerships and found the ride of your fancy, it’s best and probably simplest to make an initial offer around or even BELOW the invoice price—that is, below what the dealership claims it is roughly paying for the car. Often dealerships are given factory-to-dealer incentives to sell a certain amount of cars in a month, so they could actually stand to profit MORE on the whole by selling a certain number of cars at a loss. Don’t believe them when they say they are “not authorized” to do this or that: They are authorized to give you a blowjob if it will sell the car.

But your particular salesman could be especially hardheaded, so you have to be ready for battle. By now you may have detected that his nostrils have dilated, nearly doubled in size since your initial encounter. Totally normal. (If you happened to bring chain mail, now is the time to put it on.) Make the offer. His reaction will be one or a mixture of the following: indignation, disbelief, condescending laughter, or exploding head. This ruthless tactic is designed to make you feel like a jerk, and you’d be surprised how often it works.

If he says “no,” don’t worry: This just the beginning of a drawn-out process whereby you eventually get the car for its true market value, they make a little dough, and everyone is happy. It could take weeks, but he will cave if you do not, so don’t. Do not be afraid to walk away as many times as necessary until you’re given the right offer. Just know he will totally be ogling your ass each time you do.


A different breed, but equally hell-borne, are the ghouls in your dealership’s finance/credit department. I would say every one of these guys deserves to be kicked repeatedly in the balls, but they’d probably enjoy it. Unless you’ve got an established and impeccable credit history, there’s a good chance you could get wildly screwed here.

It’s purposefully brilliant on the part of the dealership. After the harrowing, hours-long ordeal you survived with the salesman, you are either too tired to care (the salesman did his job well) or excited because you actually think you are getting a great deal (the salesman did his job really well). Whatever you believe you saved in your agreed-upon price can and will be easily recouped through high interest rates and drawn-out payment options. First-time buyer with a low down payment? This tale just went from poignant coming-of-age story to obscene prison drama. And the finance department won’t soften up like sales did (after six hours of negotiating). Oh, no, “the government” won’t let them change their rates, just like it won’t let them waterboard price-haggling customers anymore.

The customer is not always right, or even appreciated, in a car dealership, and the finance geek squad embodies this principle. Do not think you can escape these assholes by requesting to speak to the finance department manager or some other higher-up. This is like telling Rommel you prefer to negotiate with Hitler. Remember, don’t buy their verbal bullshit and always retain the power that is yours alone: Flex your buyer muscles (and calf muscles) by walking away. As you do so, just be aware the finance guy will be recording your ass with his camera phone to watch with the sales guy later.