/ Motoring, Shopping

Are you falling for the car psychology trap?

Cartoon of colourful brain

If you’ve had a bad time buying a car, psychology suggests it could be because you’re falling for tricks of the trade designed to make you buy with your heart instead of your head.

According to psychologists, buying cars – like other ‘big ticket’ items – is a highly emotional decision.

In fact, some experts believe that people choose different types of cars depending on their emotional needs.

Safety-conscious motorists are more likely to choose Volvos, for example, while those out to impress may opt for a Mercedes or BMW badge.

How does car psychology work?

This may all sound like common knowledge, but the car sales game of cat and mouse starts well before you set foot in a showroom.

Canny carmakers and salespeople can hone in on this psychology to convince you that you really need one of their shiny new vehicles. Plus, car ads showing attractive people driving along empty roads could start your craving for a particular brand of model of car.

Then when you approach a salesperson they use a whole host of selling techniques to encourage you to buy. They may start by acting like your friend so you feel less able to say no to them, then move on to ‘closing’ questions designed to lead you towards making the purchase. They may ask if you’ll be ready to buy after the test drive, for example.

Don’t fall for the sales patter

So what can you do to ensure you get a good deal?

  • Look beyond the dreamy advertising and shiny showroom cars, and start thinking with your head.
  • Make a list of the attributes you need in a new set of wheels, and work out how much you’re prepared to pay for it.
  • When you reach the showroom, do your best to either say no or give an open-ended answer to every closing question you’re asked.
  • You could even tell them you’re just doing research for a company car, so they know they won’t be able to make a sale.

The key is to know how salesmen think so you can stay one step ahead. For example, they may use a technique called ‘four square’ – noting down the four most important figures in a sales transaction (maximum selling and trade-in prices, deposit and monthly payments) so they can quickly calculate the biggest possible profit.

How to get the best deal

You need to know the value of your trade-in and the price you should be paying for your new car before you go car shopping. That way you can quickly work out if you’re being offered a good deal.

Then you may even be able to play the salespeople at their own game. Tell them you’ve been offered a great price by the dealer down the road and tell them you may be prepared to buy if they’re able to match it.

Always remember, there are thousands of cars sitting in showrooms around the country, so walk away if you don’t think you’re getting the deal you deserve.

pickle says:
18 October 2010

My experience has been the opposite! I walk inti the showroom and no one takes any notice – until I get cross and ask if they are interested in selling me a car – then they all jump to attention!!
Dunno if they are all like this.
If I go to buy a car I know the model I want, price etc. having explored the internet beforehand and I have a pretty good idea of the trade-in price – usually a bit higher than I get!

Pickle, I think many are like that! Amazing, considering dealers should be biting your arm off to get business.

I definitely agree with thinking with your head, but at the end of the day only your heart will tell you if its the right car for you. But, to ease the pain on your head, I would definitely recommend looking at guides such as the Which? maker reliability charts (i.e. don’t buy anything French!), think about what you need the car for and what features you want, dismiss anything unstylish (that’ll be anything Korean, Malaysian or Chinese then) and then, to find out which models contain the specs that suit my taste and budget read through the reviews on Which?, buy a copy of the magazine of a certain well-known car entertainment show on BBC2 on Sunday nights or visit the manufacturers own websites. If you want to save serious money be prepared to research!

Then, once you’ve narrowed it right down try and get quotes from a number of good internet sales sites, print the quotes out and pop into your local dealer and ask them to price match. If they don’t, walk away. What have you got to lose?

Finally, if you are thinking of part-ex-ing your old car check the prices of cars of similar mileage and condition that are for sale on well-known sales sites (such as Auto Trader). If you can, sell it privately but this takes time and is less convenient. Sounds a lot of effort but for many people a car is the second most expensive purchase they’ll ever make and no one wants to end up with an expensive mistake.

I managed to save £5k off the list price of a Best Buy Ford Kuga (almost £3k less than the target price recommended by some car mags and only about £2k more than ones a year old) using those steps above and sell my old car privately, £600 more than what the dealer offered part-ex. £600 is £600!

PS If you can afford to buy a new car, do. If you’re worried about forecourt depreciation – it’s an urban myth. Most are based on drops from the list price, and not even the target price. No publisher seems to factor in the huge discounts offered by a good dealer before working out any forecourt depreciation, the rate of which remains pretty constant throughout a car’s life.

I now only buy S/H cars – and only from friends whom I trust. My buying new experiences were not good enough (the cars did not wear well enough)

Since my buy only S/H – the cars have been cheap in price and excellent value. In one case selling my current car for more than the cost of the “new” S/H car!

Sophie Gilbert says:
20 October 2010

My recent experience of buying a new car through a hire purchase agreement in Edinburgh couldn’t have been better. I won’t give you the name of the garage or the make and model of the car because I may not be allowed to here, but I got what I wanted at less than the price I had hoped to pay per month and I got a wee bit extra thrown in, all with a smile and professional, efficient service.

In case you’re wondering, I buy a new car every three years through a hire purchase agreement because it is easy to set up with the dealer, the dealer will buy the car back from me in 3 years at a minimum agreed price, I can budget my monthly outgoings, there is a 3 year warranty on every new car, and because the car is new there are few(er) chances that it is going to conk out on me. All of this provides me with invaluable peace of mind.

Thought you might be interested in some sharp practice that I had not previously been aware of, practised by certain salesmen…

On visiting a dealer for one of the largest brands of car in the UK, we enquired after a car we were interested in that we could not see on the forecourt. Unlike many salesmen who would simply tell you that the car has been sold, we were instead told that the car had actually never existed. That is, one of the salesmen had made up the ad, including the spec and the price, in order to attract customers to the garage. Another garage has since told us that this is quite common practice across different brands, so beware! You could end up with a wasted journey like we did.

It’s not as hard as you think. Before you set foot outside your front door repeat “I’ll think about it” several times. Let this be your mantra; whatever the question from the salesman, the answer is “I’ll think about it”. Also, tell him/her that you’re researching, and will make your final decision next week, or at the end of the month, etc.

In forty years of driving this has only failed me once (when the used car in question sold while I was thinking). But it’s worked to my advantage numerous times; one dealer, having tried desperately to close the deal on a Friday, rang me up early on Saturday morning (I was still asleep in bed!). Groggy, half asleep and in no mood to talk, I told him I liked the car but wanted a better price – he immediately offered a further 10% discount.

It can be difficult sometimes. Once, many years ago, I was expecting a trade-in offer of around £900 for my old car, thinking I might negotiate to £1,150. The dealer offered me £1,500. I staggered backwards then croaked “I’ll think about it”. I was back on his forecourt before the dealership opened the next morning!

And don’t fall for the “Special Offer that Ends Today” ploy either. Become irritated with the dealer and say “I told you quite clearly that I’m not buying until the end of the month. What will be your price at the end of the month? So that I can compare your price with other dealers?”

I’ll wager 10p the “Special Offer” will be extended “Especially For You”.

On the darker side, for new cars, manufacturers are wise to the ploys. Last time I considered buying a Volkswagen, the salesman asked me bluntly where I was going for my next quote. When I told him he said simply “That’s OK, they’re one of us.” It took less than a minute to establish that virtually all the VW dealers within 40 miles were one and the same company – despite trading under different names. An ex-Volvo dealer told me the same; they’d lost their franchise because Volvo wanted one single company to have all the dealerships in the North of England.

Mac the Knife says:
25 October 2010

On the other side of the dealer issue, I do feel a bit guilty about recently taking a test-drive and getting a specification and quote first from local dealer. Then went back home and checked the internet dealers to find prices £2-3 K cheaper. My wife just wanted to order one over the web but I felt we should at least offer local garage to try improve their offer. In the end we are going to hang on to 5 yo car as not worth much now and not giving any trouble. Will leave the 7-seater until absolutely needed!

I got a very good deal buying a new car via the website. I compared the prices quoted by different car websites as well. I even went to our local car dealer and they couldn’t match the price and advised me to just buy the car from the website ! It was a saving of at least £3500 and their optional equipment are also offered cheaply. I was wary at first buying from them but realized that some are through proper main car dealers so overall, I am very pleased with the transaction.

Annie says:
4 February 2011

I hate buying a car, knowing that the sales people are trained to sell/negotiate and feel vulnerable before even going into the showroom! Both I, and my female friends, have been appalled by the lack of acknowledgement by predominantly male salespeople. (We have been ignored and if accompanied by our partners they are spoken to, but we are paying the money!)
I have found that good research helps; get on line valuations for your existing car and new car from reliable sources and take this with you to the garage, know what model/spec you require and ask loads of questions to establish lead times, warranty, if servicing offers/packages available, if there are known faults on the model your are interested in, and allow time to make the decision, but also recognise a good deal if it is offered. Keep discussions pleasant and be assertive. Asking a closed question with another is great advice. We have suprised many a salesman; many assume females do not know anything about cars – a bit of home work is all that is needed.

Hi Annie
Sorry about the ***’s – it’s our over-zealous profanity filter which takes out words with ‘***’ in the middle! I’ve amended your comment now.

The showroom has closed for many years, The owner is dead so I can safely share this.

Many years ago I attempted to purchase nearly new Mercedes W140 S500. I was served by the most obnoxious, pushy salesman I have ever had the misfortune to meet [the owners son]. I asked for discounts, inquired after deals etc.. and was told the following.
If you want a discount then you cannot afford this car.
This is a prestige car, giving a discount would only lessen it’s marque.
The type of people who drive this type of car would never dream of asking for a discount.
He carried on with this type of banter, insinuating that unless I coughed up the full price I was unworthy of the car, and I should go back to my workers shack where I belonged and stop having delusions of grandeur.
I asked for a test drive, he refused saying this was not the car for me, and I might be happier at the Ford dealership down the road.

At this I took him outside and showed him a newish Bentley parked across the road, I told him this was my current car and I was in fact downsizing [ I lied].
His demeanour changed, he offered me a test drive then. We took off got about half a mile drove under a bridge which I [cough, cough] judged wrongly, and I scraped the car along the wall, when we emerged I stopped the car and asked him about a discount for the damage, I then got out threw the keys at him and walked off. I think he is still sitting there with his mouth open.

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19 April 2012

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