Confessions of a car salesman: 10 of the most important things to know before buying a new or used car

Man Dog

Buying a car isn’t a decision that most drivers take lightly. For the majority of people it will be one of the biggest financial commitments they make and therefore it’s an important one to get right.

New figures show the average price of a used car increased in December to £13,542, up from £12,976 in December 20181.

The amount of money involved means that shopping around for a new car can be a daunting prospect for some people. Our latest research shows that nearly six in ten (58%) people who bought a car in the past five years felt nervous or anxious during the process.

To help with your search for a new car, we spoke to the manager of a Citroen dealership and a Skoda car salesman who have nearly 25 years’ experience to tell you all you need to know to get the best deal.

  1. Research, research, research: Be clear on what you want and how much you can afford to pay

    The first piece of advice from both salesmen was to make sure you do your research before you visit a dealership. Have a clear idea of how much you have to spend, what you are looking for and where you may be willing to compromise, then they could be more likely to get you a better deal.

    Couple on laptop

  2. Forget about new plates, shop around in February and August

    Many people won’t consider buying a new car a month before the new registration plates are released in March and September, but February and August can be a smart time to buy. Generally, sales staff find it harder to hit their monthly targets if people delay their purchases, so they may be more flexible on the terms of a deal.

  3. Why getting big discounts on a convertible in winter or four-wheel drive in summer is a myth

    There is an assumption that the time of the year can make a big difference to the type of car you should be looking to buy. For example, it’s often suggested that winter is the best time of year to get a good deal on a convertible and summer is better for buying four-wheel drive (4x4) vehicles. However, our experts indicated that buyers are unlikely to find that seasonality makes a big difference on price.

    Car Salesman
  4. Eyes on the prize: Quarterly sales targets that could save you a penny

    Quarterly sales targets are the main focus for most sales staff as they will often receive a bonus pot of money that is shared among the sales team. These incentivised payments are on top of their basic salary and commission, so they are highly motivated to reach it. Don’t be afraid to discuss this with staff to see whether they’re in line to hit their targets as they maybe more open to compromise.

  5. Room to manoeuvre on used cars but think again if it’s straight off the factory floor

    Our experts said negotiating a discount on a new car is unlikely as the price is set by the manufacturer. However, when it comes to used cars, dealerships normally have more wriggle room to negotiate as there isn’t the same pricing restrictions in place.

  6. Rules of the road: Are they trying to upsell me?

    On new car sales, staff typically receive a flat rate of commission so regardless of how expensive the car is they take home the same amount of money. However, sales reps can be incentivised to secure a higher price or avoid offering discounts on used cars because they tend to receive a percentage of the sale.


  7. Don’t be a bull in a china shop as it’s likely to back fire when it comes to price

    A lack of knowledge or understanding about cars in general doesn’t mean you should be nervous about buying a car. Often the best buyers are the ones who are happy to discuss their options with staff to try and find the best outcome.

    Going in like a bull in a china shop focused only on price and asking for a huge discount isn’t likely to pay off.

  8. Paying a premium: Why shopping at a dealership offers peace of mind

    If you’re buying a car from a dealership then you’re paying a premium for the overall service they provide. Before you take the car home, they are likely to have conducted a full service, valeted the vehicle and possibly completed an MOT. Moreover, they also might provide a warranty on the vehicle to ensure you receive quality after-sales care.

  9. Don’t rush – Take time to consider which finance option is right for you

    When it comes to paying for your car, the first thing to remember is that you don’t have to take out the finance package offered by the dealer at the point of sale.

    It’s worth shopping around beforehand to understand the range of finance options available to you. For example, a personal loan through a lender or utilising your savings may be a better fit.

  10. Be friendly and try to build a rapport – more likely to get what you want

    Fundamentally, if you approach the conversation in an open, friendly and personable manner then you are far more likely to secure a good deal. In the same way people buy people, salesmen are also more likely to find a solution for someone who they have a good rapport with.

1 Auto Trader Retail Price Index, January 2020