5 Questions You Shouldn’t Answer When You Walk Into a Car Dealership

Walking onto a dealership car lot is nerve-wracking, especially when you’re just planning to check out a car on the lot or browse around at the current inventory. The reason it’s so stressful is that car salespeople are ready and willing to jump at the chance to greet you in the hopes of selling you a car. And when they greet you, they are trained to ask you a set of “pre-qualifying” questions to get a feel for if you’re ready to buy a car that day or not.

As a prospective buyer, this method is annoying and the pressure can make the situation feel uncomfortable at first. However, a YouTuber named “Chevy Dude” put together the list of questions that you should avoid answering when you step onto a dealer lot.

“Are you paying cash, financing, or leasing?”

When you step onto a dealer lot and show interest in any one car, then the salesperson will ask you how you want to pay for the car: cash, financing, or leasing. It seems like a pretty harmless question, but in reality, they’re trying to get a feel for what you can afford and in what way that you can actually pay for the car in order to guide you toward an inevitable sale. Instead of answering it directly, you can always tell them, “I’m not sure yet.”

“What kind of monthly payment are you looking to achieve?”

This question typically follows the last one and it’s easy to fall for it when asked, especially if you found a car that you really like. Additionally, it also seems harmless because you probably already have a monthly payment in mind that you want to stick to, so it’s the salesperson’s job to help you stay in that range, right?

Technically yes, but by giving the salesperson an answer like, “I need to stay below $350 a month,” you’re giving them the ammunition they need to either move you over to a car that will better fit your budget — which is usually not the car that you want – or possibly even tacking on additional products – like an extended warranty – provided that it fits within the confines of the budget that you told them. Again, just tell them you’re not sure yet and need to figure out how much you can afford.

Buying New Vehicle
A car salesperson going over pricing with a customer. (Photo by Jim R. Bounds/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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“What kind of credit do you have?”

This question is meant to gauge what kind of buyer you are based on your credit. For example, if you happen to be on a Toyota lot and are looking to get into a $40,000 Avalon, but only have a credit score in the low 600s, then you might have a tougher time getting approved for a loan. The salesperson knows this, so if you answer this question right off the bat, they will pre-qualify you and move you to a different car altogether, possibly a used car or something else you don’t want.

Instead, keep the momentum going and let them know that you’re open to running a credit check when you find the right car. Believe it or not, there are some dealers that will pressure you into filling out a credit application before the test drive. If anyone makes you do that, we suggest walking away.

“How much of a down payment are you looking to put?”

Just like with the credit question, the salesperson may ask you how much of a down payment that you’re looking to put in order to gauge how much of a car you can afford. It’s better to hold off on answering this question until you’ve picked a car and are ready to go over the numbers. If you answer this too soon, then they will most likely try to get you interested in a different car that will fit the budget that you gave them.

Car salesman leans against a 2005 Ford Supercab F-350 diesel truck
Car salesman leans against a 2005 Ford Supercab F-350 diesel truck | Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post via Getty Images

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“How much are you looking to get for your trade?”

If you have a car that you’re looking to trade in, don’t tell the salesperson how much you’re looking to get for it. If you do, then they can easily lowball you on your car’s value in order to meet whatever number you told them. Or, if your number is higher than what they appraise the car for, then they can work the numbers on the price of the new car in order to appease your demands. Either way, you’re not really getting exactly what you want for your trade-in.

Trading in your vehicle
How to get the best value for your trade-in car | LorenzoPatoia/Getty Images

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Make it “your deal,” not “their deal”

The key to this whole exercise of pre-qualifying you as a buyer is so that the salesperson can take control of the entire process and have you go along with their deal and not yours. But by being elusive from the beginning and then honing in on the details (down payment, monthly payment, credit, etc.) when the process calls for it, you can maintain your power in the whole deal and have the salesperson following your lead instead.