Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

Two men are shaking hands as one holds up a set of keys.

Confessions of a Car Salesman

Visiting a car dealership can be a daunting experience for many drivers. While nearly all of us have interacted with a car salesman at least once in our lives, there are countless myths and stereotypes about dealership staff and the car-buying experience as a whole. To give you a better understanding of how the industry works from the other side of the table, the team here at Car Buyer Labs sat down with a veteran car salesman and asked about his experiences selling cars to drivers like you. We think the answers we got will not only help cast some light on this often misunderstood profession but may just give you a leg up the next time you need to visit a dealership for a new car.

What Is a Car Salesman?

Like most professions, the truth is that car salesmen encompass a broad swath of personalities and career choices. Our industry insider, Jeff, has spent seventeen years working at a number of different dealerships, but he is not necessarily the norm. In fact, he described the line of work as “a bit of a melting pot,” with everything from complete novices to “lifers” that have been selling cars for decades. There is also a lot of crossover with sales positions in other industries, particularly people from real estate and financial backgrounds. Jeff even mentioned that one dealership he worked at had a retired bank manager who preferred the car salesman life.

However, when asked about the attraction of the job, Jeff admitted that, at least for him, it was largely about the paycheck. Car sales is one of those careers that promise plenty of rewards if you do your job well, although he noted that those rewards can be hit or miss depending on the day – “one week it’s in the two or three thousand dollars, and one week its a hundred or two hundred dollars.” In fact, the job itself seems to be anything but a routine one. Jeff talked about how sometimes the dealership will be bustling, and he will spend the whole day on his feet, but then other times, the place will be deserted, and he will spend the whole day at his desk without seeing a soul.

Even when times are busy, a car salesman isn’t necessarily spending his time selling cars. When asked to describe his job, Jeff answered that “putting out fires is the best way to put it.” That can mean sorting out the details of vehicle deliveries, following up with customers about their purchases, answering questions about vehicles and services, shoveling snow in the winter, or just about anything else that may come up at the dealership. While it sounds like a hectic lifestyle, we suspect that may just be part of the draw for long-time car salesmen.

A car saleman is walking a couple around a car dealership.

How Does This Help You?

We know, you’re not reading this to learn about the daily routine of a car salesman – you’re reading this for the juicy details about how you can have a better car-buying experience the next time you visit a dealership. Well, Jeff gave us plenty of advice on how to navigate the automotive world. One of the key bits of information is that while a car salesman’s schedule is never constant, there are certain times when you are more likely to get greater attention and better deals. If you want to have the salesmen lining up to answer your questions, then it is best to try to plan a midday visit during the workweek. While that may be difficult for most of us that hold a nine-to-five job, that tends to be the quietest time for any car dealership and will get you more attention than visiting after work hours. Weekends? “That’s typically when you will get the least attention,” says Jeff.

Another insider tip is that the best time to get a good deal on a new car isn’t necessarily at the end of the year. While dealerships usually make a push at the end of each month to boost their sales numbers, some of the very best deals come during the middle of the calendar year when new model year vehicles start arriving. If you don’t mind driving last year’s model, then you can often score a low price as the dealership tries to move older inventory – particularly if the model you are looking at is getting a major update. For example, Jeff recalled that the dealership where he had been working had huge discounts on the Ford Explorer when the new body style rolled out.

But the overriding theme of our discussion with Jeff is that these days it is much more difficult to score steep discounts off the listed price. With the wealth of information available on the internet (which the team here at Car Buyer Labs is proud to have contributed to), consumers are more informed than ever before, and dealerships can no longer afford to heavily mark up cars. Although there is usually still a little wiggle room in the final price, it can be much smaller than you might imagine. In fact, Jeff told us that the base model Ford Fiesta used to have only $100 dollars of markup.

The one place where there is still more room to score a good deal through shrewd haggling is if you are shopping for a used car. The profit margins there are more variable than on new models, although Jeff pointed out that a lot will depend on how much money the dealership has invested in the used car in question.

When we asked him about the no haggle and no commissions policies that are increasingly common in the industry, Jeff was somewhat ambivalent, claiming that “it’s not going to impact the buyer in any way.” While commissions are often looked at with suspicion by car buyers, he argues that they actually have little effect on car prices. In fact, he told us that at many dealerships, commissions are not even based on how much the car sells for. While gross profit bonuses do exist, so do bonuses for volume, accessories, warranties, and more. Depending on how the dealership pay system is structured, a car salesman may end up making more money for himself by selling more cars at lower prices.

Dealerships Are Changing

Okay – we don’t expect you to believe that car dealerships are not looking to maximize their profits, but Jeff painted a convincing picture that the modern dealership is far more interested in offering a convenient buying experience than simply gouging the customer.

A car salesman holds a set of keys out in front of him.

The reason why? Internet and social media.

Several times, Jeff made it clear that large dealerships are extremely concerned with maintaining their reputation and pointed out that on social media, “one bad review can spread like wildfire.” In an environment where the customer has easy access to countless online resources about the vehicles on the lot and can retaliate against dealerships that take advantage of them, car salesmen that try to trick and pressure customers simply aren’t tolerated for long.

However, that doesn’t mean that everything on the internet is your friend. One interesting point that Jeff raised was that many online services that claim to be able to give you a lower price on a car, such as TrueCar, Autotrader, and, can actually end up costing you money. Their special quotes are usually arranged with the dealership ahead of time and may well be higher than what you would pay working with a car salesman directly. In other words, there is still no shortcut to doing your research and finding a dealership that you can trust. While the internet is a powerful tool, you still need to put in the effort to use it properly.

In the end, buying a car is still primarily a human interaction between you and a car salesman. Jeff freely admitted to us that the stereotypical unscrupulous car salesman exists but argued that the most successful car salesmen are those who treat their customers with respect and help them find the car that works for them. According to Jeff, his secret to success as a car salesman was simple: “being a human.” This enabled him to build lasting relationships, and to him, repeat customers “made me realize that I was doing the job right.” Jeff also says that his method is usually the best approach for customers as well and that “having a good attitude typically puts the salesperson on your corner.”

So the next time you need to visit a car dealership, the Car Buyer Labs team encourages you to ignore all those myths and stereotypes and focus on finding a car salesman like Jeff that you can trust to work with you to make your car buying experience a success.