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Don't be afraid to test-drive your car salesperson

In this Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018, photograph, a salesperson, center, confers with two customers interested in the 2018 Countryman on display in the showroom of a Mini dealership in Highlands Ranch, Colo. If you work with a good car salesperson, the shopping process can actually be fun and you’ll be more confident you’re getting a good deal. 

If you work with a good car salesperson, the shopping process can actually be fun and you'll be more confident you're getting a good deal.

Unfortunately, most people think they have to stick with whichever salesperson latches onto them first, even if they begin to feel pressured, intimidated or misled. But car buyers can and should test-drive, or vet, their salesperson — and be willing to switch if needed.

'QUALIFY' YOUR SALESPERSON

"I can't imagine buying a car from someone I didn't think would take care of me," says Matt Jones, a former car salesman who's now a senior consumer advice editor at car site Edmunds.com. Furthermore, Jones says, a good salesperson can alert you to special offers and "push the needle" when it comes to getting a better price.

"Most people don't realize they have control over which salesman they work with," says Oren Weintraub, who negotiates and buys cars for his clients as president of Authority Auto in Tarzana, California. He recommends that shoppers "qualify" salespeople — a popular sales term — similar to the way they qualify you, by asking probing questions about you, your job and your budget.

Here's what these car-buying experts recommend you look for in a salesperson — and the red flags to watch out for.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

While vetting a salesperson, car buyers should look for those who:

- ARE HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Since receptionists at dealerships see everything that goes on, Jones says you can call and "ask who is the best, most knowledgeable car salesman." Other ways to find the right fit are to check Yelp reviews or visit the "About Us" page on the dealership's site.

- RESPOND QUICKLY. Calling before you go into the dealership gives you a chance to establish a rapport with your salesperson, Jones says. Or, you can text a question and see how quickly they reply — ideally, within the hour. Then, if you want to move forward, schedule a test drive and ask them to pull the car out and have it ready, says Weintraub.

- ARE EXPERT LISTENERS. Your car salesperson should understand your needs and wants — and meet them. It may sound obvious, but many salespeople try to sell you a more expensive car or whatever they happen to have on the lot. As a test, ask them a question and carefully listen to the response. If they directly answer your question, you're on the right track.

- HAVE EXCELLENT PRODUCT KNOWLEDGE. If you ask how much horsepower a car delivers, and the salesperson says, "I think it's.," beware, says Weintraub. However, it's acceptable to hear, "I'm not sure — but I'll get you the answer right away."

RED FLAGS TO WATCH OUT FOR

On the other hand, car shoppers should avoid salespeople who:

- USE CHEESY SALES LINES. "Are you folks here to buy a car today?" Classic lines like this, designed to trap you into making a specific response, should put you on guard immediately, says Weintraub. A better approach is a polite greeting and introduction, along with: "So how can I help you?"

- CREATE FALSE URGENCY. Once you're physically on the lot, salespeople try to turn you into a "today buyer" using every trick in the book. A favorite is, "We had three people look at this car earlier today. It won't be here if you leave now."

- TRY TO CHECK YOUR CREDIT BEFORE A TEST DRIVE. Some salespeople say they're required to run a credit report before you test-drive a car. This isn't true. And it should be cause to avoid this salesperson and, perhaps, the dealership. "Never let them run your credit until you're ready to buy a specific car," Weintraub advises. However, asking to see your driver's license before a test drive is a legitimate request.

- DON'T PAY ATTENTION. If your salesperson is taking calls, texting or joking with buddies on the lot, watch out. As Jones points out: "When you're about to spend 35 grand, the salesman in front of you should be totally dialed in with you and your needs."

SWITCHING TO A NEW SALESPERSON

If your salesperson shows one of these red flags, or you simply don't feel a rapport, it's time to ask for the sales manager.

"It's never a bad idea to get upper management involved," Weintraub says. "You can just explain that you're not clicking with your guy and ask for a more knowledgeable salesman."

Jones adds, "This happens all the time and they're ready to deal with it rather than have you walk."

Ultimately, you should have a basic level of trust and confidence in your salesperson since a considerable amount of money is at stake, says Weintraub. But, of course, you still need to stay alert. As the old saying goes, trust but verify.


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This article was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Philip Reed is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: preed@nerdwallet.com.

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