8 tricks up your auto dealer’s sleeve

Dollar bill shaped like a car with quarters for wheels

Auto dealers have lots of ways to make the most off of every sale.

If you're not careful, you can wind up paying more to buy and finance a new car or truck than you really need to.

That's a total waste of money for anyone trying to build financial security for themselves and their families.

Look out for these 8 common tricks when you visit the showroom.

Dealer trick 1. Preying on your lack of information.

There's nothing a salesperson loves more than a clueless car shopper.

You can't negotiate a fair price when you don't really know what it is.

Forget the sticker price. Edmunds.com and Kelley Blue Book are among the best places to find the important information you need.

You'll want to focus on the average transaction price in your city and be the smart buyer who aims to pay a little bit less than that.

Car salespeople do this every day. You do it, what, once a decade? The only possible way to offer a more level playing field is for you to do your homework before you hit the lot.

Once you know what vehicle you want, you should walk in knowing approximately what price you should be paying.

Dealer trick 2. Imposing finance charge markups.

You've picked the car you want to buy, and now the finance manager is searching his computer for the best deal on a loan.

But the dealership is not required to tell you the cheapest loan you've qualified for and can legally pad the interest rate with a couple percentage points for themselves.

Let's say the bank or finance company says you're eligible for a 5% loan, but the finance manager tells you 7%.

On a $22,000 five-year loan, that extra 2% will add an extra $1,277 to your payments.

The lender is in cahoots with the dealer. It collects the extra money, keeps half for itself and sends the other half back to the dealer.

While this is quite legal, the U.S. Justice Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have been investigating whether dealers and lenders are prone to discriminate against women and minorities by adding markups to their loans more often.

Dealer trick 3. Making the deal all about the monthly payment.

Salespeople often ask potential buyers what's the biggest monthly payment they can afford.

With that number in hand, they'll calculate the most you can possibly spend and still hit that monthly payment by dragging out the loan for as long as possible.

He or she will then show you cars and trucks in that price range, which is often higher than what you wanted to spend, while reassuring you that a better ride is well within your budget.

Let's say you came in to buy a compact sedan that cost about $20,000 but let slip that you could afford a payment of $450 a month.

The salesperson immediately recognizes that a 60- or 72-month loan would allow you to buy a $25,000 midsize sedan while keeping your payment at about $450 a month — and that is what he or she will try to sell you.

The bigger sticker price, and longer loan, both mean more money for the dealership.

Dealer trick 4. Making deceptive payoff promises.

Let’s say you’re looking to buy a new car but still have a balance on your current car loan.

To close the deal, a salesperson will often promise: “We’ll pay off your loan no matter how much you owe.”

Many dealers count on making up that loss by offering you less than your trade-in is really worth.

But some unscrupulous showrooms pay off your old loan, just as they promised, then secretly add that amount to your new loan.

To get away with that, they're counting on you to focus on the monthly payment and ignore the total amount you’re financing.

Say you're told you need to borrow $20,000 over 48 months at 6% to buy the new car you've picked out. It's a monthly payment of $470.

The dealer then acts like it's offering a special deal and says it'll pay off your old car note.

What the dealer really did was add the $4,000 payoff to the balance, then hand you papers for a $24,000 loan over 60 months.

The finance manager directs your attention to the monthly payment, which turns out to be only $464.

"The process itself is only vaguely disclosed to the consumer," says Chris Kukla, senior counsel for government affairs at the Center for Responsible Lending, a nonprofit group based in Durham, North Carolina, that fights predatory lending. "You really need to read the [fine print] carefully to see what you're getting,"

Dealer trick 5. Saying the deal is only good today.

Salespeople often say the "deal is only good today" to prevent you from checking other dealerships or having second thoughts.

They know if you leave the lot, you may not come back.

In most cases, you're likely to get the same deal if you return. You don't want to be pressured into a quick sale anyway.

The only exception is around the end of each month when automakers set their incentive programs — rebates and discount loans — to expire.

If you're being quoted a price or financing deal that includes those discounts, dealers can't know if they'll be renewed for the following month.

Dealer trick 6. Yo-yoing the financing.

You make a deal, sign the papers, take your new car home and think it's done.

A week later, the dealer calls and says you have to bring the car back because the financing has fallen through.

This most commonly happens when dealers allow a buyer with shaky credit to take what the industry calls "spot delivery" on a car before the loan application is approved.

Why would they do that?

Disappointed buyers will do almost anything to keep their new car, whether it's agreeing to a higher interest rate, ponying up more cash for a down payment or even finding a cosigner for the note.

"We hear about it in all states across the country," Kukla says. "Dealers have the legal right to be able to back out of the deal even after they send you home with the car."

Dealer trick 7. Rolling out the old bait-and-switch.

You see an ad for a great price on a car you've been considering. But then you get to the showroom and find that's only for a stripped-down model, or trim level in auto lingo, that no one ever buys.

The salesperson is sympathetic. When was the last time you saw a car with crank windows and no air conditioning?

Over the next hour, he or she shows you better-equipped versions. By the time you finally see the car you thought the ad was touting, you're paying $4,000 more.

Dealer trick 8. Selling worthless or overpriced dealer add-ons.

Dealers boost their profits by selling all sorts of accessories, from roof racks to premium sound systems.

But take a careful look at the cost. You can usually get the same thing for half price or less at electronics or auto parts stores.

Be especially alert for "surprise" add-ons — extras you absolutely don't need but that salespeople try to slip in as you're wrapping up the deal.

VIN etching is the latest cost to avoid, according to Gregg Fidan, founder of RealCarTips.com. But he says to turn down paint protection, fabric protection, rust-proofing and upgraded car alarms, too.

"A worthless $500 add-on increases the monthly payment by less than $9 on a 60-month loan," Fidan says, "so it's easy to overlook these things."