Is lying about vehicle availability a sales trick?

A reader asks:

We had an appointment with the car salesman after emailing back and forth about a specific vehicle at the dealership. We had everything set up, but then the salesman told us that the car we wanted was sold just a day before our appointment.

This has happened to us quite a few times now. We’ve even gotten to the dealership just as someone else is making a deal on the same car we wanted. It’s been crazy.

Is this some kind of sales tactic?

Short answer: Probably not. Selling a car before a customer gets to the dealership is a good way to make people mad and convince them to buy elsewhere. Unless a salesperson is trying to waste your time to inflict emotional pain, this is probably just bad luck.

Salespeople Will Lie About Availability, But Only If Your Question Is Vague

Is lying about vehicle availability a sales trick?
Lying about whether or not you have a vehicle is a sales trick, but only worth doing if the question is vague.

Lying about whether or not a vehicle is available is a sales tactic. Sometimes, if a customer asks a vague question like “Do you have any used CR-Vs?” or “Do you have a new Camry Hybrid I can test drive?”, some salespeople reflexively say yes. They do this because it’s an easy lie to explain away.

If a salesperson lies about having used CR-Vs or a new Camry Hybrid, it’s pretty easy to walk it back with a “Oh, sorry, I was thinking about a different car,” or “We just sold it.” A customer may be annoyed by this lie, but because the question is vaguely worded, usually customers aren’t too upset.

If the question is very specific, on the other hand – something like “Do you have any used 2015 Honda CR-V’s with a power liftgate?” – it’s pretty hard to lie about that. A person asking that question is looking for something very specific, and lying to them is a good way to get in trouble with a manager.

So, as long as you’re asking specific questions, you’ll almost always get truthful answers.

Sometimes Salespeople Like To Torment Customers, But Usually It’s Just That The Car Is Sold

I have seen salespeople lie about having a car a customer wanted, waste the customer’s time working out details, and then call the customer at the last minute to say “Oops – the car sold!” The customer is disappointed, the salesperson has a laugh, and then they move on. However, it’s not common, as most salespeople are too lazy or too busy to bother with this sort of prank.

So, if you take the time to work out a specific deal, and the salesperson calls you to let you know the car isn’t available after all that work has been done, they’re probably telling the truth. They just don’t have much to gain by spending time with a customer they know they aren’t going to sell.

How To Keep Someone Else From Buying A Car Before You Can

If you’re trying to buy a vehicle and people keep buying what you want before you, there are some things you can do:

  1. Get a pre-approval from your credit union. Most credit unions will give you a letter of credit for a specific dollar amount, with some rules about vehicle age and mileage. The letter gives you the security to make an offer on a car before all the financing is worked out, and can help you move more quickly.
  2. Offer to put down a refundable deposit. Most dealerships won’t accept a refundable deposit, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Just make sure the terms of the deposit explicitly say your payment is refundable…and then be sure to use a credit card to make the deposit, so you can dispute it if the dealership tries to keep your money.
  3. Don’t hesitate. If you find a car that checks all your boxes, don’t wait until the weekend to go look at it. Take the kids, leave work early, whatever you have to do to get down there.
  4. Don’t forget to get an inspection (used vehicles only). If you’re buying a used vehicle, you really want to get an inspection. You might skip this step if you’re buying a factory certified used car, and/or a car that’s still under the original factory warranty, but that’s taking a chance. Find a shop close to the dealership that’s willing to do a quick check-out, or hire one of the many used car inspection services.

Good luck!

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