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Dealers Can Smell Ignorance: Arm Yourself Against Their Tricks

in Car Buying Tips

These days, it’s rare for someone to start their car-buying research when they walk into the dealership. In fact, 86 percent of car-buyers conduct research online before even walking onto the lot. The internet has changed the game.

That said, not all sites are created equal. The majority of automotive search tools on the internet only feature cars that dealers pay to be promoted. These tools are closer to advertising sites than unbiased search engines. While you think you may be researching all the available cars in your area, you’re really only seeing a fraction of them. A better deal could be out there waiting for you — and you won’t even know it.

Keeping in mind that many different factors go into a car’s total value, you can start comparing different options online using a third-party tool such as CarGurus or Kelley Blue Book. Sites like these will always provide more unbiased results than dealer’s themselves, or search sites that base their results on who pays them the most. With CoPilot, you can take your search even further, finding out about not just a general type of car or trim, but about a specific vehicle on a particular lot.

But where to begin? What do you absolutely, positively need to know before you brave that dealership?


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Compare Apples to Apples

Let’s say you’re looking at two cars that are the same year, make, and model — but one is priced significantly lower than the other. It’s possible that you may have unearthed the deal of the century. It’s time to dig deeper. The vehicles likely differ in mileage, condition, features, and trim. One may have had one owner, and the other was part of a fleet of pizza-delivery vehicles. To really compare value, make sure the two potential buys are similar enough to one another when weighing out your options. There are a few places where these differences will show up. The first is trim.


“Trim” refers to versions of the same model, each offering different features and equipment. That usually translates to a lot of extra letters and numbers. For example, the 2018 Honda Pilot has five different trims:






Pricing ranges from around $31,000 to as much as $48,000. The difference can be cosmetic: leather interior, sunroof, audio package. It can also be functional: engines, transmissions, and other foundational elements. Pay attention to those little letters: they mean a whole lot when it comes to value.

But wait! There’s yet more difference to be found.


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A “package” refers to a bundle of high-value features offered by the manufacturer on top of different trim levels. For example, a “cold weather package” on a BMW includes things like heated seats and and retractable front headlights. The 2019 Acura MDX has four different package options beyond the standard version offering upgrades like premium technology and entertainment features.

Once you have an idea of what make and model you want, you want to familiarize yourself with trim and package to further refine exactly what you want out of your vehicle. (How to determine what you want? Consult your good friend MARK.) Once you know what you want, it’s time to determine how much you can expect to pay.

Now, Compare Apples and Oranges

When searching for the best price on CoPilot or Kelly Blue Book, take a look at the value of not just the car in which you’re interested, but other cars you expect to find at the dealership. You’ll get a clearer picture of how a dealer is pricing vehicles against their average value — and potentially raise some red flags if some of the inventory is priced unfairly.

Want to get an idea of how someone does business? See how much they try to get away with. If a car is priced unreasonably low, there’s almost always a reason for that, even if it’s just to serve as bait for a prospective buyer.

The “apples-to-oranges” search will tell you if a great deal on one car was offered with the intention of luring you to the dealership so you can then be offered a higher-priced option. If this is the case, remember everything you learned about trim and package to avoid getting ripped off. The best thing to do? Avoid temptation. Walk away, do some research, and come back another time. Read more about car dealers.

To learn more about how CoPilot can help navigate you through the car buying process, visit us at Copilotsearch.com.