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To get honesty, well, sometimes you need anonymity. We spoke with a veteran salesman in the Midwest, who shared some of the tricks he's picked up.

• It's not like it was in the eighties. Car manufacturers can't get away with building a subpar product.

• Don't go car shopping without already having a price.

• Ninety percent of people who come in say that they're just looking. I'm the same way. I like to be left alone when I shop for a car. I'm looking for certain things, like bolts that have been cranked on. If there is a wrench mark on a bolt, I know that the fender has been replaced.

• The salesman gets paid off the amount he gets over invoice, which is the price the dealership paid to get the car from the manufacturer. (Invoice does not include holdback, the money given to a dealership after the car sells.) If someone pays less than the invoice, the salesman gets a mini deal—a flat payout from the dealership, usually between $100 and $200. Most cars sold today are mini deals. Especially new cars.

• If you really want to know what vehicle to buy, ask the service department. They see what's coming into the shop. They know what's having trouble.

• My No. 1 job is to get people to finance the car through the dealership. Which means cash is the worst thing to tell me you want to pay with. You're basically saying that I'm not going to make a dime off you. If that's the case, you want to give as little information as possible until we've agreed on a price.

• A lot of times we add $1,000 to the price and take it away later, assuming that everyone will negotiate. And everyone will negotiate. Even the sweetest old ladies in the world turn into saber-tooth tigers when they sit down at the desk.

• The worst thing you can do is walk in with your **** blazing, insisting on a price that you know is too low. You'll be sent out the door. We just won't go out of our way. If a nice customer asks, "Do you have any of these?" typically I would offer to dealer-locate a car. For a jerk it's just "Nope."

• Be realistic. Don't come in trying to get a $35,000 car for $200 a month. Customers are still looking for that $200 payment. That's what I was looking for in 1989. The reasonable payment is $300, $400, or $500 a month. If you're realistic, you can spend invoice only, and that's before rebates.

• Used-car values are so tough. Kelley Blue Book always hits it high. Edmunds too. Higher than what you can buy them for in an auction. We can't give you $15,000 because we are going to try to sell it for $16,000, and every car we bring in is going to need $500 to $1,000 worth of work. Then the next guy is going to want to negotiate.

• When you're taking your car in to trade it in, for the love of God, clean it. Four out of every five cars I take in on trade are filthy. Not just dirt on the outside. There's trash, stuff in the glove box, cigarettes in the ashtray, garbage on the floors, kids' trash everywhere, food. And then they argue about how much the car is worth. That's one place you can affect your trade-in value: Clean your car.
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