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The 3 “M” Close: Don’t Fall for It When You’re Buying a Car!

Written by Ray Shefska

My career in the retail automotive business started in 1977. Buying a car doesn’t have to be anxiety inducing, stressful, or painful. Instead it can be confidence inspiring, fun, and convenient. Let me show you how.

January 6, 2021

Over the years I’ve heard (or used) every old-school dealer close in the book. “Closes” range from the salesperson putting “soft” pressure on you while acting as your “friend” to more advanced tactics like the 4 square. There is a certain art to it (as there is in all sales), but it’s not the type of art most people like (especially not when they’re at a car dealership).

Our job at Your Auto Advocate is to help you be a more informed and educated car buyer. Today we’ll cover one of the more common “close” tactics called the 3 “m” close. Although it is a bit old-school a lot of dealerships still employ it, and unfortunately new people to the industry are learning it.

The 3 “m” close attempts to overcome the common objections that someone might have when they’re close to signing the dotted line, but aren’t quite ready. Today, I’ll walk you through exactly what’s going on with this close, how to spot it, and what to do about it. As always, if you don’t feel like reading, simply click play on the video above.

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You need to be ready to walk into the dealership with confidence, and my hope is this article will help. Let’s dive in.

The First “M”: Is it the Machine?

The three “M” close comes into play when a salesperson hears a customer’s first objection, which is often “I need to think about it.” At that point, salespeople are trained to go into a maneuver like the 3 “M” close. You’ll hear something like, “Do we have the right machine picked out for you?”

When you hear this (or some variant of it), recognize what the salesperson is doing, they’re beginning to get into the 3 “M” close, and you just heard the first “M”; is it a problem with the “machine.” You could bet money that the following two M’s are next. This is a dealer favorite old-school close.

The goal of this M is simply to get to you to say that you like the car that’s been picked out and that it’s the right car for you. After all, if you like the car, then there’s some other issue that needs to be addressed. That’s the essence of this old-school dealer close: break down the three common barriers and seal the deal.

If you say it’s not the right car, then they’ll start showing you other vehicle options. If it’s an issue with the machine, your salesperson will act fast to find another vehicle on their lot that meets your needs, wants, and desires.

The Second “M”: Is it Me?

A decent salesperson will set up this M by saying something like, “Nobody wants to do business with someone that they don’t like, so am I the problem?”

It’s human nature not to want to hurt someone else’s feelings, so it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll say something along the lines of “No, of course you’re not the problem.” People usually want to avoid conflict, so it’s highly unlikely you’re going to say you don’t like your salesperson, even if you can’t stand them.

The car salesperson might even rope in other people that you’ve met from the dealership and say that everyone here would do anything to make sure you got in the right car.  Everything said at this step is meant to set themselves up as your best friend who’s just trying to help you get into the right car.

Once they verify that they aren’t the problem, they’ll move on to what probably is the actual problem: the money.

The Third “M”: Is it the Money?

The final M is typically where the actual objection is taking place. You might like the car, you might like the salesperson, but if the numbers don’t add up, you’ll have an objection to signing your vehicle purchase agreement.

At this stage, everyone is on the same page, and the salesperson knows that the money is the issue. Don’t be surprised when they still ask if it is, it’s all part of how they were trained. Once you confirm that the money is the problem, they’ll break down how it’s a good deal or possibly waive some fee that should’ve already been waived.

One tactic that we saw when this topic was brought up on our YouTube channel was pushing to let the customer take the car on an “extended test drive.” This is a bit of a gray area, but can be legitimate. Some dealerships do actually let you bring the car back if you don’t like it after a few days, but you absolutely need to have it in writing. If you don’t get it in writing, then you’re just buying the car. Of course, if you get in a car accident during your extended test drive, you’re the one on the hook, so at the end of the day, I’m not a big fan or proponent of taking a dealer up on this offer.

Another option is that they switch to another closing tactic that’s more specific to the money issue. The purpose of this old-school dealer close is to have you admit where the problem is so that they apply more pressure in that specific place. If it were a game of chess, the 3 “M” close is getting you to move your pawns out of the way so they can strike where it matters.

Whatever their next step is, you can be sure it’ll involve overcoming your objection about the price. They might pull up vAuto and show you that they’ve got the best price around. They might also break down the financial figures one more time to show that the financing agreement being offered is incredible.

Either way, you don’t want to buy that car. So, what can you do against this close?

Feel Comfortable Saying “I’m Not Ready”

One of the things customers say that leads into the 3 “M” close is the classic, “I need to think about it.” Dealers hear that countless times in their careers and the 3 “M” close is used to overcome this objection. Car salespeople are well aware that “I need to think about it” is often an attempt to get out of the dealership, and salespeople are wired to think “How can I close this deal now?”

Unfortunately, your attempt to leave is their attempt to close you. Their job is to help convince you to sign the paperwork today, not tomorrow, not next week, not in a month. That’s where the 3 “M” close comes in. In theory, every objection is dismantled, and you’ll drive away in your new car.

Here’s what you do. Memorize this line because it’s your way to avoid the entire close: “I’m not ready to make that decision.” Short, simple, and conveys all the information they need.

It’s a similar concept to “I need to think about it,” but it leaves less room for pushy sales tactics. If the car salesperson keeps pushing, repeat it. You can always get up and walk away. It’s better to face a temporary awkward situation than sign up for a car payment that’s just a bit too high, and trust me, it won’t be the first time in that salesperson’s career they’ve heard “no!”

Don’t Fall for the 3 “M” Close! Say No!

Your absolute best weapon against this close is saying “no” at any point. You’re always free to say “no” and walk out of the dealership. Every car salesperson has heard no before, and they’ll hear it again. Don’t be afraid to make them hear it one more time if you’re not ready to sign the dotted line.

We firmly believe that arming you with information is the best way to prepare for the sales tactics that car dealerships employ. Not every dealership is going to roll out this old-school dealer close, but many will. Now that you’re ready for it, you should also be ready to say “no” and walk out.

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6 Comments

  1. Tony

    Ray, first thank you and your son for having this information available to the public. Great job! Secondly, why is the car sales industry even like this at all? You don’t go through this when buying a house, a lawnmower, a tractor, a snowblower or any other commodity. Why is this process so painful and complex? It makes every car salesperson, old or new cars, look like snake oil sellers! I have purchased a bunch of new cars in my life and each dealer has been in shock when I just ask them only once, and I warn them, if this is the best bottom line you can give me. When they say yes it is, then I get up and walk out the door without saying anything and never go back. I despise being treated like a fool. I do my research by visiting various lots in the area and looking at the window stickers and then bouncing the info off sites like KBB . Now I can use your new info which will make car buying so much easier! Thank you all!

    Reply
    • Mark Ludwig

      The car business is this way because that is the way the manufacturers want it. They could do business like Tesla or the now extinct Saturn brands, but manufacturer’s choose to have their franchises operate with the existing business model. It’s plane and simple. The responsibility lies solely with the manufacturers.

      Reply
  2. Kevin

    My number one rule: If I’m enjoying my time at the dealership I tend to stay. If they try to close me by 4-square or 3M – I don’t fall for it. I get up, thank them for their time and leave. I don’t come back.

    Reply
  3. Fernando Rodriguez

    Ray and son, thanks for putting this out for our education. I very much like Tony do as much research before I pull the trigger. As part of that research I test drive the car, but since I can’t just walk up to where they keep the keys and take one, I have to speak with a car attendant ( Car sales-person, no offense ). And I try to be completely honest when they approach me and I tell them ” I am here to test drive the vehicles but I will not be purchasing today. I’ll appreciate your time but I will not waste it, so please don’t waste mine. Soooo, if after that he, or she ( the females are my favorite because they try to use the old charm to win me over, I guess no guy thinks I’m cute enough to flirt with, hahaha) starts with the lines about buying the vehicle I take them for a ride, waste as much of their time as possible ( with Covid there is not much to do so I’ll usually kill an hour or two of their time chit chatting and getting to know them so I can later sell them a home loan, lol). But I digress. Again I appreciate all the information and feel more confident about my next purchase. Happy 2021 to you and your family.

    Reply
  4. Helen Casteel

    Ray and Zach, I so much enjoy your videos and the interactions you have with each other. What I find is the information you two provide to the public is invaluable. I have experienced the hours it takes to actually come to an agreement and as a “baby boomer” time is not my friend. Research is the key and yes, you are so right, “KNOWLEDGE IS POWER”. Thank you both.

    Reply
  5. Ric Garland

    The manufacturer sets the freight for delivery,usually the same regardless of the distance from the Assembly Plant to the dealer location.What other product ads the shipping cost above MSRP? It is a part of the Landed Cost to the dealer. it is not negotiable,as such,but the OTD price IS,so why show freight as a separate amount?

    It is like selling the car,then telling you the tires and wheels will cost $X. The car is not complete without the tires!

    Dealers do not want you to piecemeal the car.Sure,the paint colour you want may be available in Canada,but if the US decides not to offer it,you can’t have it! You do not need a sunroof,but to get a garage door opening switch, you have to buy the Package.

    Ask them to give you the option code list for a chassis -used to be the Fleet Buyers Guide in the 70’s.

    Also,if it is a used car, get the build date,the in-service date and the full manufacturer service history. Carfax is not necessarily the best source for this information,in my opinion.

    Reply

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