What Does a Car Salesperson Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A Day in the Life of a Car Salesperson

Alexandra Gordon/The Balance

Car salespersons straddle several different responsibilities and goals on a daily basis. They must be persuasive and good with people in order to convince them to buy an automobile. They must be good with numbers so that they can put deals together that work for both the dealership and the buyer. And they must have extensive knowledge of the vehicles they're selling.

Car Salesperson Duties & Responsibilities

This job generally requires a talent for the following tasks:

  • Sell additional features that come with a vehicle
  • Regularly expand one's customer base
  • Explain pricing and work within a customer's budget to meet their financial concerns
  • Qualify buyers and match vehicles to their needs and their price ranges
  • Clear the final sales price with management
  • Arrange financing for the buyer when necessary, subject to lender approval
  • Achieve sales quotas

Car Salesperson Salary

Most auto sales professionals receive compensation that is determined by both a base salary and a commission program. Most dealerships have their own variations of this plan. Some might offer commissions only on used car sales and give placement fees for sales of new cars. Others might not provide a salary or they might offer a "draw" against commissions.

The following salary data is for all retail sales workers. Annual salaries are based on a 40-hour work week:

  • Median Annual Salary: $24,190 ($11.63/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $41,517 ($19.96/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $18,408 ($8.85/hour)

The BLS notes that automobile dealers are the top employer of retail salespersons. The median hourly wage for retail workers in that industry is $16.67 an hour, which amounts to an annual salary of $34,674.

Most dealerships carry new and used automobiles. In general, salespersons earn more money when they sell used cars as opposed to new cars.

Beyond a lucrative compensation plan, a successful auto sales representative often enjoys demo cars, manufacturer bonus plans, and discounts on vehicles, service, and auto parts.

Education, Training, & Certification

No formal training or education is required for car sales professionals, but some experience in a related field can help land a job. A car salesperson must have a current driver's license. Test drives by buyers are common, but it's not unheard of for a salesperson to demonstrate a vehicle's features as well.

  • Education: A salesperson's education can include workshops, keeping up with industry publications, and car shows. This career doesn't typically require a college degree; a high school diploma is usually fine.
  • Training: Training typically takes place on the job, and some aspects might be unique to each dealership.
  • Experience: Any sales experience can be helpful and can substitute for at least one year in the industry, although industry experience is preferred.

Car Salesperson Skills & Competencies

As with any job for which compensation is dependent on sales, there are ways to maximize earnings by focusing on and honing certain skills and talents.

  • Extensive knowledge of a variety of makes and models: Salespeople want to be able to accurately explain why the car they're selling is better than others for a buyer's unique needs.
  • Math and financial skills: Much of a car salesperson's day is spent crunching numbers to create a persuasive deal that's also lucrative for the dealership.
  • Communication skills: Salespeople must have a gift for persuasion that can help them overcome buyers' objections.
  • Passion: It helps to be passionate about the products. Car salespeople should be excited about automobiles.

    Job Outlook

    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that job growth in retail sales generally is anticipated to be about 2 percent from 2016 through 2026, which is slower than for the overall workforce.

    The increase in online sales is expected to continue over the next decade, limiting the growth of the number of physical retail stores and moderating the demand for retail sales workers. However, the BLS notes, automobile dealers have experienced much less of an impact from online sales than other bricks-and-mortar retailers.

    Work Environment

    Car salespersons report to the dealership each working day, meet with their sales manager, and spend time with their co-workers and customers, either those who wander onto the car lot or those with whom they have set up appointments.

    Most established dealerships have compensation plans that are designed to motivate their representatives to sell the vehicles that make the most profit. This can create pressure to perform and meet quotas.

    Work Schedule

    The main downside to auto sales is the long hours that most representatives are expected to work. It's not uncommon for an auto salesperson to work 12- to 14-hour days, many of which are spent waiting for customer visits.

    While this downtime can be used to talk with other sales representatives, the most successful automobile salespeople use their downtime to follow up on prospects or call customers to make sure all is going well with their new vehicles.

    How to Get the Job

    GATHER EXPERIENCE

    If you have absolutely no retail sales experience, consider starting out in another area of sales to hone your skills first.

    FIND THE BEST DEALERSHIP

    As with any job, researching local dealerships will likely reveal the ones with a healthy work environment.

    UNDERSTAND HOW YOU'RE GETTING PAID

    You should fully understand the compensation model that your dealership offers before you commit to selling any vehicles.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    Some similar jobs might be considered lateral moves, while others can be attained with more experience and education. Figures given are median annual salaries.