One of the first big purchases you have to make after your immigration is buying a car, unless you live in a big metropolitan area with outstanding public transportation. The rest of America is very wide spread – it’s a big country and there are usually not that many sidewalks or bike trails, so a car might be your only option to get from A to B safely.
You probably already heard stories about people’s car shopping experiences and that it takes half a day at the dealership to finally drive home in your own vehicle. I can definitely confirm that, because I’ve experienced it myself with our first car, even though I paid cash and had the best intentions to make it quick. Unfortunately the staff at car dealerships don’t like to make it quick and they kind of enjoy playing the negotiation game with you. Their goal seems to be to drag out the negotiation until the buyer gets frustrated and accepts their offer. And believe me, there is nothing more frustrating than spending your weekend at a dealership, hanging out in an office and wasting your time trying to get a deal that might not even happen. Here’s a rundown of my experience before I’ll show you a better strategy that has worked for me. If you’d rather jump to the hassle-free version, skip the first set of bullet points and go to the next chapter.
The traditional car buying game
- You pull into the dealership’s parking lot and immediately get approached by a nice salesman, who was already waiting at the curb, ready to jump on his next victim.
- After some small talk, shaking hands and exchanging first names they’ll start digging for the budget you’re willing to spend on a new vehicle.
- If you don’t already know what model you’re looking for, save yourself a lot of time and leave immediately. Do your homework before you visit a dealership with the intention to purchase. Otherwise you’ll easily spend an extra hour going through different models and test driving.
- Assuming you’ve made your decision and know what you want to buy, you start talking price with the salesman.
- He’s going to tell you the sticker price and what a great vehicle you’ll get for it plus the awesome warranty it comes with. He’ll also mention the lower price that he’s able to offer you because you’re best buddies now after all this small talk at the beginning.
- Problem is, the price is not what you have in mind and you either tell them it’s too much or you make a lower counter offer.
- The sales person will tell you that he will have to check with the manager about another discount and will leave for about 5-10 minutes and come back with a new price.
- You’re now looking at a lower price which is a few hundred bucks less than before, but still way more than you’re willing to spend, so you tell him.
- Same thing again: He’ll leave, “talks to his manager” and comes back after 15 minutes with either a couple hundred dollars less or he says there’s nothing else they can do and that you maxed out all discounts that they can offer.
- You’ll tell him that you are going to check out other dealerships and shop around some more in order to get a better price. Then you get up and say good bye.
- The sales man will try not to show his panic of losing your business and give you his phone number in case you change your mind. He’s also going to tell you that this price is only good now and when you’ll leave it will expire. Not true! These deals are usually still good the next day unless it was the last day of an announced promotion.
- At this point you already spent 2-3 hours at the dealership and are a little irritated, and still with no car. So you walk out and head towards the vehicle you came with. And just as you are about to get out of the parking lot you see your sales guy in the rear view mirror waving at you like a crazy person (that really happened to me!).
- If you have the patience for another round of negotiations, you hear him out and will probably learn that the owner worked the price even more and has a very attractive offer for you.
- That’s the lowest deal that you can expect to get that day, so you can take it or try another day or another dealership. They’ll tell you that they’re losing money with this offer, but that they need to move inventory. Who knows…
- 4-5 hours later you own a new car, because the paperwork took another hour.
The Hassle-Free Car Buying Strategy
Now you know how much time you can spend at a dealership, if you’re playing the traditional game like I did the first time. Here’s what I did for our second car and I would do it exactly like that over and over again.
Figure out what make/model/features you want
- Do your homework! Study consumer reports (ConsumerReports.org) and figure out exactly what kind of car you want to buy including any additional features plus color.
- You won’t get as good of a deal for brand new models, that are in high demand. Pick a car that has been out there for a while and one that the dealer has plenty in stock of.
- Test drive the car to eliminate any doubts. Do this sometime before you start the buying process that I’m going to share with you. Call the dealership in advance and make sure they have the car ready for a test drive. After the ride you quickly say your good byes and leave. Say you’re not in the market to buy a car right now, but just wanted to test drive it.
- Find out the fair market value of the car you want to buy. Use sites like Edmunds.com or KBB.com for that.
Find your targets
- Find every dealership within a radius of 50 miles or however far you are willing to drive for a good deal.
- Some dealerships also sell other brands or they partnered up with others.
Get the word out
- Wait until a few days before the end of the month and send all dealerships the same message either via email that you found on their website or just their contact form. Do not call them and don’t give them your phone number! Have them reply by email instead.
- Your message will clearly state what make/model/features/color you are looking for and the price that you are willing to pay for it, which is of course a good bit lower than what they want for it. Tell them that your number should be the “Out the door price” including all taxes and fees and that you’re not in a hurry to buy. Also mention that you are contacting X amount of other local dealers to get the best price. They need to know, that they have to earn your business.
- While most dealerships have wiggle room to negotiate on the price, others like Scion and Saturn can and will not negotiate, because they would jeopardize their contract with the manufacturer. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get some incentives for free. Think audio upgrades, floor mats, service vouchers, any upgrades, etc. There’s always something they can throw in extra to sweeten the deal. And if they don’t seem to give in, just tell them the same line that they use to tell clients: “You don’t want to lose my business over a couple hundred bucks.”
- The email is out, now wait for responses and see what they come back with. Some won’t immediately cooperate, so you’ll have to do a little back and forth via email, which is a lot better than sitting at the dealership under pressure.
- If they ask you to call them or they pretend that they can’t give you a price per email, tell them that other dealerships can and that you insist on a written offer. Do not give in and talk to them on the phone or visit them, because that’s what they want. They have trained sales people that know how to influence your buying decision. You don’t want to go back to the traditional game. Stick to the plan!
- Negotiate near a price that you would almost be comfortable with and keep mentioning that you’re shopping around and that you’re looking at quotes from X amount of other dealers in the area.
Ready to buy
- When you’re ready to buy and the dealership has the vehicle of your choice available, send them another email with a slightly lower price than they last offered and tell them that you will pick up the car today, if they accept your offer. If it’s the end of the month or even the year, you’ll have a very good chance that they will accept your offer, because every sales person needs to meet a certain quota per month in order to receive a bonus (spiff). They’ll be more willing to give you a deal, especially when they’re close to their sales goal.
- If they accept your offer, go to the dealership as promised and meet the sales person for the first time in person and immediately start the paperwork. Don’t forget to bring your check book.
- You’ll be in and out in less than an hour and driving home with your new car.
With this strategy you’re not sitting at a dealership half day questioning your own judgement of a good deal and getting mad at the entire staff. Instead, you’re putting the pressure on several dealerships to earn your business from the convenience of your home.
Photo credits: © spectrumblue, Arpad Nagy-Bagoly, olly – Fotolia.com