As both a consumer and a consumer attorney, I frequently deal with problems and issues related to purchasing a vehicle. I previously wrote about common car buying pitfalls in Part 1 and strategies for dealing with the dealership’s finance and insurance department in Part 2. In this final installment, I provide some final thoughts and tips.
Do Your Research – Know What You Want Before You Get to The Dealership
Modern car buying should start with internet research. I recommend starting by figuring out a car you like and can afford and then reading some reviews on it. Doing this can also help you find some similar vehicles in that vehicle’s class. I generally like to narrow my search down to three or so manufacturers and find sites such as Edmunds.com that allow you to compare specifications and features. After doing this, you can get a good sense of your top choices and then do more specific research on each vehicle.
Once you have narrowed your choices down, it’s a good idea to start looking at dealership websites to see the selling prices and especially to see differences in price from one trim level to another. Oftentimes, a single feature, such as all-wheel or 4-wheel drive, causes thousands of dollars in price difference. Do you really need or want all the bells and whistles? It’s a good idea to understand your needs so that you get the options you need and don’t pay for the ones you don’t. Once you get to the lot, it can be overwhelming to figure out which cars have which features, so it’s helpful to know what you want ahead of time.
Not only does doing your research help you to find the right car, but it also lets the salesperson know that you’ve done your homework and are less likely to be swayed into buying something you don’t want or need. It also has the added bonus of cutting down the time you have to spend at the dealership.
Check for Incentives and Rebates
All manufacturers offer various incentives and rebates that change throughout the year. These can vary greatly from one manufacturer to the next and oftentimes vary from model to model or even between trim levels. Edmunds.com, Cars.com and a host of other websites keep track of monthly incentives and rebates so that you can compare. If you’re torn between vehicles, this may be the tie breaker you need. It can also be helpful to look at incentives from previous years as you may realize that you need to wait a month or two in order to get a better incentive. For example, many manufactures offer their best incentives in December. Imagine buying a car the day before the new and better incentive kicked in because you didn’t do your research. You could cost yourself thousands and it’s not like anyone at the dealership is going to warn you!
Know Your Budget
There are a lot of really great cars and trucks out there. Unfortunately, a lot of them are really expensive. It’s important that you don’t get stuck with monthly payments you can’t afford. Again, this is where doing your research ahead of time will help. You can find financing payments all over the internet, including on many dealers’ websites. Read the fine print on the dealer or manufacturer’s website to truly understand how their financing works. Know and understand what the finance charge is for every thousand dollars you finance.
While it is vitally important you know the maximum monthly payment you can reasonably afford, it is highly recommended that you do not share this information with anyone at the dealership. Salespeople will always try to get you to tell them how much you want to pay a month. Don’t tell them! Because if you do, you are basically giving them a blank check.
This is because the dealership will just add months of financing to the deal in order to reduce the monthly payment to an amount you can afford. So while it sounds great that they’ve got you the monthly financing number you were targeting, you’ve actually agreed to pay way more for the vehicle because you now have a bunch more months to have to pay it.
Instead, focus on the sales price of the vehicle and work from there. If you’ve done your homework, you know how much the monthly payments will be based on the total sales price.
Call Their Bluff
Once you’ve found the car you want, you need to negotiate to get the best deal possible. This often requires patience. If you’ve done your research, you should know what a reasonable sales price looks like. Don’t settle for anything less. This may require you leaving the dealership.
When you tell the dealership that you’re leaving, they may stop you and tell you they can meet your demand or at least come down on where they were before. However, even if they don’t stop you from leaving, it is very common to get a call the next day or so from the dealership asking if there is something they can do to earn your business.
If they don’t improve the deal when you threaten to leave or actually leave, it is probably a good indication that you are seeking an unreasonable price. However, it’s a good idea to go a different dealership and negotiate there, as some dealerships will go lower than others. If you’re getting the same rejections at multiple dealerships, it’s probably time to accept that you are going to have to pay more or look for a cheaper car.
While many of these tips may seem like common sense, countless people fail to use all or some of the above every day while purchasing a vehicle. In fact, the dealerships are counting on it. So do your homework and keep the money in your pocket, rather than the dealership’s!