“You *@$$%^ make me want to ride a bicycle!”
OK, so it wasn’t my finest moment. My husband and I had been shopping for a new car for months, and it seemed as if we were being waylaid at every turn by a combination of car shortages and dealer annoyances.
The first part was understandable: We began car shopping in earnest last February, and our indecision really hurt us when the tsunami struck Japan in March. After that, it was not only difficult to find the cars that we wanted, but nearly impossible to get a reasonable price for what few cars there were around.
The second part was not so understandable. It seemed as if we were constantly being misled.
A dealer would tell us he could get us the vehicle, only to call back or e-mail back a day or two later to say that, sorry, it would take longer or cost more or would just be a completely different vehicle than we’d discussed. We’d negotiate a price only to find that the price had risen, or the car had been sold out from under our noses.
I began to feel the same way I felt one time when I moved across country and my things were delayed because the truck driver’s grandmother died. Twice.
By the end of summer, months after our car saga had begun, my mother showed up for a visit. Her instructions were simple: If I didn’t buy a car this weekend, she’d never talk to me again.
OK, that wasn’t quite what she said. But her meaning was clear; she’d had enough of this particularly annoying version of car talk, and also had had her fill of being scrunched between two car seats and an endless supply of cracker crumbs in the back seat of my current vehicle.
Three days and hours of negotiations with about a dozen car dealers later, it seemed we had struck a deal. We came home Sunday evening triumphant, only to have the dealer call me Monday morning to say that, sorry, the price had gone up by $500.
I at least had the sense to walk into a sound-proof room, and close the door, before I let loose with my loud, expletive-filled tirade, which ended with me telling the car dealer I’d rather bike to work.
At that moment, I honestly could care less whether I bought that vehicle. But I knew one thing: I wasn’t going to spend $500 more for it. In fact, I wasn’t going to spend $1 more for it.
About an hour later, the car dealer called back. I let it go to voice mail. An hour after that, the manager called back. I let that go to voice mail, too.
By the time we walked out of the car dealership that evening, we had the car we wanted at the price we’d originally set.
I don’t recommend my version of shopping for a car. All that rage can’t be good for you, and I can think of many things I’d rather have spent those many hours doing than negotiating with car dealers. Like scrubbing my bathroom floor, or doing my taxes.
But the experience did teach me one thing: If you’re going to go to battle for a new car, it’s best to come with weapons.
Here are 10 tips for buying a new car. Thanks to Consumer Reports, Edmunds.com and others for providing me with these helpful hints.
1. Be prepared: Before you go to the dealer, read up on the car you are interested in and any competitors. Web sites like Edmunds.com and Consumerreports.org offer a bevy of information and reviews, as well as tips on pricing. Consumer Reports also recommends that you don’t wait until you are planning to buy to test drive the vehicles. The more you know about the vehicles you’re interested in, the less sway your dealer will have.
2. Take it one step at a time: There are lots of elements that go into buying a vehicle: Choosing the car, deciding on extras, working out the financing, selling your old vehicle. As Consumer Reports notes, many dealers will try to mix all these things together in the negotiation process. Their advice is to get the best price first, then work on other aspects of your purchase.
3. Arrange financing separately: You may be able to get a better deal on financing through your bank, credit union or other service. Make sure you at least explore those options before working with your dealer on financing.
4. It may not be worth it to trade in your old vehicle: Our dealer offered us a laughably low price for our old vehicle. When my husband said that he expected about double that, the dealer replied, “But that’s the retail price!” Well, yes. Use websites like Kelley Blue Book to figure out what your car is really worth, and then find a buyer who will pay you that.
5. Don’t be rushed: A friend sent me this great video of a Seattle man named Rob Gruhl offering tips for buying a car and not getting screwed. His advice is you should never, ever, ever buy a car right after the first test drive. You may want that car more than anything in the world, but make yourself walk away and think it over. Take a few days or even weeks. Chances are, you’ll end up with a lower price.
6. Get the best price:Insurance companies, consumer groups and auto clubs all offer services that help you negotiate the best price. Edmunds.com has a feature that tells you not only what the difference is between the invoice price and retail price, but also what the fair market value is in your area. Use all these tools and then talk to a number of dealers before you settle on price.
7. Pit car dealers against each other: Gruhl recommends calling a number of car dealers and asking each one to get you the best price. Tell them that whoever gives you the best deal will get your money that day.
8. Get your deal in writing: If you’re negotiating by phone or e-mail, ask the dealer to e-mail you all the vehicle details, including VIN, specifications and – most important – price. That will help you compare prices accurately and make sure that, when you show up at the dealership, you actually have a car to buy.
9. Beware of sneak attack fees: Dealers may throw in all sorts of last-minute fees. Make sure that your dealer includes the “walk off the lot” price in the bid, with all fees, taxes and licensing included.
10. Be skeptical: Remember, this isn’t a popularity contest, it’s a competition for the best price. As I told one dealer, “I don’t have to like you to buy a car from you.” Make sure you double-check everything they say, ask any hard questions that come to mind and be prepared to walk away, or hang up, if you aren’t getting what you think is a fair deal.
What are your tips for getting a good deal on a new car? Share them below.