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Saturday, January 15, 2011

A December to Remember--My New Car Buying Experience

It was a December to remember alright.  I'm not talking about my fantastic holiday spent with wonderful family and friends.  I'm referring to my new car buying experience.  It was quite a roller coaster ride and here is what I learned from my crazy experience.
  1. Be prepared that buying a car brings out your inner child.   Initially I wasn't that excited about buying a new car.   Spending tens of thousands of dollars on a big ol' mommy-mobile wasn't that thrilling.    However, once I started test driving cars, the lure of a voice activated navigations system, DVD players and iPod ready music system sucked me in and before you could finish saying "End of Year Clearance Sale,"  I was hooked.    I wanted a car  RIGHT NOW!   Oh and that new car smell.....heaven!
  2. Do your research at home first.  This is obvious but so important. You need to know the MSRP as well as the invoice pricing before you start visiting dealers.  I spent hours scouring websites, like Edmunds.com, Carsdirect.com, Cars.com, Motor Trend, Costco Auto and Consumer Reports.  No dealer was going to pull a fast one on me--well at least that is what I thought!
  3. Use the internet to get quotes.   Cars.com, Edmunds.com, and Carsdirect all have the ability to submit your car's specifications to local dealers in order for you to get competing price quotes.  Just fill out the form, hit send and emails from dealers will start showing up in your inbox.  However, most will not have pricing information.  They want you to call--they want to get their hooks in you.  But don't let them persuade you to "come on down," tell them you want a quote over the phone and a window sticker emailed to you.  
  4. Be flexible--the exact car you want may not be that easy to find.   Know what your must have features are and what you would be willing to forego.  We had specific options in mind but realized that we needed to be flexible on several of them.  Our must have features--bench seat, moonroof, 20" tires, and dvd system narrowed our car selection to a measly 7 in the state of California.  
  5. Once you get pricing, shop it around.  After days of research, I had an idea of what the price range should be on my SUV of choice (a Lincoln Navigator), so I started calling around to dealers throughout the Bay Area.  I cast a wide net--I was chatting with dealers from San Francisco to Stockton.  I tried to find a dealer who could beat the lowest price I was quoted.  And after several calls, I found one---right in my backyard.   
  6. Put on your detective hat.  Frequently, the car you want will not be on the dealer's lot.  If you want to see the car before putting the purchasing wheels in motion, it is a good idea to become a super sleuth and try to locate it on your own.  Cars.com has an excellent "Search for Car" feature which allows you to see inventory within 10 miles from your home to nationwide.  Other sites also offer this feature, but I found the Cars.com interface much easier to navigate.
  7. Get the final deal in writing before spending hours at a dealership.  This is where my car buying experience took an ugly turn.  After getting my best quote from the dealer referred to me by Costco's Auto program (San Francisco Ford and Lincoln), I called one last place just to make doubly sure that I was getting THE best DEAL.  When he quoted me the exact same price on the phone as the Costco/SF guy, I became a bit suspicious of how great the Costco pricing really was.  If this sales guy was quoting me the same price, right off the bat, surely I could negotiate a better deal.  So I put on my poker face voice (I was on the phone) and told him I'd buy the car from him if he met the Costco deal AND took an additional $1,000 off.  He was like putty in my hands and finally gave in.   Which brings me back to my point, get the deal in writing (a rookie move on my part).  I spent 2.5 hours at the dealer waiting for the paperwork to be completed and then signing the paperwork (and not getting sucked into the spiel on undercoating, extended warranties, etc), only to find out that the deal could not go through because he "quoted me too low"  and that he needed to raise the price.  ARGH!!!!!
  8. Go a little loco at the dealer.    After finding out my sweet deal had now soured, I decided to walk.  Spending 2.5 hours of my precious time two days before Christmas wasn't going to make me buckle.  I have principles.  I will not be taken!  So I calmly walked out telling the sales guy that I needed to think about all of this.  In retrospect, I wish I would have gone a little loco at the dealer right then and there.  Maybe that would have made a difference.  But instead, I just fumed on my car ride home and followed up with several disgruntled calls to the VP of Finance and my sales rep.   
  9. When they say they will "call you back" they are  lying.  Either be a squeaky wheel or move on.  After my deal went South, I was on the horn complaining.  I explained my situation to the VP of Finance who said he would talk to the owner and call me back.  I never received that call. Another example is when I spoke to a different dealer's internet rep who didn't realize that I had already been to their store.   I told her how disappointed I was that their pricing was $6,000 higher than another dealer's quote and therefore I did not want to work with them.  She said she understood and would talk to her "powers that be" and call me back.  That never happened.   I moved on--they did not deserve my business.
  10. If a deal falls through, a better deal is waiting around the corner.   The old adage that things happen for a reason is true.  In the end, I got the car I wanted (which ironically is the EXACT same car I thought I had in the bag) for an overall better deal (same price but with tires for the life of the car).  
What is interesting to me is that many of these tips and tricks would not be necessary if the sticker price was actually THE price you were going to pay.   The car buying experience could actually be pleasant if you didn't have to worry about being taken.  

Why do we have to talk MSRP, Invoice, True Market Value?  Why do we have to haggle?  All of these factors keep the smarmy perception of the car salesperson alive and consumers guarded.   I'd love to see the industry adopt the Saturn model of pricing (I realize the brand has disappeared but it was due to the line up of cars that failed to catch on with consumers).
    Needless to say my car buying experience had its headaches but in the end mama has a sweet new ride.  Thank goodness we only do this every 10 years.


    1. It is amazing that you blame the industry for the grief you went through, when you actually created it all yourself. You already had a great price that you were ready to move on with San Francisco Ford Lincoln.

      But you had to keep asking for prices, and another salesman told you what he thought you wanted to hear. Big surprise.

      But the management wasn't prepared to take what must have been at least a $1000 loss to sell a car to you.

      And you are insulted because your greed is unsatisfied?

      You knew where the market was, and must understand that people don't generally give money away. You sure don't. If you want money you have to earn it.

      So you invest your time and effort thinking you are going to earn $1000, except a dealer isn't going to pay you.

      Remember the Golden Rule? He who has the gold makes the rules. The market follows the rules, because the customer makes them. Customers don't generally take the first price they are offered, as you have so amply described.

      The story is hard to follow at the end, but it seems you continued to work on two other dealers, and can't understand why they don't call back?

      You, and the others like you, are the reason dealers seem "swarmy". What dealer wants to invest hours and hours of time to make as little money as possible with you?

      If you had walked into the first one and offered to pay MSRP, like you suggest at the end, you would have had your car the same day and absolutely no aggravation.

    2. I did not know whether the price I was quoted was a great price until I compared it to other quotes. The fact that car prices vary from dealer to dealer is what makes a consumer shop around looking for the best deal. I'd gladly pay the MSRP if I knew that it was the actual price and that every dealer was selling the same car for that price.

    3. Dealers individually setting prices is competition at work, and the customer benefits from competition.

      You have to admit your pain was self-inflicted.

      The next time you purchase something inexpensive, like a coffee, tell the guy at the register you are 25 or 50 cents short of the price.

      If he says sorry no coffee, would you return again in the future?

      If he says ok, I'll let it go, would you be happy to pay the full amount next time? You try again for 50 or 75 cents. Other people must be getting the 50 cents off.

      In either case, you end up unhappy with your coffee buying.

      Do you now blog about the coffee industry, the particular store owner, the guy at the register, or yourself for squeezing a transaction?

      If you accept responsibility for the outcome, then you are more authentic.

      At the end of the day, you are happy with your car, the deal, and you have a story to share, so your adventure can be considered a success.

    4. It seems to me that a consumer has no choice but to haggle for a fair price. A car is about the same price as a house in some parts of our country. If we trusted that we were getting a fair price,not a steal...this could actually be an okay process. Word of mouth is the best advertisement. We had a good experience when we bought our suv a couple of years ago. We have sent more than one friend to see them. To put a different spin on the previous comment. If you went to a coffee shop and coffee was $3 more than the place down the street , the coffee tasted about the same but the service stunk where would you go?

    5. We bought a car last summer and the dealer let a fact slip that he later admitted he should not have... the last digit on the price usually means how long they have had it on the lot. A 1 is one week, 2 is two weeks, etc. By the time it gets to 4 it is considered "stale" inventory and they are more willing to make a deal. Might not be that way every where, but we found it was consistent in all the lots we checked out.

    6. I don't know how anonymous could compare buying coffee with shopping for a car. A car and a home are a few of the largest purchases a person could make. If dealers would be more transparent, then consumers would feel better about their purchase. Dealers deserve to make a profit like any other business- just don't try to gauge consumers or bait and switch. Ultimately the dealers that provide the best shopping experience will win the business.

    7. I agree that the dealer that provides the best shopping experience will win. In our case the SF dealer worked really hard to help us find a car once the initial car transaction fell through. He was on the phone with me until 9 pm at night. When we finally found a car that met our specs, we did not haggle over the price. We went with what he said because he earned our trust and we were educated. Thank you all for your comments.

    8. I'm glad you found the car you're looking for! That's one of the amazing I felt when I bought an Indianapolis used car, 2010 Chevrolet Equinox last November. That's the very point of shopping for cars, actually - searching, testing, moving on, deciding, etc. Of course, we have to consider other offers too, if it's our best preference. There are tons of used cars for sale in Indianapolis, too. That's why it took a little while before I found the one. Anyway, how's it now? Encountered any inconvenience yet?

    9. I am curious about a few of the details.

      How many dealers did you engage to the point of selecting an acceptable car and getting a price?

      Did all of the cars have the same MSRP?

      Were they all the same color?

      How far apart were the quoted prices?

      How much time was spent at the dealers you visited?

    10. To answer your questions above...
      Because there were so few cars with the options we wanted (supposedly only 7 in the state) we kept seeing the same window stickers from 4 dealers we initially spoke to.

      Based on quotes from the dealers, we narrowed it down to two dealers. (The highest quote was $6000 more than the lowest quote.) When we narrowed it down to two dealers there was a $1000 difference between them. They cars had the same MSRP--they were the exact same cars. Once I decided to go with dealer "A", I spent 2.5 hours waiting in their showroom for them to get the paperwork done before being told the deal could not go through at the price they had agreed to and was printed on the contract.


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