Playing the Game
One of the largest purchases most Americans make in their lifetimes is a new automobile. Unfortunately, many consumers enter this important transaction with little knowledge about the process and few resources on their side, other than the advice of others and some hasty Web research. Because we make these large purchases so infrequently, and car salespeople conduct transactions on a daily basis, it can often seem like the dealership continually has the upper hand in the process — and, quite honestly, often it does. What follows are a few tips to bear in mind the next time you purchase a new vehicle. Admittedly you are not going to be as savvy about the game as the players who perform it regularly, but knowing a few things up front may save you some time, headache and money in the long run.
Do Online Research FIRST
Knowing the vehicle you want before walking onto a dealer’s lot is not only smart, it saves time, legwork, heartache and ultimately can save you a LOT of money. With this advance knowledge you won’t impulse purchase or overbuy because you know what you really need. Being an informed consumer makes you a better customer, because you are not wasting time and you are ready to make a sound purchase.
Know Your Price
Price the vehicle fully, including option packages and equipment. Many third-party automotive sites publish invoice pricing for vehicles — not only the base price, but also options and equipment. That said, sometimes you have to really dig to find that invoice pricing for every feature.
Shop Three Reputable Dealerships
You may be surprised by how much of a price difference you might find by simply inquiring at multiple locations. Traveling to an adjacent county could save money as well. For example, buying in a rural area means you might have more room to negotiate a fair price at a dealership that has less overhead costs. Depending on the monthly volume of the dealership, some may be more willing to negotiate to make a sale.
Choose the Right Engine
If the car you are considering has multiple engine choices, you may need to choose between performance and fuel economy. Normally the smaller unit will save you some cash, and in the long run you will spend less in gas over the life of the vehicle. Unless you are pulling a large boat, taking vacations on the Rubicon Trail or stroking your ego with excessive power on tap, you probably don’t need the bigger engine that dealers may try to sell you. Today’s efficient 4- and 6-cylinder engines often have more than sufficient performance.
Timing Can Be Everything
Buy a vehicle during the changeover to the next model year, historically in late summer, when dealers typically want to clear out excess inventory in preparation for the new model year vehicles. The last week of the year is also optimum since there are usually competitive incentives during the slow holiday season.
Buy During Last Few Days of the Month
As with most sales-related jobs, a car salesperson’s performance is monitored on a monthly basis. Car lot jockeys live and die by their monthly sales numbers. So it stands to reason that if someone needs a few more sales to make their month look good, they are more willing to wheel and deal — and you will get a lower price — during the very last days of the month.
Buy on a Friday or Saturday Evening
Buying at the end of the day on Friday or Saturday gives the salesperson incentive to wrap the deal quickly — they have lives too, and places they need to be.
Research Extended Warranties Carefully
Most new vehicles have decent warranties to begin with, so purchasing an extended warranty is not always a good use of your hard-earned cash. One exception to this rule would be if you plan on keeping a new vehicle for an extended period of time and it is a particularly tech-heavy model. Just make sure that the items you are most concerned about are covered under the extended warranty. Even more important, have the dealer list the items that are not covered.
Don’t Buy Cosmetic Extras
Dealer-installed options such door guards or pinstriping are nothing but payment ballooners. Dealer-installed bedliners for trucks, weather-guard floor mats or other seemingly good ideas that preserve the vehicle are often a wiser purchase somewhere other than the dealership due to inflated pricing. Forget VIN etching — VINs are displayed in a few prominent locations on the vehicle already.
Get Financing Yourself
Obtain your own financing, preferably through a credit union since they typically have lower rates than standard banks. Although the dealer may attempt to entice you with low interest rates, beware. Using your own financing is often the way to go. Most special financing from car companies is in lieu of available rebates — if your own financing can match the car company, you get the best of both worlds.
Go for the Free Stuff
Sometimes dealerships will offer services that entice customers to buy, such as free oil changes or car detailing — so ask if they have any, but do so at the right time. Right before you are about to sign and are hesitating to do so is a great time to ask for the small deal-sealers that salespeople can easily say yes to without affecting the paperwork’s bottom line. And every oil change or car wash you don’t have to pay for means a little more money stays in your wallet.
Negotiate Document Fees
If you are buying a $40,000 car, the dealership can probably afford to waive a few hundred bucks — besides, almost everything is digital nowadays, so “documentation” is not the intensive paper-pushing exercise it once was. If the salesperson insists that the doc fees are mandatory for the contract, say that’s fine but insist that they then drop the selling price of the car by the amount of the documentation fees.
Give the Salesperson Good Reason to Give You a Fair Price
If you are buying from a dealer with a good reputation and service department, tell them so during negotiations, and tell them you are going to use the dealership for maintenance and service. That might help motivate the salesperson — the promise of future profits is a sweet hammer to close the deal. Suggesting you will refer family and friends to the dealership can help your pitch as well.
Know the Cost of Insurance
Knowing how much insurance will cost for the vehicle you intend to buy is good financial planning. Models with upgraded engines are often underwritten differently than those with the base engine, for example. You might choose a different trim level or even model based on the yearly bill for insurance — which is, of course, a cost you must pay each year for the life of the vehicle.
Be Willing to Walk Away
If you’re willing to walk, that is the ultimate negotiation technique. Be prepared to leave the dealership if you’re not happy with the deal. Salespeople will often say you need to buy that day to get the deal they’re offering, but unless the vehicle is extremely rare you can go to another dealer or you can return in a few days to get the same deal. If you are a few hundred dollars off an agreeable price and you walk, sometimes the salesperson will call days later (near the end of the month, coincidentally) to let you know you can come in and get the car at your price.