New car shopping is confusing. It’s meant to be confusing. I know this because I’ve bought many cars. Rest assured I’ve sold many more cars than I’ve bought.
If you try to walk into a dealership you will be shown a car by a salesperson, presented a foursquare, and then your salesman will broker a deal between you and the dealership. This sounds good, except the salesman isn’t on your side and quite often when they run into the office to talk to the manger they’re reading the sports page, because they already know the numbers and they already know that you can’t have what you want.
So if you see a sheet like this, go back home and buy a car my way.
I’ll show you how to buy a car if you are planning to own the car either by paying cash or by making payments to an institution as well as how to lease a vehicle.
1. Test drive everything. Go test drive every vehicle you think you’re interested in and pay attention to what you like. Take notes because you can’t compare them side by side. Let the salespeople know that you are not buying today. Take a low pressure test drive and learn exactly which car you want, the trim level and the features you care about. Only after you know what you’re looking for do you buy a car. Allow nothing to tempt you.
2. Know your credit score. Experian will give you a credit report once a year for free. If you’re financing in any way it is critical that you know your credit score. It’s easy for a buyer (lessee) to become confused when they have a lower score than they’d originally thought.
3. (for buyers) Call two fleet departments. Pick up your telephone and call two competing dealers, ask for the fleet manager. It is quite likely that the fleet manager only works Monday through Friday 9-5. (S)he’s probably older than everyone there and grumbly. (S)he might say things like, “Rubber and metal, that’s all they are”. This is okay. The fleet manager doesn’t care about you because you don’t manage a fleet. The fleet manager wants you to take your car and get the hell out of their office.
When you have the fleet manager on the phone you will tell them exactly what you want in your car. Start with the make and model and then move onto every bit of trim that could be imagined. Ask them if they have one in stock or if it’s something they can locate for you. The answer will be “no” because most buyers want a car that’s never been made but you’ll likely be presented a few options that are really close to what you’d wanted. Now ask for the internet fleet price (I used to recommend getting AAA and asking for the AAA price but I found that they don’t negotiate as well as they used to). They will throw a number at you and explain that it’s $200-$1000 over invoice. If you’re looking for a hard to find car it may be more, but $250-$500 over invoice should delight you.
Now you need to hang up the phone and have the same conversation with another fleet manager at another dealership. Take notes during your phone call. If you live in a small town or a rural area don’t be afraid to call out of state. I’ve transported cars across the country for as little as $600 in covered trucks. It’s an option worth looking into.
4.(for lessees) Call two fleet departments and ask for the car just as a buyer would, only don’t ask about the price. Ask what the minimum drive off is based on your credit as well as the monthly payment. After getting that information ask what purchase price it’s based on and start negotiating down that purchase price. If you think there is any chance of buying the car at the end of the lease (that would be dumb and I don’t recommend it) be sure to ask what the residual value is. Don’t lease a car one day longer than the warranty. Three years is typically the best deal on leasing but if the warranty lasts five years you could go to a 48 month lease. This could help get you into a car you’re stretching a little to afford. Still, most often 3 years is the ideal.
5. If you have a trade in they’ll all give you the same price. It’s a formula and you’ve got to remember that no one cares about your car. They’re going to send it to auction so a few sales will be involved before your car hits retail. If you need to get top dollar for your vehicle trading in is not the right move for you. Before you go to the dealer swing by CarMax, get a price from them (especially if you live somewhere where roads aren’t salted) and if the dealer can beat that number trade the car in. If the dealer can’t beat the number leave the car at CarMax.
6. Compare your two offers. Typically one dealership will be much easier to deal with or one price will be much better than the other. When they tell you that you’ve got the best price they can give you ask for a better one. When you hit the numbers that work for you have a contract sent over, look at it carefully and then make an appointment to have your car delivered or to pick it up.
Most of all, have fun. I love a new car.