Car Shopping–A Fate Worse Than Death?


Before landing the job that would lead me, albeit in on a meandering path, to my decade-long career in media advertising, I sold cars.  In training, I was told (source was I believe a survey quoted in the New York Times) that people fear car shopping more than death.  I am not one of those people.  I am currently in the market for a new car, and I can’t wait to start shopping.  I adore being ‘sold.’  I enjoy haggling…and winning!  I am happy to spend nearly 5 hours at the negotiating table wearing down my opponent until it is worth more to lose $500 and shake hands than let me walk away having wasted everyone’s time. So now, for the first time ever, my secrets for getting the best deal on your next car.  Not that anyone’s asking, but hey…I owe you a blog.

  • Get there when the doors open.  There was some bad advice making the rounds when I was selling that half-hour before close was the best time to buy a car.  Trust me.  When it is quitting time, everyone is ready to go home.  This is not the time for hard negotiation.  If you are not an easy sale, a dealer will just as soon shake your hand and send you on your merry way than sell you a car. However there is an unspoken race among floor managers (those are the guys your sales associate has to consult when you make an offer) to get the first deal on the board for the day. Winning those bragging rights might be incentive enough to let you have your way.
  • Know your trade-in value. Yes, your sales associate will hate when you bring in KBB values and expect to get the number on the print-out.  Yes, KBB is not as accurate as black book or whatever the heck they are using nowadays, but it gives you a strong argument for getting top dollar for your trade.  I print out NADA values as well and expect demand to land somewhere between the two.  When the first pencil low balls my trade, the next words out of my mouth are, “Tell your manager if he insults my car again, I will walk.”  Cross your arms over your chest and wait.
  • Detail the HELL out of your trade.  If your trade is clean, the dealer will assume you take care of your car.  They will also think of putting it on the lot instead of sending to auction.  If it looks like you take pride in your vehicle, the dealer will understand when you demand respect for it.  Don’t neglect the door jams, the engine compartment, around the gas cap, inside the wheel wells.  Your vehicle should look like their vehicles.
  • Know your comps.  Invariably there are two or three auto listings priced well below average.  Print those out.  Do NOT expect the dealer to match the price, but use them to start the negotiations.  You also want to print out several listings on the low side of average.  You will work up toward this number.
  • If the car is new, ask to see the invoice.  Yep, you can do that.  The manager will agree, but will ask you to determine what is a fair profit for them to make over invoice before showing it to you. Don’t answer that.  He will ask again.  Don’t answer!  You need to see the invoice to see if your offer is reasonable or even possible.  I once bought a new vehicle at $1500 below invoice, not because “this is a fair price” but because “this is all I can pay.”
  • Dealers will come down by hundreds and expect you to come up by thousands.  You cannot meet in the middle using that math.  Don’t be more generous in your negotiations that the dealer is willing to be with you.  If I feel like we are too far apart on a first pencil, I don’t counter-offer.  I apologize for wasting the sales associate’s time, and tell her I think we are just too far apart to make a deal happen. I don’t ever lay my hand on the table at this point.  When she asks for my magic number, I insist, “we are too far apart to even talk numbers.”  Before you walk, they will take one more crack at you, and you can start negotiations on the revised offer. I have only had one manager that did NOT revise his first pencil, and the owner of that dealership contacted me the next day to ask for another shot.  I had already bought a car by then.
  • Be willing to walk away.  If you can’t walk, you have already lost the negotiation.
  • Bring a “financial advisor”.  I hate giving this advice because I absolutely hated that person when I was selling cars. That person kills a deal at the eleventh hour. That person generally knows NOTHING about cars, but ‘feels’ advisee can get a better deal somewhere else and knows a mechanic who should really take a look at the vehicle before any sale is made.  But the buyer listens to that person, so getting his/her seal of approval may be worth taking another few hundred bucks off the final price.  Just don’t employ this person too early, or you’ll annoy everybody enough they’ll let you walk to be rid of you.  Note:  financial advisor does not need to really be an advisor. I usually tell my husband to just start throwing out statements like “we can always go somewhere else” and “maybe we should sleep on it” near the end of negotiations. He once improvised with “I just don’t like that 8.” The price was $XX,888.  The next pencil was $XX,088.  He took one look and said, “Wrong 8.” We all looked at him like he’d lost his mind, but damn if the manager didn’t cross those other two 8’s off right on the spot.  So the final price was $XX,000.  Honest to goodness, we got an $888 discount because of a feigned prejudice against infinity symbols.
  • Be nice!  Get your sales associate on your side.  Tell him about your family, your kids, your dog, your hopes and dreams.  Find out how long he’s been selling, how he likes the job.  Make sure you’re the kind of person worth hanging around putting up with for four or five hours to make a sale.
  • When you sense you are near the end of negotiations…get restless.  You’re close, so, so close, but the manager could reject your final offer, so it’s time to leave the negotiating table.  Get some air. Gaze fondly at your trade in, maybe shed a tear or two at the thought of letting her go.  I know this tactic sounds ridiculous, but I closed a deal once when the sales manager saw this show of reconsideration; no more than five minutes later, my sales associate met me outside, took my keys and handed me the ones to my new vehicle.  If you’re trade in is really, really not nostalgia worthy, this is also good time to complain you need to take a break for lunch. Or, better yet, get your kids (if you have them) to complain.  Everyone knows hell hath no fury like a hungry kid!

There you go.  I am confident if you employ these tactics you will save enough to buy the paperback or Kindle version of Blood Toy!

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