As I turned into the parking lot of the dealership, I saw a group of salespeople standing on the curb. My friend and I opened our car doors at the same time and I stepped out anticipating the onslaught. Three sales people rushed over, right past me, to the passenger side of my car to talk to my friend, who happened to be a man.
I shouted, “EXCUSE ME! I’M HERE TO TEST DRIVE A CAR!!” These days my outburst would include the F word and other glorious expletives better reflecting my outrage.
That was twenty years ago. I experienced the same disrespect numerous times as I purchased several different cars on my own. While I was a tough negotiator, I spent hours under intense pressure to purchase each one.
That, ladies, was before the magic of the internet.
I’m thrilled with the new car I purchased five months ago, a 2013 Honda Pilot XLE. And, I got it at a fantastic price. Here are a couple emails I received from another sales manager during and after my buying process.
“I think you have found a very good quote there. While we can match their price, it would not be a significant improvement over what you’ve already been presented. If somehow, their numbers aren’t what they seem or if their approach is in any way “too good to be true”, please don’t hesitate to reach out.”
“Congratulations!! You got a great deal! They didn’t make a dime.”
So how did I do it? Here are the steps I took to get a beautiful car for a great price:
- Research cars that interest you. Ask friends about how they like their cars, go online to manufacturer and other car-related websites and check out various models. I used AutoTrader and Cars.
- Test drive cars several months before you are ready to buy. Make sure the salespeople who assist are knowledgable about the car. Can they show you how to work all the features, including the electronics? Test driving months in advance allows you to easily walk away without all the pressure.
- Clearly define what car you want and your required features. I’m a klutz and spill things, so I wanted easy to clean leather seats. Navigation was also a must, because I plan to take plenty of road trips.
- When you are ready, search online for the cars that fit your requirements. Car dealerships advertise on AutoTrader, Cars and similar websites. Some of the sites also include sales by private owners. My search began with a used 2011 or 2012 Honda Pilot. I wanted a Certified Car that came with a partial warranty, so I stuck with the dealers. Many car websites link to the Kelly Blue Book site that provides vehicle values. I also searched Truecar.com to see what other buyers were paying. It’s easy to compare asking prices and values for similar cars. Don’t forget to including mileage in your comparisons.
- Write your initial inquiry script. Auto Trader and the other car sites have contact forms you can fill out to request further information on specific cars. I sent the same content to each dealership. After getting responses, I discovered I could buy a brand new Pilot for about $1,000 more than the used ones I was considering and they had better financing options. Include information on the car that you will be trading in, if that applies. See Script #1 below.
- Buying new gives you more leverage since there are more cars that meet your requirements and it’s easier to create a “bidding war”. Since I’d discovered new was going to work better for me, I contacted every Honda dealership within a reasonable distance from my house, about 50 miles, and sent them a new script. See Script #2 below.
- Select the best price that fits your needs and contact other dealerships by email to see if they will match the price. It will be a bit more difficult with a used car because there is so much variation between each vehicle, but it gives you a good place to start.
- Contact car buying services. After I received the final best price offer that other dealerships could not match, I contacted AAA Car Buying Services. I’m a AAA member so the service was free. They could not touch the price I had been quoted, so I knew I was close to the best deal I could get. TrueCar.com also had a price higher than what I was quoted.
- Select at least two dealerships and test drive the cars. Make sure to take a copy of the best offer email. Dealerships will want to see that the quote is valid. I wanted a dealership close to my house since that’s where I’ll take my car in for service, so I gave them an opportunity to match the price, which they did.
- Don’t take the kids with you. A dealership is not a fun place to be, especially for kids. It’s also tougher for you to take a strong stance when you are distracted.
- Let them play dealer games without you. After I drove the car, I let the salesperson know I wanted the model in blue. Since the dealership didn’t have a blue one in stock, they were going to call other dealerships. To show I was serious, I filled out a loan application since the manufacturer’s financing was better than my credit union offered. After I asked them not to run my credit until we came to a final resolution, I left for a family picnic. I had several calls that afternoon…yes they could match the price but I’d have to settle for a silver one they had on the lot. I told them I wasn’t interested in silver and was still waiting for another dealership who was looking for a blue one for me (that was true). Then they found the blue one, but couldn’t match the price…okay, I don’t need to buy now so I’ll wait until I can get the price I want. Finally, the call came. The blue one was confirmed at the right price. It was so much easier to play while my salesperson worked.
- Be prepared to walk away. Many buyers get emotionally invested in purchasing a specific car and the salesperson may take advantage of the situation. If they don’t satisfy your needs and you are offering a reasonable price based on your research, walk away. There are other dealerships and cars out there.
- Read the sales documents and double check all the figures. Dealerships charge dealer prep and handling and I was prepared to pay that, as long as the final total cost to me was the best price. The dealership will add taxes to the price based on where you live, so these costs will be additional.
- Pick up your car.
I spent more than eight hours doing my homework, negotiating and completing paperwork, but it was so much easier than past car buying experiences. I’m thrilled with my new car. I can’t guarantee that your results will be the same, but it sure worked for me.
What happened the last time you bought a car? Any tips to share?
Sample Script #1 (Initial inquiry regarding purchasing a used car that met my requirements)
“I will be purchasing a car in the next two weeks. Please provide me with information on the best price you can offer for this vehicle and any other vehicles you have in stock that are similar. My plan includes selecting three-five cars to test drive in the next week and finalizing my purchase shortly thereafter. Please include any additional fees that would be included in the purchase, like dealer prep and handling. Thank you.”
Sample Script #2 (Initial contact for a new car. Fill in your car selection and required equipment or colors.)
“I will be purchasing a new 2013 Honda Pilot XLE in the next two weeks. Please provide me with the best price you can offer, along with details about any additional fees including dealer prep and handling. I am not interested in purchasing the vehicle in white or black. Once I’ve gathered all the information, I will be visiting two-three dealerships to test drive the cars and will make my final selection. Thank you.”