Car buyers love to swap stories about different strategies for getting the best deal on a new car. One approach I keep hearing about is the "Blast Fax." I got a chance to use it while buying a Dodge Grand Caravan for the Edmunds.com long-term test fleet, and I found that it presents some advantages over traditional buying methods.
Here's how the Blast Fax works. You send a fax simultaneously to fleet managers at a number of dealerships in your area requesting quotes on the car you want to buy. Your fax describes the car — and the options — you want, and it informs them you will be buying from the lowest bidder. Let me add that this approach works only when buying a car that is readily available at a number of different dealerships. A Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry are good examples of cars you could easily buy using a Blast Fax.
The advantage of this strategy is that you don't have to negotiate in person. You can state all your terms up front and provide them with a detailed description of the car you want. The fleet managers can check their inventory before contacting you. Furthermore, this process announces ahead of time that you are shopping for the lowest price. Those dealers that refuse to be "shopped" will simply ignore the fax.
Let me quickly add that our site allows you to create the equivalent of the "blast fax" with much less work. When you visit one of our "vehicle detail pages" (where the pricing information of the different cars is listed), you can request price quotes from local dealers via e-mail, using the Edmunds' Dealer Locator. You can contact up to four at once just by clicking in the appropriate boxes. The only advantage the blast fax offers is that a physical piece of paper appears in the dealership office. The fax can sometimes demand more immediate attention and — if presented correctly — can bring a good response.
Here's how I used the Blast Fax technique to buy our Dodge Grand Caravan. I logged onto Yahoo's Yellow Pages and located all the Dodge dealers in the Los Angeles area. I also searched other areas such as San Diego and Palm Springs. Using this list, I called the dealerships and requested the names of their fleet managers and their fax numbers.
Next, I created a one-page fax that stated my intention to buy a Dodge Grand Caravan and listed the terms I wanted. My fax said that I wanted to settle on a buying price for the minivan first. I also said I would be leasing the minivan and I outlined the terms I wanted. I then listed my fax number and my telephone number. I used the fax machine at my house to send out the faxes so the fleet managers couldn't see that I worked for Edmunds.com.
I should add that I worked out my own lease payment ahead of time using the formula listed in Edmunds' Car Buying Advice section. I also took note of Edmunds' True Market Value pricing for the Grand Caravan. In this way, I could spot a good deal when it came in. But in the Blast Fax I didn't target a certain price; I left it open hoping the dealer would work some magic and sweeten the deal even further.
The response was almost immediate. One fleet manager called my number within two hours requesting more information about me. When he didn't reach me, he generated a quote and faxed it to my office. It was for $200 over invoice with a competitive lease rate.
While the results came quickly, the response was not overwhelming. Of the first 12 faxes I sent out, only three quotes came back. One fleet manager told me I would have to come into the dealership to get a quote. This is a common policy at many dealerships. They want you there in person to negotiate. The intention of the Blast Fax is to avoid this.
I decided I needed to modify the process to get better results. Returning to Yahoo Yellow Pages I got the names of a few Dodge dealers I hadn't yet contacted. This time I called the fleet managers first. I told them I was looking for a specific car and I would fax them a description of the options I wanted and the terms I was requesting. Then I sent the same old Blast Fax saying that I was taking bids from dealerships and would buy from the lowest bidder.
This strategy brought nearly a 90 percent response. It showed the fleet managers that I was a real person and — potentially — a real buyer.
Karl Brauer, our editor in chief, said his father has always used the Blast Fax technique to buy cars. He has found that most of the quotes are within a few dollars of each other. But then one comes in which is way below the others. Often this comes from a dealership that is out of his area, one that is trying to pull in business they wouldn't ordinarily get a shot at.
Most of the quotes I received on the selling price were within several hundred dollars of invoice. One dealer, however, floated a quote at sticker price. That quote went into the discard pile.
Besides giving me quotes on the purchase price, many fleet managers gave me a monthly payment, since my fax had stated I wanted to lease. I found myself reviewing and comparing these numbers with more interest than the buying price. (In lease-speak, the buying price of the car is the "capitalized cost" or "cap cost.") When comparing monthly payment figures, however, it is important to make sure the "drive-off fees" are about the same.
Here is a rundown on the quotes I received on the Dodge Grand Caravan, which at the time had a sticker price of about $35,000. (Bear in mind that our lease terms are not what most consumers would want. Also, we always have to switch to a corporate lease before we close the deal.) With roughly $1,300 in drive-off fees, the monthly payments on a two-year lease, with extra miles, ranged from $777 to $898. Over 24 payments this was a difference of $2,904. Obviously, the Blast Fax had worked to ferret out the lower price. But were there other advantages?
I found that working with fleet managers removed much of the aggravation of a normal dealership experience. The fleet managers were straightforward, professional and efficient. The only exception to this was the fleet manager who gave me a quote of $938 a month. When I asked him to try another bank, and suggested one in particular, he said, "Oh yeah, I didn't think of that." The quote suddenly dropped to $806.
Before I committed to the lowest price, I called the dealers who had bid to thank them for working with me. I told them I had found a lower price elsewhere. In several cases the fleet managers offered to rework the number to try to get a lower payment and secure my business. While many people might relish this opportunity to make salespeople jump through hoops, I didn't feel comfortable drawing out the process. I took a small price reduction and then closed the sale at a dealership where I felt confident I would receive professional service.
In this case, the Blast Fax was a valuable tool. Now, when I get into those discussions with people swapping car-buying strategies, I can chime in with my own experiences. It is definitely the way to go when the car is in good supply, and there are plenty of dealers to bid for your business.
Note: Prices reflect original publication date of: 02/13/2001
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