Our parents and friends give us a lot of great advice about life and (in some cases) about the best way to buy a car. But with all due respect to friends and family, some car buying advice is outdated — or just plain wrong.
After buying more than 100 cars for Edmunds.com over the past 12 years, I've had a unique opportunity to watch the rise and fall of car-buying myths. I've also spent time on car lots testing much of the car-buying wisdom I see bandied about on the Web and in forums.
Sometimes I cringe when I read these tips because I know that if people follow them, something is likely to backfire. So often, people think they have a silver-bullet solution for getting a super-low price on a car, but they miss the bigger picture of the new car deal.
The flawed advice I read seems to fall into two categories. The first is the mistaken belief in a "gotcha" style of car buying, where the buyer is somehow going to turn the tables on a car salesperson. The second category is made up of car-buying myths and misconceptions. Some of these tips might have worked at one time, but they have outlived their usefulness. Other bits of "wisdom" were never true, but live on as myths that are about as useful as believing in the Tooth Fairy.
Many car-buying myths stem from the same assumption: Car salesmen are trying to screw you, so go ahead and screw them back. If you really believe a salesperson is trying to pull a fast one, walk away. Find a good dealership and a good salesperson who will work with you on a good, straight-up deal. There are good car sellers out there, and they want your business.
Of course, you still need to be informed. Edmunds has tools and features, including up-front, guaranteed pricing through Price PromiseSM and True Market Value (TMV®) that make car shopping easier and more transparent than ever. Also, remember that your needs are very close to the salesperson's goal. You want a car and salespeople want to sell you one. Find a comfortable middle ground and you'll both be happy.
Here, then, is a collection of car-buying myths and dusty old tips you should dump:
1. Buy a car on a rainy day. The idea is that due to bad weather, no one will be on the car lot and the dealer will be desperate to move metal. One problem: Many people have heard this advice, which means the dealership is both wet and crowded. We recently ran this past a car salesman while both of us were standing in the rain. "Actually we're really busy on rainy days," he said. "Everyone thinks it's going to be empty."
Another variation of this myth is to go to a dealership just before it closes. Then, supposedly, the sales staff will agree to a lower price because they want to go home. In actuality, they'll work well past closing time to finalize the deal. Here are some actual good times to buy a car.
2. Hide the trade-in until you finalize the price of a new car. Then spring it on the salesperson. Do you really think salespeople haven't heard of this strategy before? And do you really think it will get you a better price? It doesn't work.
The best tactic is to compartmentalize the deal. Know the price of your trade-in by using TMV to get its actual worth and get as close to that as possible. If you don't like the offer for your trade-in, pursue other trade-in options.
3. Don't reveal that you're leasing until you negotiate the price of the new car. The assumption is that if you tip your hand early, a salesperson will snow you with leasing jargon and inflate the price of the car. One problem with that thinking: These days, lease specials abound, as shown on Edmunds' Incentives and Rebates pages. The savings on these lease specials are better than you would get by just leasing a car based on a low purchase price.
Another way to get the straight scoop on a lease price is to solicit quotes from competing dealerships, as described in our article, "Quick Guide to Leasing a New Car."
4. Be prepared to walk out. This is good advice for people who insist on shopping in person at a car lot. But it's no longer good advice in the Internet age, mainly because we don't recommend that you ever walk onto a dealership lot cold. Instead, use the Internet department and Price Promise for a hassle-free, low-cost shopping experience.
5. Read every word of the contract. If you follow this advice, you'll be there all day. Besides, most sales contracts are boilerplate that's regulated by the state's motor vehicle registry. It's not necessary to read all the words in the contract. However, it is absolutely essential to review all the numbers in the contract. For more on this, read "How To Review Your New Car Sales Contract."
6. Call the sales manager, tell him you're buying a car in an hour and demand his lowest price. The principle of this "game theory" approach is to pit dealerships against each other. Believe me, they are already well aware of the competition. Furthermore, this confrontational style is harder to pull off than you might think. Maybe it sounds fun to put the salesperson on the spot. But try it and see how far you get. Here's a nonconfrontational approach to car buying that will get better results.
7. Bring a cashier's check for exactly the amount you want to pay and say, "Take it or leave it." We like to imagine how cool and invincible we would feel by doing this. But if you bring a check with a figure you cooked up, you won't be leaving in a new car. Where did you come up with this price? Did you correctly add fees and taxes for all the options on a specific vehicle? How do you know the dealership wasn't ready to give you a price lower than the one on your check?
It's better to solicit Internet quotes, negotiate a good deal on an actual car, get a rundown of all the necessary fees and taxes and then bring a cashier's check. It's not a sexy power play, but it works. Better yet? Use Price Promise and skip the haggle.
To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.