Getting an up-front price for a new car by e-mail is a great improvement over the old days of car buying. Then, you had to physically visit car lots and talk to salespeople who often were reluctant to name their price on a vehicle. Now, there is a streamlined dealer quote system that's meant to avoid that situation. Simply put, you fill in an online form that describes in detail the car you want and send it off to local dealers. They respond with their prices for the car. It works fairly well. And it works even better when you use our simple tips to new car pricing bliss.
I've used the Edmunds dealer quote system numerous times for many years while shopping for cars for our long-term road test fleet. I have found dealer price quotes to be a valuable time and money saver. The greatest benefit is that it quickly connects shoppers with the Internet department at a dealership. The Internet sales staff almost always offers lower pricing than you'll find via the traditional car buying route.
For shoppers who want an even faster route to a price quote, Edmunds.com has introduced Price Promise®, which brings online car shoppers a guaranteed, up-front price on a specific car. It's definitely worth checking out.
The Car Shopper's View of Internet Price Quotes
While the dealer quote system is a big step forward, it isn't perfect. In some cases, users complain that dealers are still reluctant to name a firm price. Instead, these shoppers say, the salesperson tries to persuade them to come down to the lot to get a price, according to Mark Holthoff, director of customer and community support at Edmunds.com.
The second complaint is that dealers don't always seem to know the specific details about the car (such as the desired color or options) that consumers typically send along with their price quote request. And the third complaint is that the dealer never answers the request for a price quote at all.
From the Dealer's Point of View
While these non-responses can be annoying, the dealer quote system still puts you way ahead of the game. The good dealers know how important customer leads are, and they know they have to handle them right, or risk losing a sale.
For example, when Santa Monica Ford Lincoln receives a lead, its goal is to provide a personalized response and a price within one hour, says dealership owner Ron Davis. Then, the customers are free to initiate phone contact when they choose, he adds.
Because of the Internet, "people won't just drive in like they used to and kick tires," Davis says. "We have to give them answers to their questions and we have to be responsive."
But some car shoppers don't make it all that easy to be responsive.
Dianne Whitmire, fleet sales director of Carson Toyota-Scion, in Carson, California, says shoppers often configure cars that either don't exist or are very hard to find. A brief phone conversation is the best way for her to find out what exactly will best suit the customer's needs so she can provide an accurate price. On the other hand, she wants to respect the wishes of someone who only wants to communicate via e-mail.
Another frustration is that many of the phone numbers people supply are "bogus," she says, and she winds up reaching a person who is angry because he's received a number of such calls.
Still, Whitmire says, the quote system is a valuable selling tool. It seems to work for her customers, too.
Getting a Price Without Getting the Runaround
After years of using this price quote system and hearing feedback from shoppers, I recommend these steps to get a solid price from the Edmunds dealer quote system — or any other quote system, for that matter.
1. Consider creating a new free e-mail address from a provider such as Google or Yahoo solely to contact and handle responses from dealers.
2. If the quote form requires a phone number, use the one for your cell phone. You can set your cell to vibrate and not take the call, but bear in mind that the car salesperson might actually need to talk to you in order to better understand the car features you want.
As one salesperson/commenter to this story has said: "Be responsive. Answer my e-mail or call, even if it's just to tell me that you were only browsing and aren't interested. I can take rejection but I can't read your mind. I get paid to follow up with you, but as soon as you tell me to stop, I will. In my case, it's just polite to do so, and it's also the law." And don't use a false phone number. The calls that go to that unfortunate party will be extremely annoying.
3. Be as specific as possible about the year, make, model, trim level and preferred colors for the vehicle.
4. Click the "Get Price Quotes" button.
5. Wait for responses. It won't take long. Most calls will come in over about the first two hours. If you don't want to talk right away, let the calls go to voice mail and then listen to them afterward.
6. Review the calls and e-mails, paying attention not just to the prices and availability information, but also the professionalism of the callers and e-mailers. As you move forward with your purchase, you will likely be working with one of these salespeople. You want to choose someone who is well-spoken, trustworthy and responsive.
7. Some e-mails might only say "Come on down!" Send such dealers this response: "I have already driven the car so I don't need to come to your dealership. However, I'm interested in knowing your best price. If you want me to consider giving my business to you, please let me know if you have this car and what your price is."
Used properly, the price quote system can not only help you find the right car at a great price, but will connect you with a good salesperson and make the transaction enjoyable. Good dealerships understand that.
"People want to be treated right," Davis says. "That will never change."