How To Get an Internet Price Quote for a Car
Get a Great Price Without Getting the Runaround
Getting a price for a new car by e-mail is a great improvement over the old days of enduring overbearing sales pitches or hours in a dealership sales office. But this easy, streamlined system for getting a price quote actually comes with some strings attached, unless you know our insiders' route to new-car pricing bliss.
First, here's a very basic description of what it means to get an e-mail price quote for a new car: You send an e-mail to a dealership and, soon afterward, you receive a specific price for a specific car. In a perfect world, of course.
In reality, it's a little different. You occasionally get phone calls from hungry car salesmen. Sometimes you get an e-mail that doesn't contain a price but says, "Come on down! We have a great selection of cars and we promise we'll take great care of you!"
Despite a certain disconnect between the ideal and the actual, I have found dealer price quotes to be a valuable time- and money-saver. I've used the Edmunds dealer quote system numerous times over the past 10 years while shopping for cars for our long-term road test fleet.
And I'm not alone. Consider this e-mail from a car buyer who has used the Edmunds.com dealer quote system: "This method of buying/selling seems so much easier than the hassle of face-to-face shopping. Buyers can make their decision without hours of going around dealerships and haggling about prices, and sellers have a much quicker sale (even if for a lower price)."
Another consumer wasn't quite as enthusiastic: "I requested quotes from four dealers; none actually gave me a quote. However, I was still able to negotiate my deal, on my terms, via the Internet. This was a huge advantage because I was negotiating from my den, not in the dealer's office."
The key is to understand the advantages and limitations of the price-quote system. Bottom line, the system connects the shopper with the Internet department at a dealership, not with a traditional sales team. A car dealership's Internet department almost always offers lower pricing than that available through the sales team. The traditional salesman tries to keep the car's price as high as possible to increase his commission while the Internet sales manager sells more cars at lower prices and makes money on bonuses for volume.
Clearly, it's a big advantage to connect directly to the Internet manager, who will offer a lower price and also communicate with you by e-mail, text, telephone or even fax, if you like. The traditional salesman wants you there in person before beginning negotiations.
Not All Dealer Price Quotes Are Equal
Edmunds.com connects shoppers with dealers for price quotes, and there are dealerships and manufacturer Web sites that do much the same thing. Quote-request forms vary, but most of them require a telephone number and e-mail address. Beyond that, some price quote systems will send dealers specific information about what you have selected for the vehicle's options, trim level and color.
There is a lot of speculation among dealers about which "leads" (requests for dealer quotes) are most likely to turn into sales. Some leads are free to dealers, but typically, dealers actually pay varying amounts for the leads that are directed to them. Naturally, the more they pay for leads, the better prospects they consider the shoppers to be and the faster they act on making them pay off.
Fred Collins, Edmunds.com's executive director for product development and operations, manages the dealer price-quote system for Edmunds.com. He has watched dealership Internet managers answer price quotes and says it's important to understand their mindset. Selling cars is highly competitive and Internet managers believe that the first person to contact the customer will get the sale.
"For the dealer, it's a race to be the first to call that customer," Collins says. While details about the way you have configured the car might be available in the lead form, the busy Internet manager might only read it as he's dialed your number and your phone is ringing.
The Dealer's View of Internet Price Quotes
Ron Davis, owner of Santa Monica Ford, in Santa Monica, Calif., says that when his dealership receives a lead, its goal is to provide a personalized response and a price within one hour. The customers initiate phone contact when they choose to, he says.
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."
Dianne Whitmire, fleet sales director of Carson Toyota-Scion, in Carson, Calif., says that prior to requesting a price quote, many shoppers configure cars that don't exist or are very hard to find. She says that she often needs to contact such a customer to help him find out what exactly will best suit his needs so she can give a price, and yet she wants to respect someone who doesn't want to be called. Furthermore, 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 tool for her and has helped earn her the nickname "Prius Super-Saleswoman" for selling so many of the Toyota hybrids.
Avoiding Common Quote Problems
The number-one complaint from people using dealer quotes is that the dealers don't provide specific pricing in response to the request but instead, try to persuade folks to come down to the lot to get a price, according to Mark Holthoff, senior manager, 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 quote request. The third complaint is that the dealer never answers the request for a price quote at all.
Getting a Price Without Getting the Runaround
After years of using this price-quote system, not to mention feedback from actual consumers, I recommend these steps to get a solid price from the Edmunds dealer quote system, or any other system, for that matter.
1. Consider creating a new e-mail address just to handle responses from dealers. This is easy and free from providers such as Google, Yahoo! and AOL. Use this as your address for dealer contact.
2. Use your cell phone number, not your home number, and be ready to set your cell to vibrate for a few hours after you send in your price quote request (unless you are ready to speak directly to an Internet manager). Remember that if you put in a false phone number, the calls that go to that unfortunate party will be extremely annoying.
3. Set the "Contact Preference" in the quote request to "E-mail anytime." This will eliminate some salesmen's phone calls.
4. In the "Additional Comments" box, list the year, make, model, trim level and preferred colors for the vehicle. Then write, "Do you have this car on your lot and what is your price?"
5. Click the "Submit" button.
6. Set your cell phone to vibrate. Most calls will come in over about the first two hours. Let the calls go to voicemail and then listen to them.
7. 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 have to deal with one of these salespeople. You want to choose someone who is well-spoken, trustworthy and responsive.
8. Some e-mails might only say "Come on down!" E-mail the senders 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."