I once conducted a car-buying experiment that proves the value of working with a car dealership's Internet department. I walked onto a car lot, asked for a salesperson from the Internet department and in less than an hour, bought a minivan for at least $1,000 less than if I had been shopping the conventional way.
It can't be that easy, you might say. I assure you that it is. Instead of following the usual car shopping method of walking onto a car lot and being approached by a salesperson, I went into a Toyota dealership in Santa Monica, California, sidestepped several conventional car salesmen and asked the receptionist for a salesperson from the dealership's Internet department. Her expression told me that this might be a first: Why wasn't I actually using the Internet? But she went along.
And so I met courtly, no-pressure Mark. I told him I wanted to buy a 2011 Toyota Sienna SE. He escorted me outside and offered to let me test-drive the minivan. I declined (I'd already driven a Sienna) and asked him to give me a price.
Mark led me to his office, which was across a busy street from the dealership, as though to remove it from the usual selling atmosphere. He turned his computer screen toward me, pointing at the Sienna's MSRP, the invoice price and all the options. He then said he could sell it to me for $500 over invoice.
I pulled up the vehicle on my iPhone on the Edmunds.com mobile phone car-buying app. It listed the True Market Value® price as $1,037 over invoice. This meant that Mark's offer of $500 over invoice was well below the average price that other people were paying for the car. So I made the deal.
I gave him a check as a deposit and arranged to have the minivan delivered to my office the following week. I left the dealership an hour after I had arrived.
The next week, Mark arrived with the Sienna and the paperwork. I asked what the price would have been if I had gone to the regular salespeople instead of the Internet department. He said it would have been $1,000 more, "at least." The "at least" was probably because he was thinking that a conventional sale would have been completed in the finance and insurance office, where the dealership would have tried to sell me additional products and services.
When you're buying a car, you should try to handle as much of the deal online as possible. (Edmunds.com continues to make this easier, such as by offering Price PromiseSM, which provides you with a locked-in, up-front price for a new car in the comfort of your home.) But if you like some of the hands-on aspects of car buying, you might try out this Internet-in-the-showroom approach. Here are a few tips:
- Schedule a test-drive by calling the dealership and asking for the Internet manager. Say up front that you won't be buying the car the same day as you test-drive it.
- Check TMV® before visiting the car lot so you can spot a good deal when you see one. Additionally, look for a Price Promise offer. Compare the Price Promise quote to the TMV price to confirm that it's good deal. You also can get Edmunds' mobile new-car buying app and refer to it during the deal-making process.
- If you started the buying process with an e-mail or phone call, get the contact's name and continue dealing with him or her when you are on the car lot. If you're coming onto the lot cold, ask the receptionist to get you a salesperson from the Internet department.
- Before agreeing to any deal, ask for a list of all the fees you'll have to pay. You should only be charged for the purchase price of the car, local sales tax, a documentation fee and registry fees.
- Request that the document preparation be handled by the Internet person, rather than the finance and insurance manager. The Internet salesperson might not go along, but it is worth asking.
If you follow these steps, you might be able to cut through the complicated knot of the dealership buying process and get the same quick action and good price enjoyed by Internet shoppers.