Car Buying Articles

What Kind of Car Shopper Are You?

And What Kind of Shopper Should You Be?


  • Car Shopper

    Car Shopper

    The "scout" test-drives the vehicle, but doesn't make the purchase on the same day. | May 11, 2010

3 Photos

What do a cowboy, a racehorse and a banana peel have in common? They all represent different types of car shoppers. Whether we're conscious of it or not, we all have a certain method to our car shopping habits. Do you like to shop online? Or do you prefer to handle things in person? Are you emotionally attached to your trade-in? Or are you only worried about the monthly payment?

Do any of these buying styles sound familiar? There are a number of different car buyers out there, and it's important to find out which one best describes you. Though many of these styles will give you results of some kind, they may not always get you the best price.

The Cowboy (Face-to-Face Buyer)
Remember those old westerns when a cowboy bursts through the saloon doors and says that he isn't leaving until he's taken care of business? The cowboy shopper likes to show up at a dealership and pick out, test-drive and negotiate the deal all in the same day. Some people find the cowboy approach appealing, but they are limiting themselves to one dealership, and will not benefit from comparison shopping and all the resources now available.

The Undeclared Major (Undecided Buyer)
In college, the undeclared major isn't sure what to pursue. We also apply this term to the car shopper who is in the market to buy a new car, but has no idea what they want. Don't let the salesperson make this decision for you. If you're reading this article, you're already pointed in the right direction. We suggest that you read our model reviews, buying guides and "10 Steps to Finding the Right Car for You."

The Trapeze Artist (Upside-Down Buyer)
A trapeze artist spends most of his time upside down and jumps from one bar to another. Similarly, a trapeze shopper is upside down on their current vehicle loan but wants to jump right into another. This person owes more money on their vehicle than it is actually worth. By moving to another vehicle, the mountain of debt goes with them and this dysfunctional cycle continues.

The Racehorse (Monthly Payment Buyer)
In horse racing, trainers place blinders on the horses to keep them focused on the finish line. By focusing on the monthly payment, the racehorse shopper lets the salesman put the blinders on them. As a result, they are prevented from seeing the bigger picture — the purchase price of the car and some extras the salesman might slide into the deal.

The monthly payment buyer is easily distracted from the price of the vehicle and could be lured into a 60- or 72-month loan because the payments are lower. Ideally, you want to pay off your car loan in the shortest time comfortably possible. Otherwise you end up throwing your money away on interest.

The Proud Parent (Trade-In Buyer)
What parent doesn't think they have the cutest baby in the world? It may not always be the case, but good luck telling them otherwise. The proud parent shopper thinks so highly of their trade-in vehicle — and its perceived value — that they let this become the focal point of the deal. This approach often comes at the expense of other details. Plus, they'd actually get more money if they sold the car themselves.

There are a number of factors that can determine the price of your trade-in. Keep in mind that the dealer wants to make money off your trade-in, so if your goal is to get every penny out of your vehicle, you're already at the wrong place.

The Scout (Test-Drive Only)
Scouts are soldiers sent to gather information but not to engage the enemy. As a car shopper you want to do the same at the dealership. Test-drive the car, try out all the features, but don't talk numbers that same day. Ideally, the scout will become the techie (see below) after he or she has found the vehicle that fits their needs. Then you can go to war on pricing.

The Banana Peel (Lease Buyers)
A veteran sales manager of a Los Angeles dealership had a saying: "Leasing a vehicle is like buying a pound of bananas but not paying for the peels." In other words, in leasing, you only pay for what you use.

Although the lessee is not purchasing the vehicle, he or she still needs to pay attention to all the numbers involved. A lessee should look for a three-year lease with zero money down, a low monthly payment and a mileage limit that suits their needs. For a crash course on leasing, check out the "10 Steps to Leasing a New Car."

The Techie (Internet Buyer)
A techie embraces technology and prefers to make their purchases over the Internet. In our experiences, we've found that online car shopping consistently gets you a better deal, with less hassle. Online car shopping involves locating the vehicle, submitting numerous quotes and comparing prices from different dealerships.

If the online process sounds a bit overwhelming, you can just as easily call the dealers in your area and ask for the Internet sales manager. This person will typically be more up front with the price, and less likely to pressure you into a hasty purchase.

The Yes Man ("Lie-Down" Buyer)
The yes man agrees to everything that is offered to him in the F&I office (extended warranties, lifetime oil changes, fabric protection, VIN etching, etc.). The result? They pay through the nose for items of little value. It may be tempting to agree to these extras since the dealer rolls them into the monthly payment, but you'll be paying interest on these items for years to come.

The High Roller (Cash/Pre-Approved Buyer):
The high roller either has the cash to pay for the vehicle in full, or has a pre-approved loan to finance the vehicle. This is a great way to shop because it lets you focus on the price of the vehicle without distracting items such as monthly payments, trade-in value or interest rates.

A common misconception people have when paying cash for a car is that the dealer will slash the price drastically. Make an offer within the ballpark of the vehicle's True Market Value® and it should be a quick and easy negotiation.

Which One Should I Be?
If there is a lesson to be learned from the various shopper types, it's that you can't be too focused on one aspect of the deal. The savviest shopper is the person who can adapt to adversity and take from the best traits. In the ideal car buying situation, you would start off as a scout, then become a techie and close the deal like a high roller.

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