Whether we're conscious of it or not, we all have car shopping habits. Maybe you like to shop for cars online or prefer to handle things in person. Perhaps you're emotionally attached to your trade-in and might therefore overestimate its value. How about pocketbook issues: Are you only worried about the monthly payment, or do you want to know what the deal costs down to the last penny?
Some of the shopping styles we show here will sound familiar to you. They might even be you (or a car shopper near and dear to you). Some of these shoppers will find good deals because of how they shop, while other shoppers' approaches will lead them down wrong — and expensive — paths. The good news is that you can change your shopping style, and maybe save some money in the process.
Don't Shop Like This
The Impulse Shopper: The impulse shopper likes to show up at a dealership and pick out a car, test-drive it and negotiate the deal all in the same day. Some people find this approach appealing, but they are limiting themselves to one dealership, and will not benefit from comparison shopping and all the online shopping resources now available. Edmunds' Price PromiseSM, for example, can yield an up-front price in a few short minutes.
The Undecided Shopper: There are some shoppers who want to buy a new car but have no idea what model to get. They show up at car lots anyway, which can lead to problems. If you're one of these undecided shoppers, don't let the salesperson make decisions for you. Only you can know what works for you and your wallet.
If you're reading this article, you're already headed for a good decision. We suggest that you read our model reviews, "How To Decide What To Buy" and "10 Steps to Finding the Right Car for You." Make sure you test-drive a few cars before deciding.
The Grinder: The grinder is a relentless negotiator who will not back down until he gets the absolute rock bottom price on the car. He has, in effect, "ground" the profit out of the deal for the car salesperson. Further complicating the negotiation is the fact that the grinder often doesn't research prices properly and ends up insisting on unrealistic discounts: deals that are nowhere near the ballpark. Negotiation is about staying within the margins so that both parties can reach an agreement. Grinders can make meeting in the middle impossible.
Further, grinding can take hours and hours, just for marginal savings. Instead, we recommend a nonconfrontational approach to car buying. It's more effective than grinding and will save you time.
The Yes Man: The yes man is also called (in old-fashioned car-lot terms) a "lay down." This is a person who agrees to everything the salesperson offers and doesn't really counteroffer or negotiate. Sometimes the first price is indeed the best price, but not always. By doing your pricing research ahead of time, you'll know when it's OK to agree to a deal with a nod of your head.
The Upside-Down Shopper: The upside-down shopper owes more on his current car than it's worth, but wants to trade it in and get a new car anyway. By moving to another vehicle, the mountain of debt goes along for the ride, and this dysfunctional cycle continues. If you're this shopper, our article, "Upside Down and Under Water on a Car Loan," has some suggestions for how to get right-side up.
The Monthly-Payment Shopper: As the name suggests, the monthly payment shopper only focuses on what she can spend per month. As a result, she can't see the bigger picture: the purchase price of the car, the loan term and the interest rate.
The monthly payment shopper is easily distracted from the price of the vehicle and could be lured into a longer-term loan because the payments are lower. Ideally, you should pay off your car loan in the shortest time comfortably possible. Otherwise you end up throwing your money away on interest.
The Stubborn Trade-In Shopper: The stubborn trade-in shopper thinks so highly of his trade-in vehicle — and its perceived value — that he lets this become the focal point of the deal. This approach often comes at the expense of other details. If he really believes in the car's value, he'd get more money if he sold the car himself.
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 from your trade-in, so if your goal is to get every penny out of your vehicle, you're already at the wrong place.
Shop Like This
The Test Driver: The test driver takes the car for a spin and tries out all the features, but doesn't talk numbers that day. Ideally, the test driver will become an Internet buyer (see below) after he has found the vehicle that fits his needs.
The Internet Buyer: Internet buyers embrace technology and prefer to shop and primarily make their deals online. In our experience, we've found that online car shopping consistently gets you a better deal, with less hassle. Online car shopping involves locating the vehicle, soliciting numerous quotes and comparing prices from different dealerships.
You can also use Edmunds Price Promise or call the dealers in your area and ask for the Internet sales manager.
The Cash Shopper/Pre-Approved Shopper: This shopper 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. It won't. Most car dealerships make some money by arranging car financing. To get a better price (regardless of whether you're a cash shopper or a pre-approved buyer), 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 You 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, be it the trade-in, test-drive or monthly payment. The savviest shopper is the person who incorporates all the recommended buying styles and doesn't get caught up in the negative ones. Ideally, you would start off as a test-driver, become an Internet shopper and close the deal as a lessee or pre-approved shopper.