Just because you're young doesn't mean you have to be an easy mark for some slick salesman when you head to the dealership. You may be new to car-buying but you can still be a savvy shopper and get the ride of your dreams at a good price.
To help you through the process, here's a list of things you can do to avoid the pitfalls that have tripped up many a car buyer. Avoid these problems and you can get more car for your hard-earned buck. Contained in each "don't" is a "do" that will help make your purchasing experience positive.
- Don't be a monthly payment buyer. Car salesmen assume that young buyers will have to take out a car loan to make a deal. So, when you sit down to negotiate, the first thing they're likely to ask is, "What do you want your monthly payment to be?" The way to avoid having to answer this question is to get preapproved financing. This is valuable for several reasons. It forces you to confront any credit problems before you ever go near a dealership. It will also ensure that you get the best interest rate you deserve. And finally, it keeps negotiations simple. So, when they ask what kind of monthly payment you want, smile knowingly and say, "I'm a cash buyer — let's just talk about the cost of the car."
- Don't go to a dealership alone.There are safety and security in numbers, particularly for the first-time buyer. At the dealership there could easily be two salespeople pitching their car to you at once. Make sure you don't get outnumbered. Take a friend or trusted family member along. But take someone you can count on to get you out of trouble. The last thing you want is a "friend" who will back the sales team and tell you to buy something you don't want.
- Don't shop on the weekend unless you have to. Weekends are when everyone goes car shopping. But when there is a lot of foot traffic at the dealership, two things happen: The service isn't great and the price of the cars stays high. If you don't buy the car for their price, they reason, someone else here will. But on Monday the weekend seems awfully far away for most sales managers. They like to keep the cars moving off the lot. So, take a day off from work and enjoy a stress-free shopping experience that will save you money.
- Don't go to the car lot at all! Hey, you probably buy stuff online all the time. It's the easiest way to comparison shop; why not do that with cars? The only real reason to physically go to the car lot anyway is for the test-drive. Once you've experienced the feel of the wheel, you can go back home and close the deal on the Internet. What this means is that you look up the Internet managers in your area using Edmunds.com's Dealer Locator to see who has the best prices. Once you find the right price and make a deal, you can always ask to have the car delivered to your home or office, where you sign the contract and take possession of your new wheels.
- Don't shake on it until you know the whole deal. The salesman can present a good upfront price but take you to the cleaners on the back end with bogus fees and extras charges. So when he says, "Do we have a deal here?" and extends his hand, here's what you do: Look down at your notes and ask, "What's my out-the-door cost?" The salesman should then give you a breakdown of fees. Either that or he will tell you that the dealership charges for the car, the sales tax and registry fees.
- Don't say "yes" in the Finance and Insurance Room. The Finance and Insurance Room (F&I for short) is where the dealership tries to sweeten the deal for itself. Here, the F&I manager will pitch you all kinds of products, from LoJack to fabric protection. These are high-profit items for the dealer and high-cost items for you. Just because you are in buying mode, and it is tempting to include extra items "for only an additional $7.95 a month," it still adds up. (If you'd like to find out which features will actually increase your car's resale value, check out "Consider Your Options.")
- Don't automatically buy the extended warranty. No denying that some people want the peace of mind that comes with an extended service warranty. But before you pony up the extra cash for it, know two things: It is negotiable and you can always buy it later. Why pay now for something that won't even go into effect for a minimum of three years? Keep your money, invest it and buy the extra coverage later.
- Don't sign the contract "just to get it over with." Salesmen are good at wearing buyers down. But if you give in to them you will lose money. Unsure if you are doing the right thing? Just walk out. No need to feel guilty about leaving the salesman hanging. It's your money after all.
- Don't negotiate until you have the numbers. Look up Edmunds.com's True Market Value® pricing before you go to the dealership. This will tell you what other buyers have purchased the car for. If you have this information, negotiating will be as much fun as playing poker and knowing who is holding aces.
- Don't do business with a salesman who is pushy or intimidating. You do have a choice, you know. Why not just leave the car lot if you're getting a bad vibe? The last thing you need is some car salesman coming on like he's giving you fatherly advice. Hint: If you're only on the test-drive and the salesman is already asking you to make an offer, chances are he will only turn up the pressure as the deal progresses. Find a salesman or -woman you feel comfortable with, someone you can say no to if necessary.
To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.