Comparison Shopping the Right Way

Car salesmen hate comparison shoppers. That's why you should do it. But how do you quickly get reliable price quotes, and compare them to other dealer's bids? Dealer Locator is a quick and easy way to get price quotes from competing dealers. Dealer Locator is a quick and easy way to get price quotes from competing dealers.

Buying a car is different from buying, say, a washing machine. In that case, you walk in, point to a gleaming white cube and say, "Uh, how much for that one?" And they tell you. Try this on a car lot and you'll get an entertaining tap dance. Either that or they will lock eyes with you, point to the sticker and say, "The price? Well, sir, the price is —" and then they read off the price listed in big black numbers.

OK, so you're a savvy car buyer. You've got this whole thing wired. You go into a dealership and say to the salesman: "Let's cut to the chase, my friend. We're both grownups so I'll level with you. I'm getting quotes from other dealers. What's your best price?" The salesman saw that one coming from the minute your tires hit the lot. He'll say, "My friend, let me put it this way: shop around, get some prices, then bring your best price here and I'll beat it."

Talking price with a salesman is an exercise in futility unless you know the game. Learning the game takes time: learning an alternate route is much easier.

There are several ways to get quick quotes from car dealers. Most dealerships have their own Web sites and your e-mail will be answered by the Internet or fleet manager. A faster way to cover more ground is to use the free service at called Dealer Locator, because you can contact multiple dealerships at the same time. Fill in the information, click the boxes next to the dealers you want to contact, then sit back and wait for — for.... Well, here's where things can get fuzzy.

Hopefully, you will receive a personalized e-mail from the Internet manager: "Yes! We have your car! Your Internet price is —" and the manager names a figure that is at or below the TMV® price. If so, you basically have a deal. If not, proceed to Plan B.

In some cases you will receive a form e-mail saying something like, "Come on down and we'll take great care of you!" You may think you've learned nothing from this little exchange. You may decide you now agree with people who make snide comments about "dot-comers." But wait! The e-mail is signed by the Internet manager. You are now in touch with the person who can sell you a car at a low, low, super-low price. Click return and say, "My car-buying search has come down to price. I'm getting bids from local dealers and would like to know if you have the car I'm looking for on your lot, and what your price for it is. If your price is competitive, I will gladly give my business to you. Thank you." (Politeness is always nice.)

At this point, you will probably get a follow-up e-mail with a price. If you don't, proceed to Plan C, which is to call the number listed on the first form e-mail you got and talk directly to the Internet manager. You can use the same verbiage as above: "My car-buying search has come down to price...." You will hear a rustling of paper, or a clicking of keys, a slow intake of breath and then, "Uh, it looks like that unit is selling for..." and he or she then will name a figure that is, hopefully, at or below TMV® price.

In this way, you can get a number of quotes for the car you're looking for, and even watch a football game at the same time. This beats the heck out of tramping around car lots or waiting in selling rooms while your salesperson talks to his boss and you burn the roof of your mouth on bad coffee.