Stuck Car Buyer No. 2
Barbara: 50s, writer, divorced, one teenager, modest budget
Concerns: Style, fuel economy, interior space, safety
Cars considered: Honda Accord Sedan, Hyundai Elantra, Mini Cooper, Toyota Prius
Car purchased: Honda Accord Coupe
Why she was stuck: Fear of getting a hard sell at the car lot. Too many choices.
When I first consulted with Barbara, she had been car shopping for a long time and was attracted to the Mini. She had reservations about its size, however. "Can a car that small really be safe?" she asked. She also said that she "hates, hates, hates" buying gas and felt she should get a Prius. From early emails it was obvious that Barbara had strong preferences about car design and also felt an obligation to go green.
As we talked more, it became clear that she was all over the place in her tastes and not really in touch with the current car market. She frequently referred to cars she liked from the 1960s and '70s almost as if they were still available. I had to keep reminding her that car design and technology had changed radically since her younger days.
A breakthrough came when I asked Barbara how she liked driving the Mini. "I haven't driven it," she replied. Questioning her further, I realized she hadn't driven any cars on her list yet.
It was time to write her a prescription.
"Make a list of your top three choices," I said. "Then call the Internet managers at three local dealerships. Tell them you are cross-shopping brands and want to make an appointment for a test-drive but you won't be buying on the same day."
Barbara emailed me a few days later. She drove the Prius but felt it was "too snug." This was strange because she is not a big woman and no one else who has driven it has reported this to me. She also test-drove the Mini but felt it was, in fact, too small. She then went to drive the Honda Accord sedan, which she didn't like.
But while still on the lot, she saw a four-cylinder Accord Coupe and "loved, loved, loved it." It seemed to fulfill her need for a stylish car and at a combined EPA rating of 30 mpg, it was also an acceptable choice, environmentally speaking. After a test-drive, she went home, shopped prices via the Internet and wound up leasing one.
For Barbara, the breakthrough was finding a way to take a series of low-pressure test-drives. Using the Internet department helped her get in and out of dealerships without a hassle. She also found the dealerships' Internet departments convenient for negotiating by email and phone.
There was one bump in this otherwise smooth process. When signing contracts, "You have to sit in that blasted finance dude's office and it takes so long," she told me. "It's their method of trying to break you down to buy the extended warranty. I said no originally to the Internet dude and he left me alone about it. Why do they do this?"
My advice: Next time, have the car delivered.