Phoning for Deals

Car shoppers seem amazed when we suggest that they call a dealership before going there for a test-drive. They seem completely mystified by how to call the dealership, who to talk to and what to ask. But once car buyers understand how to "work the phones," they will find this to be an essential part of car shopping.

The phone is a great tool when buying a car. But you need to know who you should call at the dealership and how to get your best deal.

The phone is a great tool when buying a car. But you need to know who you should call at the dealership and how to get your best deal.

Car dealing over the phone presents a number of benefits. You can:

  • Quickly find out if the dealership has the car you want without traipsing from lot to lot
  • Test-drive your salesperson to see if you want to deal with him or her
  • Schedule a test-drive so the car is ready to go when you get there
  • Negotiate on equal footing rather than being trapped in a sales office
  • Arrange delivery of the car and avoid ever going into the dealership

In the past, people who called a dealership were most often looking for the price of a car. If they were connected to a salesman, they were usually frustrated in their attempts to get an actual figure. "Come on down and we'll take care of you!" was the all-too-often refrain. However, times have changed.

For years, internet managers have made car deals over the phone. The fact that you're just an individual, not buying a fleet of vehicles, doesn't matter. More recently, many dealerships have created Internet departments which can be contacted by e-mail or telephone. The Internet department was set up to deal with a different type of shopper — better informed and shopping around for the best price.

It is strange but true to consider that a consumer will often pay more when dealing with a salesman on the showroom floor. Shopping through the Internet or internet manager will save time and money.

When calling a dealership, begin by asking the receptionist for the Internet manager's name. Then, ask to be connected to him or her. If you reach their voicemail, hit the "0" button and go back to the operator and ask to page the internet manager. At a dealership, it's hard to catch people at their desks; they are often out on the car lot. Don't be shy about paging them.

Once you have the fleet or internet manager on the phone (these positions are sometimes interchangeable), be as specific as possible about what you want to buy. You can say, "I'm looking for the '09 Matsura Accell LX. I have to have the side airbags and I would like the sunroof — but that's not a deal breaker. My first color choice is silver, my second is gold and third is gray. Do you have something like this on your lot?" The manager will either look the car up on their computer while you wait, or they may call you back a short time later.

In your initial phone call, it's OK to probe lightly for the price. You could say, "Can you give me an idea of what you are selling these cars for?" You are likely to get a vague answer, such as, "They go for about $500 over invoice."

If you are serious about buying the car, negotiating on the phone can be relatively painless. Of course, you should already know the True Market Value (TMV)® price and any incentives that exist. Simply tell the Internet manager you would like to make a deal on their car and ask for a price. When you get this figure, compare it to the TMV price from Edmunds. In most cases, it will be lower than TMV meaning that you are getting the car for less than most people in your area. That's because most people shopped the conventional way. You should also confirm that the incentive is still being offered and that it will be deducted from their price.

You owe it to yourself to contact at least three local dealerships for price quotes. If you get quotes on cars that have different options (making an "apples-to-apples comparison" difficult), check to see how high above invoice each car is to figure out the best deal. For example, if one car is $700 above invoice while another is $300 above invoice, it's clear which is the better bargain.

Once you have several price quotes in hand, you can make another round of calls to the different dealerships to see if any further discounts are possible. Tell the manager that one of the other dealerships has a lower price and ask them if they are willing to discount their car more aggressively. You might save another three or four hundred dollars this way.

The easiest way to begin your interaction with a dealership is to use to send email requests to get free price quotes from your local dealers. You will quickly receive responses from the internet managers together with all their contact information: email address, office and cell phone numbers. You can then choose whether to continue interacting via email or by calling in the manner we've described in this story.

If you take our advice, you will find that you can buy a car and get a great deal by using the phone. You can even ask the dealer to deliver the car to your home or office and sign the contracts at that time. It's all a matter of knowing who to call and what questions to ask. Give it a try. You may never visit another dealership.