Buying a car because you have to…

I want – no – need a new car. Oh, poor me, right? Well, Mommy Car is going on 11 years old and she has never been the sturdiest member of the family. Don’t get me wrong, getting a new car is great – sort of. It is not great when:

  1. You don’t want to spend the money,
  2. You don’t actually even care about cars,
  3. You think the process of obtaining a new car is an endless circle of hell, which it is,
  4. You have to get one because your car is beyond help and hope and the twine that is holding it together about now (I do exaggerate).

So… go get a car. No, you do it – it sucks and here is why.  The whole car buying exercise is an antediluvian system set up when car manufacturers sold their own cars – I think I read that somewhere – heavily researched is not what you are getting here today- it is a rant – so drop out now if you have a mind to, I will not notice – I am in the zone – okay…I can’t help it – I did research this… I read (among other things) on Edmunds.com – Confessions of a Car Salesman:

How did the car business get so screwed up? There’s nothing else in our society that is sold with the consumer so conspicuously unprepared.  During the sales seminar I took, the instructor attempted to tackle the “Why is it this way?” question. He said that just after World War II there were a lot of people who wanted to buy cars, and there were a lot of people who had money, but there weren’t enough cars to go around. So the car salesman didn’t really have to “sell.” Their job was merely to qualify customers, to find out who was really going to “buy today,” so they could move on to the next customer. This set the tone for the business and it is still that way today.

When you go into the dealership (which already means you are a chump) “Hi, I’d like to test drive the model XYZ” (If you have not done your homework do not talk about prices – blithely say thank you for the test drive and go home. I did not do this and it is a waste of time if you are not ready to deal with this – which you are not). If you a woman, this process is more painful than anything – childbirth, waxing, really, nothing is worse. Plus after you leave, they will call you all of the time. Don’t pick up or call them back. Just don’t.

“Okay”, says the salesman (who only  cares about his quota/commission/cash and prizes).

This is followed by a long wait while your driver’s license is photo-copied and you breathe that air conditioned showroom air…springtime fresh, I tell you. Eventually, the car is brought out. You look it over. The salesman describes all of the features. You get to test drive the car.

If you do not bring your husband, you have to drive with the sales guy in the front seat – they talk a lot usually about stuff like RPM and MPG and horsepower and features – oh, wait, that is if your husband is in the car. If you are in the car, there is awkward silence punctuated by statements like  “The back door is automatic” and “It comes in blue” and also “Is your husband available to stop by?” while they death grip the door handle in an attempt to retain their masculinity which is only salvaged by the fact the dealer plate is waving behind you.  Alternately, if  you mention you would like your husband to drive it they get all pretend feminist-y and assure you that they are sure you can make the decision alone (Oh sister, sing it. They are bogus, you are chum and you have just wasted 1 plus hours (under 2 very lucky)…help break this circle of hell. (Do not let them go get the manager and do the numbers thing) – I repeat – do not – you have just earned yourself another 30 minutes in a cubicle. The Edmunds article says it is all about control – the waiting thing – I find it more annoying than anything and not effective for a control freak like myself.

I have found that salesmen at dealerships are usually not very well versed in their stock or lease programs (this is me being nice) so many times the information was misleading if not flat-out wrong).  The amount of misinformation is staggering including “…they (the finance company) waive your payments on a lease for 6 months if you prepay part of the principal”  (Really? seriously? I am not the most business-minded but no one is going to waive your monthly lease payment) to number babbling about MSRP (as if anyone pays that – so why is it there? ) to “up to?” (see Edmunds.com article).

After you are effectively numbed from the waiting, the Muzak and the horrible artificial air, to say nothing of the earnest I’m a good-guy-and-hate-this-process-too BS, the salesman calls in the manager (usually some slick fast talking idiot savant numbers guy) for the crazy numbers stuff.  It is really sad and insulting and wasteful of time (mine) and money (mine again). Here are the ways to not experience the horror of the wasted lunch hour or afternoon (is it possible they believe the longer they keep you there the more likely you are to buy?) Let’s be clear – this is not good strategy. Hmmm…airless sterile showrooms do not engender buying of large ticket items…just saying.

What would I dream up for a dealership? Maybe comfortable work stations with computer access (you are going to look up Carfax or Edmunds or Consumer Reports or NADA. These are all great resources that you should be on before buying a car), anyway, let people do that in the showroom and have a more transparent experience. Maybe they will sell more cars that way.

A very fiscally conservative friend who is experienced in these matters has it worked out to a science – well, five easy steps, anyway. Thank you, FB!

1.       Figure out what car you want to buy.

2.       Test drive (this is totally separate from the buying process).

3.       Solicit bids BY PHONE – ask to speak to the sales manager

a.       Hello, I am buying a car and I am soliciting bids for a 2010 Make Model with X equipment in this color

b.      Do you have it in stock?

c.       What is your best price?

d.      Thank you.  I will call you back after I get the rest of the bids.

4.       I call at least 4 dealers – who cares if you drive 40 miles to save $3000? (any local dealer will be happy to service the car since that’s how they make money either from you or the maker)

5.       If you know what car you want to buy, consumer reports will sell you a $29 apprx report that purports to tell dealer costs so you can figure out who the screwee (technical term) is –them or you.  Price depends on demand.  Hot cars cost more.  If you want to save buy an unpopular car; if you want a popular car, you pay more but might get a better car, too.

We did all of these things except pony up for the Consumer Reports report. We did read and research on NADA and Edmunds, checked the blue book and spoke to people who already have the same car we were considering. My husband negotiated a fair price for both our trade-in and the new car. Not for the faint of heart, I tell you. I found one visit to a dealership one visit too many. Luckily, my spouse is more determined and persistent than I am and did the leg work and numbers. We actually bought a new car yesterday which I will write about later, when I am recovered from the day.

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