Today’s question comes from Laura:
Hello pretty Mir!
My husband and I are starting to look for a new (to us – we will
definitely be going the used route) car to fit our expanding family.
We have two large dogs (combined total weight: 200 pounds!) and a
baby on the way; our station wagon is just not going to cut it anymore.
Anyway, what are the tricks of the trade for car shopping? Are there
better times of the day/week/month/year to get the best deals? Do you
have any other inside tips?
Inside tips? Do I have inside tips? I have Otto! He once told me how many cars he’s owned throughout his lifetime, but I was laughing too hard to actually process the number. Otto knows a lot about cars. I know a few things, too… so perhaps together, we can give you some information to go on.
I forwarded your question to Otto for his take. His advice follows in bold, with my comments in interspersed.
A couple of thoughts on car shopping … buy a car when you want to, never when you need to. You have to be able to walk away from any deal. Don’t ever “fall in love” with a car (at least until you have the title in hand and know it’s working). With a few notable exceptions, there are always more examples of a particular model out there, somewhere, in the color you have to have and the options you absolutely need.
Get the car checked out by YOUR mechanic. It doesn’t matter how much of a car guy you think you are, you’re going to be inspecting a car which, at that point, you’re seriously considering — you WANT it to look good so you may miss things. Your mechanic will be far more dispassionate. (Of course, if you have a sleazy mechanic, they may tell you it’s fine knowing you’ll be spending thousands of dollars with them in a few months … as with everything else, building a relationship with a good shop pays for itself, even if they’re a little more expensive.)
This is a bit heavy on the Gospel of the Good Mechanic, but also true.
Dealerships are busier on the weekends, so try to go in mid-week when it’s slower. Don’t assume all the sales folks are out to rip you off, but if you get one who can’t answer technical questions, ask for someone who knows the cars. You want to buy a car from a Car Guy, not a Sales Guy. Research the car your looking at, know the possible options and ask technical questions. (I like to ask them about differentials — open, mechanical limited slip, viscous coupling limited slip.) (But I always know the answer to that question because, well, I’m a Car Guy.)
This doesn’t address buying a car that someone is selling independently. My advice is to consider what’s going to be more important to you: Getting the lowest possible price, or getting a pretty good price and good customer service. Buying independently will almost always be cheaper, but carries a higher risk and ends with the money changing hands. Buying from a dealership can be a greater overall value once you figure in any added freebies (ooh! floormats!) and future service discounts.
Lastly, during negotiations, NEVER make an offer. Never tell them what you want for your trade, never tell them what you want your monthly payment to be. “I’m interested in the car, what can you do for me?” Let them make the first offer, that’s your ceiling. Go in knowing what your car is worth and what their car is worth — let them get to that point. Give them your phone number, if they don’t get to the numbers you want, leave. If they can get there, they’ll call you back.
Otto is being a bit hard-nosed here. My approach is different, because I hate getting stuck in the neverending circle of hell that is saying “What can you do for me?” while the salesman responds “Well what do you think you can pay?” If I’m ready to make an offer on a car, I already know how much my trade-in is worth (if I have one) and what the book value of the car I want is.
Talk with your bank and credit union about loan rates for the car you’re looking at. Sometimes your bank will have a better rate, sometimes not — you’ll never know if you don’t ask.
Do check out the options for financing before you buy, absolutely. Because I’m me, I’ll also add here that the best way to buy a car is in cash, if you can manage it. However, that’s the best way for you, not the best way for the dealership. And it’s a sad but true fact that you will get a slightly better deal if you finance through them. So even if you plan to pay with cash? Tell them you’re interested in financing. Unless the rate is ridiculously bad, as long as there’s no early-payment penalty, take their financing. Then pay it off the first month. It ends up costing you a few bucks and probably saved you several hundred dollars on the car itself, because the dealership gets a commission on your loan.
Thanks for your help, Otto! Laura, happy carhunting!