Buy a Car – Skip the Dealer

nissan ZIf one asks oneself why one must go to a car dealer to buy a new car, one would come up with the following answer.

Most people go to car dealers because they want to know about that dealer’s brand of cars, what models are offered, what options are available, about gas mileage and safety ratings, about benefits his cars have over a competitor’s, about what cars the dealer has in stock, and at what prices. Some people also want to know how they might finance their purchase and if they can buy within their monthly budget.

In other words, we look to a dealer sales person — repeat, sales person —  to educate us about the car we might want and how to finance it. Sales people usually do a pretty good job at educating us but keep in mind that everything a sales person does and says is aimed at only a single objective — selling a car for the best possible profit for the dealership.

When you visit the dealer’s showroom or sales lot, you are on their home turf where they have the advantage. That’s where they want you to be. That’s where they can be more effective in what they do best, selling cars. Most customers who come in to buy a car on their own terms, get sold a car on the dealer’s terms.

So, how can we as car buyers retain control over the car buying process?

Don’t visit the dealer until the deal is done and you must go in to sign papers and pick up your car. Even those last steps can be avoided if you ask the dealer to send you the papers and deliver your car to you.

Fortunately, with the availability of the telephone, fax, the Internet, email, and FedEx, automotive consumers can now buy cars without setting foot in a dealer’s showroom — and stay in control of the process. It’s done every day by smart car buyers.

You can do all your research about cars on the Internet. With web sites such as Edmunds.com, Cars.com, Yahoo Autos, Consumer Reports, and hundreds of car enthusiast forums, not to mention car manufacturers’ web sites and dealer web sites, you can find everything you need to know without setting foot in a dealer’s showroom.

You can find out what models are available, in what styles, in what colors, with what options, and at what safety and reliability ratings. On some sites, you can compare one model against others. You can find retail prices, invoice prices, True Market Value prices (Edmunds), available incentives, and find out what other people are paying on owner forums.

You can get test-drive and reliability reports and ratings from Consumer Reports and other car magazine web sites. On many dealer web sites, you can even find out what car models and styles/colors are available in inventory. You can also find online car loan calculators to compute monthly payments — and even shop for car loans online (you don’t have to use a dealer’s loan sources).

When you know exactly the car you want, contact local dealers and ask for price quotes. You can do it through the Internet via price request forms, via email, fax, or simply call the dealer and ask for their Internet sales department. By dealing with the Internet sales department you usually skip the on-floor commissioned sales staff with their heavy-handed sales tactics.

Tell the dealer exactly what you want and the price you want — or simply request his best quote. Of course, you should have already done your pricing homework and know about what you should have to pay. Unless you want to get into a long negotiating battle over the phone or via email, you should make your price expectations reasonable. If the dealer sees that you are low-balling with unreasonable price requests, you won’t get much respect from that point on.  However, if you work with more than one dealer, you will have the luxury of multiple price quotes that you can choose from.

Once you and a dealer have settled on a price, you could go down and look at the car, test drive it, sign the papers and drive away. Or you can ask the dealer to deliver the car to you at work or home, where you can inspect and drive it.

If you decide to go to the dealer to sign papers, be aware that you’ll be talking to the Finance and Insurance (F&I) manager, whose job is to not only work up the papers for your purchase  but to also try to persuade you to buy “extra profit” items such as security devices, paint protectant, credit insurance, and extended warranties. You won’t need most of this stuff.

In summary, by avoiding a dealer’s showroom, you can take control of your new-car purchases and save money. It’s a little extra work but you’ll be glad you did it.

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