This is a guest post from my fabulous friend, Annie Kip, who is the creator of the blog “Plenty Perfect.”
Yep, that says 6:24 – A.M.! And that is me, in my jammies, shopping for a car. It was easy. It was fast. I got a great deal. What more can you ask? Here’s how you, too, can have the easiest, most pleasant car-buying experience. Ever!
Two summers ago, I had just dropped off my son at his baseball game and I was making a u-turn to get to a parking spot when my steering wheel locked up. At that time, I drove a big ole Chevy Suburban and, let me tell you, that thang does not handle well without steering. No, not power steering – I mean no-ability-to-turn-the-steering-wheel steering. I pulled on that dang wheel with all my might, got to the side of the road and tried not to cry. I had to try not to cry for a few minutes.
And then, Being The Person In Charge Of Everything, I pulled myself together and called AAA for a tow truck. The tow truck driver seemed nice, so I let him take my car away. Yep – I did not know where his garage was and I did not go with him. He just took my car away. Away. Gone. I know this sounds a little naive. Technically, it is not exactly “naive” because I was fully aware that I was doing something potentially stupid. I was making the best of a lousy situation and going with my gut. I was about 2 towns away from my regular mechanic (which would have made for a very expensive tow) and the tow truck driver seemed nice. Clearly, nice counts for a lot in my book. Maybe not the best way to make a decision, but that is what I did. (It all worked out just fine, by the way!) I then called to have a rental car brought to me (from the dark recesses of my perimenopausal brain, I remembered that Enterprise Rental Car advertised that they did this sort of thing) and then headed to the ball field to watch the rest of my son’s baseball game.
And I thought…fiddle-dee-dee, I will worry about this silly car problem later.
The steering problem was fixed, but being the kind of gal who has no tolerance for car drama and the car being just shy of 100,000 miles on the odometer made this juncture seem to be a very good time to buy a new car. And since I was leaving on a big trip with the kids in about 2 weeks, I could not dawdle. Thus “The Easiest, Most Pleasant Car Buying Experience Ever” began.
The first thing I did was decide on criteria for new car – 7 passengers, room for cargo, all wheel drive or 4-wheel drive, SUV type vehicle, probably Chevrolet so I could trade in my Suburban.
I Googled my major criteria and found out which cars were possibilities. In my search, I learned about something called a “crossover” vehicle, which was sort of a cross-breed of SUV with minivan – like a labradoodle or snitzerdane. I read as much as I could about the cars I was considering and went onto Edmunds.com to narrow my choices further by price and options available.
Next I drove the cars I was considering and saw them up close and personal. Particularly, I looked at the options I was interested in and the colors available. This required interaction with some of the most creepy people on the planet – car salesmen. I loved it when they told me I looked “too young to have 3 kids” ( because, I am sure they really meant it) but found questions like “Does your husband want to come down an talk about this?” very obnoxious. I quickly learned to say only as much as was necessary to get the job done. I was on a fact-finding mission – not ready to buy a car yet. Really folks, this is the worst part of the whole process, and it drove me to discover “The Easiest, Most Pleasant Car Buying Experience Ever” method, so I am okay now. Knowing you are most likely going to have nothing to do with them after this should help you get through the experience. I am sorry for this part. It is unavoidable.
BEWARE: Car salesmen want to be your special best friend. Sort of like drunk guys at bars want to be your special best friend. They will try to chat you up, ask about your family, flirt with you and try to make you think they really like you. We all know this is a very short-term proposition. They want one thing and one thing only – to close the deal – and they are willing to say and do whatever it will take to get you there. Sort of like drunk guys in bars.
After this, I was able to refine my choices and the options I really wanted to have. I decided I must have leather seats, sun roof, Bluetooth capability and I could live without a dashboard GPS navigation system and home theater in my car. The 2010 Traverse was my first choice because the 2011 wasn’t different and I realized they were offering more incentives to buy the 2010. I also decided I really wanted 5 year, 0% financing.
On the Chevrolet website, I found the “Vehicle Locator” tool. On Chevrolet.com, they ask for your zip code before you can do anything – presumably to drive business to the dealership closest to you. This is where I became a Super Sneaky Smart Consumer – if you find out the zip codes for all of the dealerships within reasonable driving distance, you can search many more dealerships and have a lot more cars to choose from. (Just Google all of the dealerships and note the zip codes of the ones within reasonable driving distance of your home.) Working outside your local area also makes the competitiveness of creepy car salesmen work in your favor – an out of town dealership would be pleased as punch to steal a sale from your local dealership and may be willing to give you a better deal.
The best part of buying a car from a dealership outside of your local area is...THEY BRING THE CAR TO YOU!!!! You never have to go onto a car dealership lot again!
By the way, in my experience, there is absolutely no more of a “relationship” built when you buy and have your car serviced at the same dealership than when you buy your car anywhere and bring it in for service. They are happy to overcharge anyone who comes in for service at the dealership, regardless of whether you bought your car there or not. They are very equal-opportunity in this regard.
I emailed the dealerships and asked if the cars I found were still available. Be sure to let them know you are contacting them from another town. I printed out the window sticker for each car so I could make comparisons and keep notes. Interact with the dealerships via email as long as possible. Ask specific questions about the car if you do not understand something on the window sticker. Remember, you are buying a car, not making friends.
If they do not have the car, some dealerships will offer to find it for you. They are going to do exactly what you are doing and find the car at another dealership. Keep track of VIN numbers if you do this so you will know which cars are which. You can let them search for you while you continue your search, but let them know that if you find the car somewhere else, you will probably buy it, so they will need to get back to you as soon as possible.
Deciding on the car you want to buy doesn’t even really require a negotiation. You simply state what you want and see if they will give it to you. There are many moving parts of this – financing, trade-in allowance, options and you will get a feel for what is reasonable. All of this can be worked out via email or on the phone. Remember – the dealerships want to sell the cars that are on their lot already and will push these. If a car meets most of your criteria, but has an extra option you don’t want, tell them you don’t want to pay for it and see what they are willing to do.
I was able to get an agreement with a dealership in Rhode Island for the trade-in allowance on my Suburban without them even seeing my car and worked out the entire financing deal over the phone. The salesman brought the car to my driveway, we signed papers, the salesman changed the plates from my old car to my new car, and he drove away my Suburban. My search took all of 3 days and it truly was “The Easiest, Most Pleasant Car Buying Experience Ever.”
Have you had to buy a new car lately? What was your experience like?
Go Gingham related links:
Tried and true investing strategies – a question asked by Annie!
Just balance that checkbook! You can do it!
Debt – you decide on the level you’re comfortable with
What does it mean to budget? Find out here
Frugal living is the key to saving
The problem with budgeting – yes, the problem!
How finances figure in frugality