by Sharlyn Petit
On the topic of buying cars, my family believes we have a certain gene that compels us to trade in, trade up, or just always be looking for a better ride.
Now that I’m older and living in the city, I’ve tried hard to fight this gene. One-car household. Walks to the grocery store. Fold-up bike. All of those make up my daily transportation story. When the time came to trade in my trusty 10-year-old, tiny Volkswagen, the gene activated and those hours of car-lot wisdom from dad flooded in.
The thought of stepping foot onto a car lot and being circled by salespeople was almost enough to make me quit before I started, but I remembered this nugget: Ask for the card of the first person that approaches you. Tell him or her to take a walk while you browse, and that you’ll find them when you have questions. A hovering, pushy salesperson is the worst, and this works every time since you can just flash the card to anyone that tries to scoop up the sale.
Besides that quick tip, dad’s buying tactics left a lasting impression on me and can be applied to any big purchase where negotiating is probable (like my first house, for instance). Here are three buying tips to tuck away if you walk the lot on your own:
- Do your research, then research some more. Don’t let flashy marketing and commercials sway you. Research customer feedback and ratings on different dealerships, and take the time to research makes and models based on the top features you want (safety, technology, cosmetic, and others). Check out the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (iihs.org) for safety ratings and Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com) for used car comparisons and trade-in values.
- Have your number in mind, and stick to it. Since all of your research is done, you should have a good idea of how much you want to spend, how much your trade-in is worth, and how much others have paid for the car you want to buy (truecar.com can help with this). Before you even look at a car in person, know your number and don’t let emotions or the salesperson push you from your target. And don’t be afraid to walk out of a dealership if you know your number is fair. There are always other dealerships, and you can test your limits with one to help you in negotiations with the dealer in the next town over.
- Give yourself time to think, pressure-free. Once you’ve found The One, you’ll probably spend a few hours doing the back-and-forth, let-me-check-with-the-boss, what’s-your-number dance. You’re tired, stressed, and may take any deal if it meant that you could be out of that old-coffee/motor oil/popcorn smelling waiting room. At this point, I’d tell the dealer I need to ponder the offer over lunch or coffee – without signing anything just yet. They’ve probably commandeered your car keys after their appraisal to make it harder for you to escape, but insist. There’s at least another hour of paperwork to deal with after the purchase price is decided, so you might as well fuel up. The snack-time tactic gives you another chance to make sure the deal is fair and talk through the pros and cons.
With a little research, negotiating skill, and a moment of calm to make your final decision, you can be sure you’re not making an impulse buy just because it’s shiny, or red, or the last one of its kind.