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10 Things Dealers Wish Consumers Knew About the Car Buying Process

“The Internet has completely leveled the playing field,” says David Rodgers. “If you’re shopping for a new car, any new car, go online, negotiate for the same model with three different dealers, and you’ll know what that particular car can be purchased for by lunch.” Rodgers should know. Recently retired, he was a Los Angeles car salesman and dealership manager for 12 years, selling Audis, BMWs, and Mercedes-Benzes in one of America’s hottest and most competitive luxury car markets. With his help, along with input from other industry veterans, we’ve created this list of 10 car buying tips. The list has the potential to help you save money on your new car purchase. But more importantly, the tips will help you more successfully navigate the entire car buying process.

  1. 10. Always take a test drive.
  2. 9. Consider the value of your time.
  3. 8. Listen to the salesperson for suggestions.
  4. 7. Recognize when your offer really is too low.
  5. 6. Negotiate with more than one dealership.
  6. 5. Negotiate the deal online.
  7. 4. Check the dealership's inventory online.
  8. 3. Schedule an appointment on a weekday afternoon.
  9. 2. Check on the insurance rates before you buy.
  10. 1. Read reviews on both the car and the dealership.
10. Always take a test drive.

10. Always take a test drive.

You really shouldn’t buy any car you haven’t driven. It’s a big purchase. Why take the risk of buying or leasing a vehicle you don’t like? Take the time to make sure you like it and schedule a test drive. It’s an hour well spent. And don’t just drive it around the block, get a feel for it. Take it out on the highway. Is the seat comfortable? “Sometimes it’s a good idea to test drive multiple models back to back,” says Rodgers. “Often a buyer would come in wanting one car but bought another after driving it and loving it.” Many people think a test drive is unnecessary if they’re buying a car from the same brand they’ve had before. They think, “I’ve loved driving my Honda Accord for the last five years so I know I’ll like driving the Honda CR-V I’m buying.” But that may not be the case. The two cars can feel completely different. Manufacturers are always changing seat designs, engine specs, and the tuning of their transmissions. You may love one and hate the other. Better to take a test drive and find out before you sign the contract.

9. Consider the value of your time.

9. Consider the value of your time.

Everyone wants the very best deal. We all want that car for the lowest possible price and we don’t want to pay a single dollar more than we have to. But it’s also important to consider the value of your time. If you keep shopping around and keep grinding on dealers for weeks or even months, sure, it’s possible you might save another couple hundred dollars and get the car for the lowest price ever recorded. But is that really worth all of that time and energy? Especially when you consider you’re going to keep the car for years. We recommend you take a more philosophical approach to your negotiations and find and fair deal you’re comfortable with — and then move on with your life.

8. Listen to the salesperson for suggestions.

8. Listen to the salesperson for suggestions.

This is a situation when the salesperson you’re dealing with may have some wisdom to help you figure out a solution. Often, consumers don’t take suggestions from salespeople due to a lack of trust. But it never hurts to listen. The salesperson knows which models are selling more slowly and have current incentive programs, which are constantly changing. He or she also knows which models better fit your budget. “Back-end incentives change every month,” says Rodgers. “But the consumers wouldn’t know it unless a trustworthy salesman steered them in that direction.” Weintraub agrees. “Dealers wish customers truly understood that dynamics of a deal change every month,” he says. ”Interest/lease rates, residual percentages, rebates, manufacturer to dealer incentives all can change. So basically dealers are not creating false urgency when telling a customer that the deal might change the following month.”

7. Recognize when your offer really is too low.

7. Recognize when your offer really is too low.

If you’re negotiating with a number of dealerships and they’re all refusing to agree to your terms for the deal, chances are the market is telling you something. If that’s all you can afford, it’s probably time to realize that you're trying to buy more car than you have the budget for. If you can, it’s time to up the ante, but if that’s all your finances have to give, it’s probably a better idea to step back and reevaluate. Maybe there’s a less expensive trim level of that model that better suits your budget, or maybe another vehicle altogether.

6. Negotiate with more than one dealership.

6. Negotiate with more than one dealership.

Unless the car you want is somehow unusual, like a limited edition model, chances are an example is in the inventory of several dealerships simultaneously. Take advantage of that reality and negotiate with three or four dealerships at the same time. This isn’t as time-consuming or complex as it sounds when you’re negotiating the deals over text or email. And don’t be afraid to make it clear to each dealer that you’re talking to others. It can only help you. If you are negotiating in person, any offer from the dealership should be good for at least a couple of days so you can shop it around and think about it. “If they give you a quote but don’t let you take it home, run,” says Rodgers. “That’s old-school salesman tactics and consumers should have no patience for it.”

5. Negotiate the deal online.

5. Negotiate the deal online.

After the test drive, walk away. Go home. If it’s the car you want, you can negotiate its price online, either through texting or email. You don’t have to negotiate the cost of the car or any other factor of the deal in person unless you want to. For most people, it’s a lot less stressful to do it from home. Make sure the deal you negotiate includes the sale price of the car including taxes and fees. If you’re going to finance the deal, know the annual percentage rate, term of the loan, and monthly payment amount. If you’re going to finance it through the dealership, you’re probably going to be asked to fill out a loan application and they’ll run a credit check on you. This is normal. Again, you don’t have to be at the dealership in person for any of this unless you want to. At some point, the dealer will also ask you if you’re interested in products like pre-paying maintenance, lease wear protection warranties, and a wheel and tire warranty. “As a consumer advocate I believe there is real value to these products as long as the price is right,” says Weintraub.

4. Check the dealership's inventory online.

4. Check the dealership's inventory online.

After you’ve decided you want a particular make and model, it’s time to go online and find that car in the inventory of your local dealers. Every car dealer has a website and lists its inventory. Each listing will include photos and information. Find the car in the right color and trim level. This is an important step. Maybe your dream car doesn’t really exist. Or maybe every dealer in town has 10 of them collecting dust. Now is the time to find out. Looking now? Check out Autobytel's New Car Quick Search Tool >> “If the dealer does not have the exact car the consumer wants on their lot, dealers can typically trade cars with another dealer to get the customer the car they want and keep the sale,” says Oren Weintraub, the founder and CEO of a popular car buying service in southern California. Once you’ve found the car, it’s time to schedule that test drive. When you make the appointment, be specific about which car you want to drive. Give them car’s VIN and stock number. Don’t just drive the blue Honda Accord LX because it’s easier for the salesman when you want a black EX. Drive the exact car you’re hoping to purchase.

3. Schedule an appointment on a weekday afternoon.

3. Schedule an appointment on a weekday afternoon.

Anytime you’re going to visit a car dealership, whether it’s for a test drive or to complete a purchase, always make an appointment. And it’s always best to schedule those visits on a weekday afternoon. “That’s a great tip,” says Rodgers. “The weekends can sometimes be too crazy for a salesman to really focus on a particular customer.” Because the showrooms are more populated and the salespeople are so busy on the weekends, you may feel rushed if you engage on a Saturday or Sunday. Better to go on a weekday afternoon. Chances are you’ll be the only customer in there. They’ll treat you like royalty. It’ll be a much more relaxed experience.

2. Check on the insurance rates before you buy.

2. Check on the insurance rates before you buy.

The cost of insurance is an important factor in any new car purchase. Unfortunately, too many car buyers leave it to the end of the process, only to learn that they can’t really afford to insure the car. Get ahead of this and get insurance quotes on the car you’re thinking about buying before you even start the car buying process. You may be shocked at the monthly expense on a new car, especially if you’ve been insuring an older model for the last few years. Make sure you budget for the increase. If the financial reality of insuring the car you really want just isn’t within your means, check out the insurance rates on other models until you find the best combination you can afford.

1. Read reviews on both the car and the dealership.

1. Read reviews on both the car and the dealership.

Most people who buy a new car have done some research online, and it’s usually focused on the car. And that’s fine. Reading expert and consumer car reviews is an important part of the car buying process. But your research shouldn’t stop there. Also dig into consumer reviews of your local car dealers. Chances are you have many dealerships to choose from in your area for any particular brand. See what people are saying about them online. If one particular store has a litany of bad reviews, stay clear. If one dealer has reviews that are head and shoulders above the rest, maybe that dealership is a good place to start. Also look for reviews that mention a salesman by name, either negatively or in a positive light. If a previous customer feels strongly enough about the experience to mention the salesman specifically, that’s valuable information you can use when you engage with that dealer. If one particular salesman is mentioned often as helpful and honest, don’t be afraid to ask for that salesman specifically.