By Mike Farley
The first part of buying a used car is not the most fun, that’s for sure. It’s all about research and preparation. If there’s anything we all hate more than driving around to used car lots, it’s homework. But this is the best way to make sure you get a car you’re going to love for a long time, which means the more time you put in now; the longer you can wait until you have to do it again.
Negotiating a car sale isn’t most people’s cup of tea. If you’re buying from a dealer, it means sitting down with someone who may have more experience than you do, particularly with car sales. It doesn’t have to be an intimidating process, though. You have all the power in the transaction: You can buy a car from the first person or the 10th, while the salesperson needs to make every sale he or she can.
Know your price – The internet is a fantastic resource. Once upon a time, the salesperson knew more than the customer about car prices, and that was particularly true of used cars. Now, you can determine the price you’re willing to pay before you ever walk in, and refuse to pay one cent more than that. If you want, you can even email back and forth between multiple salespeople, letting them bid against each other. Sites to try: Edmunds.com TrueCar.com, NADA.com and kbb.com (Kelly Blue Book)
Get your Financing First – The best way to get the best rate is to borrow from your credit union. Our auto loans have fantastic rates, and we’re not trying to sneak in any hidden charges or fees. If you come to us first, you can make a clear plan for how much you can spend, so you’re not surprised when that first payment is due. We can also tell you how much you’ll need as a down payment, and we might even have some good tips on who you can trust in town. You can start the preapproval process here: www.servecu.org
Take a Spin — No matter if you’re buying from a dealer, a friend, your pastor or the reanimated corpse of Henry Ford himself, you should always take a car for a test drive. Find a route that simulates your morning commute; don’t just go on the route the dealer wants to take you. Take some left turns. Accelerate to freeway speeds. Ride in the back seat for a while. Make sure you actually like the car before you spend thousands of dollars on it.
There are few feelings worse than writing a sizable check every month for something you resent.
Don’t say too much – There’s very little you can say to make a negotiation go better, but there’s a lot you can say to make it go worse. You’re not going to cause the other person to have a sudden change of heart and cut you a better deal, but you might give the clues they need to know they can hold out for more money. If in doubt, don’t say anything. It can be difficult, particularly when the silence is awkward and tense, but saying nothing is often the right thing to do.
It’s OK to Walk away – It’s an old saw in sales: “He or she who can walk away controls the deal,” and it’s been passed down from bullpen to bullpen because it’s true. If you aren’t willing to walk away and leave the salesperson without a sale, then what incentive does he or she have for lowering the price? It feels terrible to spend an entire Saturday on car lots and still wake up on Sunday without a car, but you need to get over it. When you go out to buy a car, make a resolution to wait a week before you buy. That will make it easier to walk away and give you time to make sure you’re certain of your purchase. If you wait, you might even get a phone call during the week with a better price, particularly if it’s near the end of the month or if it’s been raining. Is it worth a few days’ wait and another day’s work to save a few hundred dollars? In most cases, it is.