In last week’s post, I walked through a series of questions you should consider when it comes to a new car purchase. If you’re like me, it’s tough to resist the combination of new car smell and the technology bells and whistles that each new model year brings. For most new cars, the last decision you’ll have to make is whether to buy or lease – and I’ll focus here on how to proceed if you decide to buy the new car.
For most people, the car purchase process has long been the shopping equivalent of a root canal. Hours spent in the showroom negotiating with a salesperson who really isn’t the decision-maker, but who instead scurries off frequently to consult with some unseen manager. You generally have the uneasy feeling that the dealer is going to take advantage of you, but you’re just not sure how.
Fortunately, the process has changed in recent years and there are other purchase options. American Express, Costco and AAA have all established car buying programs for members. These programs have negotiated pricing with local dealerships in exchange for program referrals. You won’t completely avoid the dealer sales pitch in this process, as the dealer will still try to sell add-ons (like extended warranties) but the price of the vehicle itself will be fixed. The details of the buying program will differ from vendor to vendor, but Zag is actually the company behind the car buying services that AMEX, Costco and AAA offer their members.
Another option for those who want to avoid the car negotiation process is to pay someone to negotiate for you. Two services that do this are CarBargains and AuthorityAuto. Both services determine what make, model and options you want, and will then negotiate with multiple dealers to get the best price. Unlike car brokers, neither service receives any compensation from dealers which reduces conflicts of interest. A final option is no haggle dealerships like CarMax or newcomer Carvana. While the no haggle approach can make the purchase process less stressful, it doesn’t mean you’re getting a good deal, so do your research (more on that below) if you go this route.
If you do decide to negotiate a new car purchase on your own, do a bit of research first. One of the first things you’ll want to determine is a reasonable price for the car you want to buy. Edmonds, True Car and Kelley Blue Book all provide information about the MSRP and invoice price to dealer, and your price will likely be somewhere between those two numbers. Several of the sites above provide specific information about the prices paid in your area.
If you’re planning on trading in a car as well, follow a similar approach to determine the trade-in value of your car – just bear in mind that you need to be realistic about the condition of your car as condition does have a fairly large impact on the trade-in value. Both Edmonds and Kelley Blue Book provide estimates on trade-in value. Finally, if you’re planning on financing the car, research loan rates as well. While the dealer may well offer the most attractive financing, identifying other options will provide a good deal of leverage when it comes to negotiations.
When your research is done, instead of going directly to the dealer, consider starting the process via the internet. You can get quotes from CarsDirect.com and TrueCar.com, or you could contact the internet sales department of local dealers and work out a deal via e-mail. If you really would just rather go to a dealership, be prepared for a lengthy process and a good deal of back and forth. This is of the most helpful videos I’ve seen on the old-fashioned car salesperson approach and what you should look for as a buyer.
After you’ve finalized negotiations, check the paperwork closely to make sure it reflects your agreement and no unexpected fees have been added. If everything looks good, congratulations – enjoy your new car!
Minerva Planning Group is a fee-only financial planning firm based in Atlanta (Decatur).