Cars are the second-biggest purchases most of us ever make, but the process to buy and pay for them sucks. That’s why the majority of people say they’d rather go to the dentist than to a car dealership. At least dentists don’t try to pitch you on the merits of a root canal while they’re cleaning your teeth. It’s not even a mystery why car buying is so terrible: the only group of people we trust less than car dealers is members of Congress.
If you don’t want to take an Uber or Lyft everywhere you go, how can you avoid the car buying stress? Is it possible to keep your cool at the dealership? Absolutely. As the co-founder of a company that helps car buyers and owners understand their options and get the right deal for themselves, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what separates the best car buying experiences (they exist, I promise!) from the worst. We’ve come up with an easy formula to help any car shopper become a satisfied car owner, without the hassle.
This is the first of three posts explaining how you can drive away your car buying stress. In this post, I’ll explain how to get the right deal on your car purchase. In the next post, I’ll talk about how to get the right deal on your car financing. And in the third post, I’ll discuss what you should know about those protection products that dealers always try to tack onto your loan. Together, these three posts contain our hacks to stress-free car buying.D
Step 1 for stress-free car buying is to narrow down your options to 3 or 4 vehicles. The more specific you can be, the easier it will be to compare prices. Reputable sites like Consumer Reports, Jalopnik, Edmunds, and KBB can help you decide which vehicles make sense for you. In the United States, most cars are sold with pre-packaged sets of features, so you can’t always get the sunroof if you don’t pay for the premium trim at the same time. You should also evaluate whether you want a used or new car, depending on the cars you’re looking at and how important certain features are to you.
Give yourself plenty of time to review your options; unless your car just broke down, there’s no reason to rush, and the slower you go, the less stressed you’ll be overall. If you want to test drive before buying, commit to NOT buying the day of your visit, no matter what. I like to go to the dealership one hour before it’s time to pick up my son at school. That gives me a firm time limit and an excuse to leave the dealership, even if I find a car I love. (Dealerships are also likely to be less busy during a weekday afternoon, so you might get better service).
Once you’ve made your list, move to Step 2: contact at least 3 dealers to ask for their best drive-away price on the vehicles you’ve identified. Use the quotes you get from each dealer against each other. For example, if Dealer A offers you a $1000 discount, tell Dealer B you’ll take the car off her lot if she can match the offer. Not sure what to say? You can use our script to make sure you’re using the right lingo, over the phone or via email, and our tracking template to keep track of who you’ve talked to.
Once you get the deal that’s right for you, ask the dealer to put it in writing. Then it’s time for Step 3: arranging your financing before you go to the dealership to pick up your car. That’s the key to stress-free, hassle-free, smarter car shopping. In my next post, I’ll explain why.