How To Buy A Car (Or, Yet Something ELSE That Took Me Forever To Learn, But Now I Rock At It), Part Three

Shew! You made it to the final installment! Congratulations!

What? You didn’t read the first two? Oh my, you’ve got some catching up to do. How to buy a car, lessons 1-3 can be found here, and lessons 4-5 can be found here. Start at the beginning, and then come back. Don’t worry; we’ll wait.

Let’s jump right into it:

Lesson #6: Let Melisa handle the deal, and be ready to walk out. And walk out again. And walk out a third time, if necessary.

After the tumultuous beginning we had in our car-buying career, we were finally hitting our stride. In 2003, it was time to find a car for Jim. I was particularly excited about this transaction, because I was working in health club membership sales at the time, and I had been trained very well by one of the best. My boss was a terribly smooth salesman; he was not of the slimy variety, and though he did indeed have various tricks up his sleeve, for the most part he sold by the book. Although I hated role-playing during my training, it served me well in the car-buying arena. Also, I had to read–and frankly, practically memorize–this book:

SelFit COV
The author (google her) is an industry expert and I attended training seminars that she did especially for my company on three occasions. She was a harda$$ in group roleplay and expected that we know her methods backwards and forwards, and I did. The good news is, once you are properly trained as a salesperson, you can sell (and buy) practically anything.

Jim did lots of online research once he found the vehicle of his dreams, a Subaru Baja.

030304 subaru baja sport
He spent some time online looking at the vehicle itself, studying which one would suit us the best, as well as checking out pricing in our area and other such things.

Though I can’t remember what the special was at the time, Subaru was advertising a promotional interest rate. We took that into account when making our plan for negotiations, which included getting under a certain monthly payment amount (of course), and getting the truck (hopefully in yellow) fitted with a bed cover. We decided in advance that I would do the majority of the talking. The reasons for this decision were as follows:

1. Jim gets attached to cars like I get attached to dogs.
2. Since we were buying a car for him, it made sense that I could remain the steady, logical one.
3. I was extremely confident in my ability to deflect any sneaky, slimy sales games because of my sales training.

The four of us headed off to the Subaru dealership, and we told the kids to keep their mouths shut about any and everything having to do with any vehicle we would look at unless a salesperson was not in hearing distance. As we walked around, we discovered we’d have to make our first concession: there were no yellow Bajas on the lot (and we were there in that time of year when they had all of that year’s model they’d get because a couple of months later the next year’s vehicles would arrive. Also a good time to buy a car). No big deal. Silver was the second choice, so we found one, and a salesman found us.

We remained completely emotionless as we acted like we had seen hundreds of these vehicles already, the salesman desperately trying to get a reaction out of us, and we didn’t give him anything.

Hint: Every single stinking time you give a salesman–any type of salesman–a “yes” answer to a question, he/she knows he’s getting closer to a sale. Don’t give up those affirmations!

We were asked if we wanted to test drive it, and we begrudgingly (haha) agreed to do that. Since there were four of us, the salesman couldn’t go along (darn), so we were free to hoot and holler while taking the test drive, but upon return to the dealership, we put our neutral faces back on.

Jim really, really wanted this truck, so it was time to negotiate. I won’t give all the gory details on that, only the important stuff:

*We told the guy what we wanted to pay for it and what our monthly payment should be.
*He went “to his manager to ask about it”. (I giggled every time he did this.)
*Negotiate, negotiate
*He went “to his manager to ask about it”. (*giggle*)
*He came back with a negative answer.
*We got up from our chairs, said it wasn’t going to work, and made motions to leave.
*He said, “Wait, wait, wait, let me see if there’s something else I can do.”
*He went back to his manager. (*giggle*)
*We continued negotiating.
*We weren’t getting exactly what we wanted, so we got up again, said “Thanks anyway” and got all the way to the door when he called out “Wait, wait, wait…”
*We walked outside towards our car and he literally tagged along, trying to save the sale.
*We all stopped at Jim’s future Baja, which was parked right outside, and continued negotiating there. I remember leaning against the truck bed with my face in my hands, acting like I was completely worn out and exasperated by the whole process, when in fact I felt completely alive and invigorated because of the control we were wielding.
*While we were standing there with him, I told him we’d buy the truck at that moment if he could get the bed cover thrown in for us, because that was the last detail that hadn’t been taken care of, and that if he couldn’t, the deal was 100% off.
*One more manager trip (*giggle*), and he brought paperwork back with him. The truck was ours.

It was the best ever!

Lesson #7: In most cases, you shouldn’t purchase a car at one of those Used Car Superstores.

No huge details on this one because it’s not worth discussing, but after driving my Dodge Caravan for ten years we wanted to pay cash for a quality used car. We went to our local Used Car Superstore, and I think you know where I’m talkin’ about, and picked up my Ford Taurus. It was a pretty good car, but because they don’t deal at that place, you either pay what’s on the sticker or you don’t buy. They gave us about $1500 for my van though, which was great and more than what we imagined we’d get. The other plus is that the Taurus, like all of their cars, went through their very picky inspection checklist, so I guess if you don’t mind paying a little more for your car (it was indeed slightly higher than blue book) in order to ensure that you are getting one that’s not going to poop out on you within six months, maybe you should go there.

I need a drumroll; it’s time for our final lesson! Humor me; click here.

Lesson #8: Know what you want, but stay open to creativity that might save you more money.

I could only drive that Taurus for a couple of years, as it was starting to have some issues. We started to check out cars in the fall of 2006. After test-driving a Ford Mustang (hey, a girl can dream!) just for fun, I came back to earth and we all went to the Mazda dealer to try out a Mazda 6. Cute car, but not for me.

After further research, I found the Pontiac G6.

2006 pontiac g6 front rightjpg
I had to have it. I was online alot, figuring out who had what and deciding what I wanted on my car; in other words, I was making up my mind as to what would be deal-breakers for me.

I wanted a black G6 with a sun roof, a multi-CD player, and a spoiler. That’s it; those were my basics.

I learned alot about the pricing on all of these things by calling around, and I checked out the inventory on the two local dealerships on their websites so I wouldn’t waste a trip. The Pontiac dealer closest to my house had my car. I called them, asked for a salesperson, and he was completely and totally rude to me on the phone, so unfortunately I had to move on to another dealership, because he got on my last nerve in less than five minutes.

I looked up the number for the other local Pontiac dealership and spoke to a really nice salesman. They did not have my car. (boo hoo) However, they DID have a black G6 with a sun roof and a multi-CD player; it was just missing a spoiler. I asked him how much it would be to get one put on, and I wrote that down in my files. I spoke to him a couple more times over the next day or two, and made an appointment to go in and see him.

The evening I went, Jim stayed home. It was the weirdest thing, because we’d never done that before. I wanted to try to get this car all by myself, and he was totally fine with that because I had done my research and was the logical one when it came to car purchasing. We agreed that if I needed his signature for financing, he’d come over there.

I made the 15-minute drive, so prepared to take this on and so excited. I walked into the dealership (which was totally dead at the time, as it was an hour before closing: heh heh), and met my salesman. We sat at a table, and I pulled out my notes, giving him the piece of paper that said what I wanted and how much I wanted to pay for it.

He said, “How much do you think we should give you for your trade-in?”
I told him, and he said, “Well, I think this should be fine; let me just double-check.”

He walked away from the table to a glassed-in office not too far away from me, spoke to the guy in the office for less than one minute, and returned with paperwork. It was that easy. I was thrilled. But he had a bonus to offer.

He explained that although they were offering a good cash incentive for buying a new car, I could get $2000 more if I leased it. I explained to him that I wasn’t interested in leasing, and he said, “No, I know you aren’t. BUT if you lease it to get the better deal, you can refinance the car as a purchase in two months.”

Because they were giving me such a good deal on the car, I figured that I would indeed be able to refinance it with no problems. (I don’t recommend doing this if you pay anything close to sticker price!) I signed all of the paperwork, and drove off in my new car. They never even took my Taurus to the service department while I was there; he gave me what I wanted for it.

When I returned home, Jim was surprised that I didn’t need his signature (because I wasn’t even working full-time!), and frankly so was I! It was a major high for me to have been able to buy the car all by myself, like a big girl.

Two months later, I called around for interest rates on my refinance. As it turned out, the salesman at the dealership could beat any rates that I found on my own, so I returned there and met with him, got my car refinanced, and I was all set. Full disclosure: I had to make one lease payment in the interim and the refinance had a fee attached to it, so instead of clearing that original extra $2000 it was actually about $1200. (But extra money is extra money, no?)

So there you go; now you know everything that I do. Buying a car does NOT have to be a scary thing, and you can indeed control your fate as long as you’re prepared to do the work for it. To me, it’s an exciting challenge to take on, but it’s not for the faint at heart! If you’re getting ready to start the car-buying process, I’d love to hear how it goes: be sure to keep me updated!



  • The Mrs

    I've been waiting to see if you'd touch on it, but the dealership makes money on the front end (sales) and the back end (financing). They are more willing to deal on the sales price if you're financing through them, because they can just add a point or two to financing to make up for it. We always take their financing to get the better sales price, wait about 30 days, refinance at a lower rate with our financing, and have both the better sales price and the lower interest rate in our favor. Not to mention two 45 day grace periods before our first payment.

    A couple other things we've learned from industry insiders – Blue Book value will normally work in favor of the dealership, since it often values vehicles for wholesale (what they pay for your used car) at a lower value, and retail (what you pay for their car) at a higher value. NADA is the standard they buy and sell from and better reflects the prices in your local area. Also, know your FICO. They know it, but usually make up excuses about letting you know it so they can say you don't qualify for certain financing.

    And – while walking out of a deal, never hesitate to pull aside another customer on the showroom floor and let them know they might want to go somewhere else since this dealership isn't willing to deal. 🙂

  • PJ Mullen

    Love the walkout, you can just smell the desperation. When I was buying the suburban assault vehicle the salesman basically insulted me and my knowledge of finance, so I actually left.

    He called me about seven times over the next three days, but I didn't answer my phone. On the final call, I answered and let him know that I was picking my van up that night and he should stop calling. When he asked me which one I was getting, I told him the one he and I test drove.

    Surprised, he asked me who I talked to there to buy it. That's when I let him know I pulled the old dealer trade trick and if he checked his lot the van was no longer there. As he stammered, I just hung up. Very satisfying.

    As far as super huge car superstore people are concerned, I trust them a lot more than I do the smaller used car only lots. I did purchase my Honda from Super Huge Car Place. But mostly because I found an error on their website, it was total luck on my part.

    I'd wanted an Accord for a while and saw an '04 that had barely 2K miles. The price they had it listed at seemed surprisingly low, so I did the bluebook and nada guide research. It was off, big time. I printed it out and went there after work that night.

    When I got there, I found the car and saw that the sticker was $2K higher than on the website. Long story short, I told them that I wanted this car, but I was only going to pay the price on their website. After a little hand wringing on their part I got the car for the price on the web.

    The funny thing was, they had a nearly identical Accord on the lot for $500 more than I paid for mine and it didn't have leather, heated seats, satellite radio or a six disc changer and had 10K more miles. I miss that car.

  • Melisa with one S

    Weaselmomma: Hmm. Maybe next time. 🙂

    The Mrs: GREAT tips! Thanks for sharing them! (Gonna put those in the back of my brain for the next time. 🙂 )

    PJ: Yes, I agree. I would trust the Super Huge Car place more than a tiny used car lot (those always make me think about the movie "Vacation", when he got the Wagon Queen Family Truckster). I love that you got the Accord at a cheaper price due to their mistake. You've got some awesome stories!

  • Baby News

    I SO wish you would've posted this about 2 years ago before I paid almost sticker price for my subaru. We completely got scammed!

  • Kat

    Brilliant post. Really. Loughed out loud reading this: "Jim gets attached to cars like I get attached to dogs."…reminds me of the way things are in our household only you got to replace dogs with the cats 🙂

  • DaddysFishBowl

    Great series! I loved the tips! I think #5 was definitely my favorite, didn't know about that & will definitely utilize it next time.

    As for walking out, that's awesome. I've always said I'd use the tactic but never brought myself to do it.

    The Mrs. Had some totally awesome tips! The finance switch is pretty sweet

  • Michelle

    Ahhh… does it shock you that I also love to deal for cars? I feel so good about what I got for mine this time around 🙂

    And I love you just for the fact that you actually used the word "ensure" appropriately. I thought it was ummm an impossibility to see it anywhere.