In the savage jungle of automotive marketplace, car buying has no rules. No one answers to any higher authority other than the dollar. The buyer wants to pay as little as possible. The seller wants to gain as much as possible. No deal has any set criteria. That is the deal. Those who familiarize themselves with the automotive marketplace, like Navy SEALs who train against terrorist, understand the ways of the cars and the ways deals work, which leads us to our first car buying tip: Knowledge is power.
The old cliché holds true. When engaging the Al Qaeda, or looking under the hood of a Toyota, knowing what to expect places the buyer, or the warrior, in an advantageous position. Car buying knowledge begins with research. Research happens on the Internet.
Begin with the car you want. The United States is home to roughly 250 million cars. There must be one you like. There must one you can afford. There must be one that makes you happy. That’s the one you want.
When you have located the model that makes you smile, learn all you can about it. Learn its vital statistics, its horsepower, its fuel efficiency, its performance, and learn its price. Learn its price new. Learn its price after three years. Learn its price after five years. See how many miles sellers are getting out of their cars before they sell. Some cars run longer than others. Learn about your ideal vehicle’s strengths and weakness. Read the reviews. Prowl the forums. Join a chat group. Owners will either praise or curse their vehicles. Make sure the money you spend will net the miles you need. The bargain you bought broken down by the side of the freeway needing a major repair is no bargain.
Understand the vehicle’s maintenance requirements. See what the manufacturers recommend. See what owners report. (For an exercise, have a look at GM’s Northstar engine.) Understand exactly what the maintenance entails. For example, an engine may need only spark plugs, wires and the timing belt adjusted for a tune up. Sounds easy enough. However, some cars may require the engine lowered from the vehicle to accomplish the task.
Another adjunct buying tip: You are buying the car’s upkeep as well as the car. Keep that in mind. All cars need attention sooner or later. Will the fixes be minor or will they require a second income to cover them? Some manufacturers include routine maintenance with the purchase. They make it sound like they do the buyer a favor. If you knew how much they charged for an oil change, you would probably buy something else.
Again, if you knew, you might buy a car differently. Learn as much as you can for free before your next car purchase teaches you expensive lessons. The knowledge on the Internet is free. Car owners are delighted to discuss their vehicles. A few hours of focused research will yield a foundation of data that will arm you in your quest. Remember that a vehicle purchase is a lot like choosing a spouse. A little courtship reveals more than a chance encounter in a dark tavern. It can mean the difference between a long and happy relationship or a costly and embarrassing rash.
In Part One, we learned that knowing a car’s vital statistics, its price in the marketplace, and its maintenance costs will help you make a successful car buying decision. Now that we know about the car we want, the next thing is to experience the car we want. The best way to experience a car before buying it is to rent it.
Almost any model vehicle is available for rent. From economy cars to luxury automobiles, to performance factory racers, someone will have it for rent. A valid driver’s license and major credit card seal the deal. You may be thinking that all the money spent on a car purchase should go to purchasing the car, but a few dollars spent at the rental counter can save thousands down the road.
A week should tell you all you need to know about a car, If a week is too much, then three days filled with spirited motoring should answer all the questions you have, and the experience will put you and the car together on your terms, without a salesperson recommending Simonizing, without the pressures of the dealership and the financing.
Use the rental as you would your purchase vehicle. See how it handles the morning commute. See how it deals with kids and groceries. See if it has the power necessary to climb hills. See if it has the brakes necessary to descend hills. Play with the buttons. Let your body relax in the vehicle and check if all the controls are easily accessible. Does the seat hold your body comfortably? Check the visibility. Run the car at freeway speeds. On-ramps and off-ramps make great testing grounds. Check the vehicle’s agility in the parking lot of you favorite mall. Does it park easily or will you tell the rental lot attendant that the scrape on the bumper was there before you rented the car?
If you plan on spending significant cash on a vehicle, then a little rental charge only makes sense. A few days and a few journeys with the car will speak to your being in a way no test drive or internet research can. The experience will react in the reptilian part of your brain. Your seat time will tell you if this car is one to keep or one to return. It will also provide invaluable experience when you head to the car lot and test drive the vehicle you are considering purchasing. A rental vehicle, only a year old, may have thirty thousand miles on it and reflect the abuse of drunken young people and medicated senior swingers. The rental companies perform regular maintenance and keep their cars clean, but you will see how the car wears, if the seats lose their support or if the brake pedal needs a little more pressure to work. A rental car can show you how your new car may look in three to five years.
Appreciate the opportunity. No car should be taken lightly and no car purchase should happen without sober thought and some wise counsel. The rental car allows for full interaction, full participation, with a vehicle you are considering bringing home and keeping.
In car buying tips parts one and two, we learned that knowledge is power and that renting a car is a good way to determine if that car is right for you.
Now we have a few shorter bits of advice about the car buying process.
Avoid buying a car at night. A little dew and car lot flood lights can cast an irresistible, romantic veil that renders any buyer’s reason null and void. All business should be done in the light of day during regular business hours.
Avoid buying a car in a known bad part of town. Every day we here of some one going to buy a car and being robbed. Know where you are going. Be careful.
Avoid buying a car on the first meeting. Even if the car is perfect, give the deal twenty-four hours. Then examine the car and look over the deal again. Chances are you will see something you missed the first time. This also helps in negotiations. The seller will say the car has lots of interest and you better buy it quickly before someone else does. Call the seller’s bluff. The worse thing that can happen is that you will get another car and a better deal.
Avoid buying a car if you are tired, hungry, stressed, ill, anxious, or in any way physically or emotionally impaired. When dealing with large amounts of money, you should always be at the top of your game.
Beware a dealer trick called the “Four Squares.” The dealer will fold a sheet of paper into four squares. In the first box he places your name. In the second goes the price of the car. In the third box he writes the monthly payment. In the fourth, he places the value of your trade-in. He will claim this paper will help you get the best deal when he presents it to the general manager. Actually, the paper is a tool for him to get the best deal from you. He will be able to determine the maximum price and payment you can afford, and he will take it.
Listen for the words up to when you speak to the salesman. He will ask your budget. You will say, “Two hundred a month or twenty-five thousand.” He will ask, “Up to?” You will respond, “Well, two-fifty or twenty-seven five.” Right there he has made $2500 on the deal.
Have no fear of walking out of a deal. Until you sign any papers or surrender the cash, the deal is still open. If something feels wrong, if you dislike the salesperson, you are free to walk away. Most dealerships will bring a series of salespeople to a customer just to avoid that situation. You will never really spend enough time with a salesperson to form an opinion of them, but each salesperson will work you for the best deal possible.
The salespeople are not your friends, despite the way they behave. They will not invite you to a barbeque at their house or let you play with their toys. They earn their money by obtaining money from you. They work on commission, usually a sliding scale up to thirty percent. If they generate maximum profit on a deal, they will get thirty percent of it. Guess how much they will try to generate.
Try to avoid financing a vehicle. A car depreciates, meaning next year its value will be less than what you paid for it, and financing compounds that loss. Simple financial common sense says paying $36,000 for a $30,000 car that will be worth $15,000 in three years makes no financial sense. Look at any business section of any newspaper from 2008, and you will see what knuckle-headed financing can do to a national economy. Watch any financial news network today for ten minutes, and you see what deficit spending has done to the global economy.
Go to a dealership and say, “I want to buy today. What’s your best price?” Have the salesman write the number on the back of his business card. Go to second dealership and say, “I want to buy today. What’s your best price?” Have the salesman write the number on the back of his business card. Go to a third dealership and say, “I want to buy today. What’s your best price?” Have the salesman write the number on the back of his business card. Take the lowest price to the other dealers and ask them to beat it. Keep going until you have the best price. Dealers hate to bid against each other. It only helps the buyer.