It’s been a long road since my accident but I’m ready to finalize my research and try my hand at negotiating the right price and purchase my future car. I’ve done my scouting, I’ve test driven a few models, and I’ve even been pre-approved for an auto loan by my favorite Madison credit union: Dane County Credit Union, where I also happen to work. Ok, not really much of a coincidence but still the best place in town for car loans. Loan rates are great so I’m happy to have narrowed my search down to a couple models I really, really like. And I’m ready to drive one home.
First I want to take a look at the dealership itself. I get that all dealers, and even all sales people are different, but overall reputation is a factor to consider. Ask around to people you know who’ve recently bought a vehicle how they were treated and if the process was pleasant. You’ll quickly get an idea of which dealers have good or bad customer service, unfair pricing, and about the quality of follow up. Don’t forget to check review forums and sites. In my experience, people usually take the time to write a review if they had a really great experience, or else a really, really BAD one. If enough of those bad ones are stacking up, that should be a BIG red flag to stay away.
Your Most Powerful Tool
Going into the negotiation process can feel intimidating, but we have to remember one key point: you can ALWAYS walk away. Test driving, or even talking to a sales representative doesn’t mean I’m locked into the car for life. Price to high? Buh Bye. Got an uneasy feeling, or the sales person isn’t willing to address a key flaw? I’m out. Is there a better price at a different dealer and this one isn’t willing to come down? WALK AWAY. Remember you won’t be hurting anyone’s feelings or be banned from the dealership. This is a business. They’re trying to get a sale, but we have to look out for our own best interests. I’m always prepared to walk away.
But beware of “the trap.” After a test drive and you’ve shown interest the sales associate knows they’ve got you on the hook, and they will not let you leave. Literally. You think you’re simply going to sit down for a few minutes to talk nuts and bolts. And after a while you realize they are trying to keep you there until you either feel pressured, guilty or just mad enough to get the process over with. They’ll keep trying to sell you on unnecessary features, coverages, warranties, bells and whistles, everything. Just when you think it’s over, they’ll dive right back into something. And this might be before they even start talking price! But what’s the one important rule? You can always walk away. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, uneasy, or just plain frustrated, just do it. Walk away.
You’ll feel confident when you’ve done your research ahead of time. Find the fair market value from Kelly Blue Book or NADA (another sweet feature provided by Dane County Credit Union discussed here) and you already know the fair price range. Use this knowledge, along with some other key phrases to put you in the driver’s seat (ha-ha, pun intended.) Phrases that can help you feel in control are: “I’m already pre-approved so you’ll be paid in full;” “I like the car but saw the same model at a different dealer for less;” or simply “I’m on a very tight budget.”
Sometimes Your Best Move is the Hardest to Make
Unfortunately, I had to make the heartbreaking decision (but ultimately the smart one!) of walking away from a car that I really wanted. Let me tell you, it was perfect: A Hyundai Elantra Touring (hatchback!) with amazing cargo space, nice features, smooth handling, great gas mileage, everything I wanted in a vehicle. However, from my research, I knew the price they wanted was way too high. I employed all my tactics: seemed interested, but staying firm about my budget; reminding them Dane County Credit Union could have my auto loan check in their hands tomorrow, and saying (bravely) that the car was valued way below their asking price. To which the sales person said, “Well why don’t we check the Blue Book value so you know what the car is going for.” Please DO! – I’m thinking, knowing full well I had already done my due diligence and knew the exact value. Low and behold after a “huh” from the sales guy, he realized they were WAY above the fair market price and he went to speak with his manager to get me “the best price” available. Which really, is all I’m asking for here. But to my frustration and dismay, he let me know the quoted price WAS the best they could offer. Nope. Not happening. “I just can’t do it,” I said, shook his hand, and walked out the door a minute later. I’m not going to lie, I am NOT happy. That car was everything I wanted. But sometimes, you just have be smart and walk away.