If you or someone you know is getting ready to buy a new car, I offer five tips:
- Do your homework. My wife and I ended up making a Jeep Grand Cherokee the newest member of our family, but that wasn’t before we had looked at several crossover SUVs from Honda, Toyota, and Jeep. Not only did we narrow the field of potential options and research our possible new cars online using Consumer Reports, Edmunds, DealerRater, and CarSort, but we actually went to three dealerships and took five test drives. Some people might call that overkill, but I don’t know a lot of people who want to make a $30,000 (or more) mistake and walk away with the wrong vehicle. When we were looking at the Jeep dealership, the dealer had Grand Cherokees ranging from the high $20,000s to the high $70,000s! By doing our homework, we already knew the seats came in Morocco black or Grand Canyon brown, and we already knew the differences among the Laredo, Laredo E, Limited, Overland, and Summit models, and I can’t emphasize how much easier that made trying to sort through a salesperson’s chatter.
- Be flexible, but stick to your guns. Because my wife and I had done our homework, we knew what we had in savings, and we knew what our budget could afford. We had a solid game plan going into car shopping. We started at Toyota because we both really liked how a couple of their vehicles looked, but we left with questions (and because of the salesperson’s attitude). We went to Honda because we’ve had a good experience with my wife’s Civic, but after our visit, my wife and I realized we had reached different conclusions. Since neither Toyota nor Honda had a car that completely grabbed both of us, we called an audible and started looking at Jeep vehicles in honor of my old car. Throughout the entire process, we stuck to our guns and only looked at cars that met our specific requirements and were within our budget, but we were also flexible by looking at a different automaker than we originally intended. In the end, we found that we could save several thousand dollars (and still get the car we wanted) by going with a lower model with some upgrades rather than a higher model with a few options taken off.
- Know your trade-in. Before we visited dealerships, I made sure my old Liberty was in tip-top shape. I even went to one of those car spa places and spent a little extra to make sure everything was shining. I kid you not, I had a salesperson tell me that the cleanliness of a trade-in can influence the price $500-$600 dollars! Now before you get some Armor All and your Shop Vac and go at it, also take the time to get a good estimate on how much your car is really worth so you know if the dealer is playing straight with you. Go to somewhere like CarMax and get a free quote or at least look at Kelley Blue Book before you go in, as I challenged the dealer's initial trade-in offer with my Kelley Blue Book figure, and it took less than five minutes for the dealer to revise his estimate up to the Kelley Blue Book number! On a side note, I’d also strongly recommend you trade in your car as opposed to selling it. It’s safer and less of a hassle, and if you’re a Georgia resident (after March 1, 2013) or a resident of a state where all of the ad valorem tax is collected up front as opposed to every year around your birthday, it’s a great way to reduce the taxes you must pay on your new vehicle (the sales price of the new vehicle is reduced by the trade-in price of your old vehicle).
- Be crafty. Whatever you do, don’t let a salesperson hear you say you love a car until you’ve signed the paperwork! Be crafty; it’s part of the game. I know people who have walked away bigger winners than we were, but with some reasonable give and take and keeping up a pretty decent poker face throughout the negotiations, my wife and I doubled the duration and miles of our warranty, we got the sticker price reduced by more than $3,000, we got a free tank of gas, and we got a complimentary upgrade to a full-sized spare tire. Some people hate the negotiating game and some people love it, but I’d advise you at least play it to try to get as sweet of a deal as you can.
- Make sure everyone is happy. I alluded to this earlier, but I really do think it is important that all of the potential primary drivers of a new vehicle be comfortable with the new vehicle. Sure, I will be the most frequent pilot of our new car as it is replacing my old car, but there will be times when I’m out of town, I’m sick, or my wife’s car is in the shop, and she needs to be able to drive our new car with confidence. Some cars my wife liked, and I did not. Other cars I liked, and she did not. The one we purchased we both like, and I’d recommend that strategy to everyone!
My old Liberty and I had a lot of good times, and it will be missed, but it was time. The next time you are getting ready to buy a new car I hope you’ll think of these tips and get yourself a sweet, new ride as well.