First-time Car-Buyer (Female)

Click and Clack spoke on-air today with a young woman who wants to become a first-time car-buyer. Their advice was a little bit patronizing, suggesting that she might need to bring a big bruiser with her, or that she and her car could be taken hostage. That’s BOGUS! Here’s my advice. Take your mom with you! My 27-year-old daughter and I went out to look at cars on Thursday, she test drove five cars, negotiated prices and financing, went back to re-test two more with her fiancée that evening, made a decision on Friday, sold her 2000 Jeep on craigslist over the weekend, and drove home with her new car on Tuesday. It was fun for me and educational for her. I believe I have launched her on a confident path to car purchasing for the rest of her life. I will provide the detailed process in future posts.

Good advice.
adding ; First timers , take ANYONE along who gives the appearence of an analytical observer.

the sales person sees this other person hanging on every word, perhaps even taking notes and isn’t quite sure how much this person knows or doesn’t.

Although different dealers act very differently, it usually helps.

My 34 yr old daughter went to her Ford dealer ( accross the country from mom & dad ) and pointed to the exact Escape she came to buy, she knew the price, had the trade in ready and was armed with my Ford dealer employee discount code. ( that was the ‘outside observer’ card she played, that her dad is a Ford employee too. )

  • the dang place still took more than four hours to process the sale !

" I want THAT one." and it’s still a major chore to buy a car.

But a mom’s crossed arms and piercing glare are alwarys the best motivator no matter who’s mom that is.

Loved today’s show! Just had to write and tell you our first-time new-car-buyer experience.

My partner and I have a cat-sitting business in Victoria, B.C., Canada, where we get lots of rain and some snow. In 1989, we were using our 1966 Chevy Caprice, 396 hp., to drive all over town feeding peoples cat’s while they were away. Needless to say, it was a GREAT car, Tommy, and we loved it dearly, but it was costing us a fortune in gas and repairs with so much driving. We decided we needed something smaller–a LOT smaller!

We started looking around at new small cars and got the advice of a mechanic friend of ours to help decide what would be a good car for the business. He suggested that we check out the Subaru Justy, AWD/ECVT. We wanted an automatic because we were putting 60 miles or more of city driving on the car every day.

The dealer who specialized in Subaru was way out of town, so we decided to look at that car last, as it would be easier to have a car serviced closer to where we lived, if we found one we liked.

We drove them ALL–with salesmen “helping” all the way! And when we’d get home each day there would always be a message on the answering machine from any salesman we’d talked to wanting to know if we’d decided to buy their car yet! Talk about high pressure!

When we went to look at the Ford Festiva, the saleswoman kept telling me she “pictured me” in this used sports car they had on the lot!

The Toyota Tercel was a REAL experience! It was a typically rainy day, the salesman was in the back seat, my partner was driving and he couldn’t see out the windshield for the fog on it. Both of us kept trying to get the defroster to work, unsuccessfully. Meanwhile, the salesman was talking away about Country-Western Music and ignoring our problem. We changed drivers and still couldn’t get the defroster to work, so drove back to the dealership, wiping the windshield with our hands, like we were driving an old VW Bug! Oh, yes, he still tried hard to get us to sign a contract and left the inevitable message on the phone. There’s more, but I’ll leave that for another time.

Finally, we decided to check out the Subaru. There was a dealer in town, but our friend, the mechanic, wouldn’t recommend them. (He had a friend who was a mechanic at the exclusively Subaru dealer.) Being stubborn, however, we decided to go to the closer dealer first. They primarily sell Mercedes and Audi, so when we walked in and said we wanted to see the Subaru Justy, we got treated like poor cousins, sent to a far corner of the showroom and told to wait until the Subaru saleslady came back, while these guys in their expensive suits stood around waiting for a “proper” buyer and kept a close eye on us!

When she came back, she said she was sorry, but she didn’t have the model we wanted to buy, but that she would order one in for us, IF we would give her a deposit and basically sign the contract without even driving the car! She, too, phoned before we could get back home!!

So, one Saturday afternoon, we grabbed a friend and drove out to the REAL Subaru dealer. We pulled up in front in our '66 Chevy and all got out of the car. We were met right away by a salesman. We told him what we wanted to test drive, he got us a set of keys AND a $5.00 chit for gas and said, “Have fun!” We got in the car (keeping the Chevy keys!) and gave the car a good workout on a few winding, hilly roads, went back to the dealership and gave him back the car. He didn’t even phone until the next day!

Well, we bought the Subaru, but before we did, I took stopping every person I saw in a parking lot getting in or out of their Justy just to see how they liked the car. They always raved about it and sometimes said that it was their second Subaru, but that the still had the first because they loved it so much! They also raved about the dealership! We ended up using them for all the repairs and maintenance and it has always been such a pleasant experience that when the car had nearly 300,000 km. on it, we bought a Forester from them–never to go through that horrible car buying experience again.

BTW, in all the years we have been dealing with Saunder’s Subaru, they have always been helpful, honest, trustworthy and tried to save us money whenever possible. They’re a family operation and they treat you like family. The mechanic who was working there in 1989, still works there, which tells us something, too! Goes to show that there IS one good dealership in this world!

Also, in all these years, I have never seen more than 2-3 salesmen in the place at any one time–often only one, and they ALWAYS let you take the cars for a test drive without them. They’re no fools–they stay back waiting for the next customer to walk in, and they get a LOT of them, I can tell you!

You can do this by yourself but it is always good to bring along an observer, wife, friend, mother, father, boyfriend, girlfriend or whatever to hear what you might miss and also to use as a sounding board to review your observations.

The more important thing that you can do is to shop around to learn the car buying scene. You will see good salespeople and bad as well as high and reasonable prices. Don’t deny the seller a profit as they are there for you and that is their motivation to exist. Your instincts will tell you if you are dealing with a liar, a complete fool or a decent person who must play the car selling game to earn a living.

My advice is to go in with all the details of your budget already planned. How much you want to pay for a car and how long you want your loan for. Salesman always try to talk you into more expensive vehicles by talking about monthly payments instead of how much the car costs.

I guess the most important thing to remember is that car salesman are truly experts! They spend hours to train and train on how to sell cars. They have access to pretty much every helpful psychological tool available. They’ll use your desires, need to show-off-to-your-friends, need for a certail car color, your greed, fear, any neediness you display, your frugality, your affection for your spouse, your fear of your spouse, or whatever they can one-up-you, to get you to buy the car. So you gotta understand that you are at a major disadvantage to them on this basis. Don’t try to beat them on this basis, as you will surely lose.

So what you got going for you is your checkbook. They’ll not get the sale unless you sign the check. And time is on your side. Hold these two things over the saleman. Expect it to take a month to buy a car. Visit several dealerships. If one won’t play ball, politely walk away, and go to the next one. If no dealership will play ball, talk to a car broker, or talk to a rental company about a used car, or head to the CL ads and buy a slightly used car.

Be aware that different dealerships may be owned by the same owner. So don’t tell one that you are going to the next. They may just phone ahead to tell them!

I guess the most imporatnt thing is to decide first what kind of car, make,model, year, you want. The Consumer’s Reports car edition is the first place to start. If you do it this way, then you control the process, and you’ll eventually get what you want, or at least the best that is available at your max price. Don’t be in a hurray. And don’t fixate on one particular car, car color, etc. If you know what important to you (reliablity vs horsepower, color vs gas mileage), then you’ll know what you’re willing to compromise, and will have the flexiblity of more choices.

Know your credit score
Price range
Type of vehicle(truck, suv, car)
Needs(i.e. AWD)
Wants(i.e. sunroof)
Would be nice to haves but not a deal maker(i.e. heated seats)
*Test drive
Test drive some more
Find something you like(but don’t let them talk you into the vehicle that day, tell them you wanna sleep on it)
Ask about an overnight test drive to see how it feels on the highway rather than their 'round the block test drive.
Call the local banks for interest rates and get preapproved
Walk into the dealership with the bank check and see if they could meet or beat the rates you’ve got
sign the paper work and drive off happy

  • = rinse and repeat until you’ve found the right vehicle for you, not the vehicle right now.
    We’ve had a few posters buy a car, then regret it because the seats aren’t comfortable enough on long trips(mountainbike), or they test drove the sedan, bought the hatch and hated it(Yaris-lady).

NEVER let them know you’re in a hurry to buy, even if you really do need a car that day.
NEVER talk about monthly payments
ALWAYS talk about the out the door cost
ALWAYS be willing to get up and walk out the door if you don’t like anything about the deal

If you’re interested, one of the more extensive threads on this topic in this forum is at

I highly recommend “Buying a Car for Dummies” by Deanna Sclar. It covers the entire subject in great detail, from deciding what car to buy, whether to buy new or used, how to test drive, how to negotiate a good deal, what insurance to buy, and everything else you’ll run into along the way. Humorous anecdotes and sample checklists make the material easy to understand and apply to your own situation.

It’s a great book!

Don’t take anybody else along. Every salesman I ever met talked almost non-stop to the other person, I guess figuring they were lower pressure than me (I think maybe I scare people sometimes.) When I had a guy along, the salesmen would totally ignore me and talk to him, even though I was the one standing there with the checkbook. Just go in with your list of requirements (in my case, usually: ac, cruise, standard transmission, and not white, red or yellow), take along a notebook and write down things as they say them or demonstrate or as you read things off the sticker. Advice I got from Click & Clack in one of their books many years ago! And has worked perfectly for me. If you fall in love with a specific vehicle and you have the chance to do some comparison shopping at other dealers selling the same thing, make sure you have those notes so you can say “so and so said it would cost this. or they’d throw in that.” And test drive every car on the market that you can that’s in your price range (and a few that aren’t) because every car is a new learning experience, even if only to discover “I hate that!”

Go in mentally prepared to be hard-nosed. Know that they’re going to try everything they can to squeeze as much as they can out of you. Just make sure you’ve done your homework, and decided on a fair price. A friend of mine says that 15% over the manufacturer’s list is sufficient compensation. If the salesperson wants to waste his time trying to squeeze more out of you, rather than settling quickly and going out for another buyer, that’s his choice.

A back-up person is a good idea, for reasons given by others. If the salesperson ignores you in favor of your companion, remind him of who’s doing the buying. If he continues to ignore you, if he leaves you too long while he “goes to ask the manager”, or anything else that gets your goat. You don’t owe him your business.

Eat beforehand, and maybe bring a snack. It can take hours. If you do get hungry, tell them you’ll be back - maybe, and go get some lunch. It can also give you time to reflect.

If he leaves you alone in the cubicle, check to see if he’s turned on the intercom. They might spy on you, to discover any weaknesses. It’s fun to see him run out of the manager’s cube when you say “come on, let’s get out of here” to your companion.

Don’t let him pull a bait-and-switch, or talk you into something you don’t want. If you think it’s happening, rein him back in to the deal you agreed on. I believe bait-and-switch is illegal, so don’t be shy to mention that.

You don’t have to buy from the first salesperson you talk to. In fact, it might be better to test drive some cars and “shop” for a salesperson. You can return later to finish the deal. I had one salesperson tell me that she absolutely couldn’t sell at the price I wanted, so I went elsewhere and got it. A week later she called me, and was so hurt that I hadn’t come back to her. She acted like we’d been BFFs, and I’d stolen her boyfriend. I reminded her that she’d refused my offer, so tough luck.

I’ve sold cars for the past 10 years in the midwest… I worked for, and managed, a smaller high-end dealership that had its focus on independently inspected (with inspections clearly posted), accident free, and warrantied vehicles with mileage and price proudly displayed on all aspects of marketing materials. We would allow clients to take cars out at their leisure while we stayed behind (even suggested they take the vehicle to their own mechanic for added assurance), supplied them with access to Consumer Reports and local and national bank rates per credit tiers, and pulled out all of the stops with the belief that the happiest customer was the one who was the best informed. Our customers loved our no-pressure approach (we only called them if they had first called us) and we thrived on repeat and referral customers.

With that said, I left that dealership in 2010 after accepting a product consulting position with the local franchised Chrysler dealership. The atmosphere was completely different and I quickly began to wish I hadn’t left my last job! We were told to stop vehicles as they drove through the lot, and management even dared to shout “there’s a car on the lot–go get them!” over the PA system…even in front of a customer. It was your typical car dealership–we were instructed to “build rapport” by controlling the customer and sitting them down, before looking at a vehicle, to ask them what they were looking for, where they had financed their last vehicle (to determine credit-worthiness), and what they were trading in. We were then brought up to the desk managers where we relayed this information and the desk manager’s job was to find the vehicles in our +1,000 vehicle inventory that would meet the customer’s needs and also make us the most money. We then took the customer out, and did a “walk-around” (literally walking around the vehicle with the customer to point out features), and ultimately landed the customer in the driver’s seat, instructing them to “at least drive the vehicle”. After driving, we were told “they used up this much of your time…you have earned the right to ask for their business.” “Ask” didn’t necessarily mean ask. It meant that you were to do everything in your power to get the deal done, because management felt that as soon as the customer left, you’d never hear from or see them again. Want to hear the kicker (and this relates to the original feed of who the buyer should (or should not) bring with them to the dealership)? If management found out that our customer was “one-legged” (meaning only one decision-maker was present), they would kick them out at the first available opportunity. Believe it or not, if we didn’t call every single day to try to get customers back in, we’d be threatened with our jobs.

Surprisingly, this dealership sold an average of 215 vehicles per month. I still sold 12-15 per month, but my guilt of having to sell a way I knew wasn’t right got to me and I recently quit.

Here’s my advice for any car-buyer:

  1. Know exactly what you need in your car (features, color, year, etc.)
  2. Do your vehicle research first. Many websites will help you narrow down vehicles based off of type, seating, features, etc. DO NOT DRIVE EVERY VEHICLE IN A CLASS. In my experience, it is good to drive your top 3 choices. If you drive more, you are more likely to forget how each drove, which makes it more confusing.
  3. Do NOT negotiate financing/price until you know the exact vehicle you want. You may not realize it, but for every vehicle at a dealership you negotiate price/financing, you are going to get a worse deal, because the dealership will assume you’re not as serious.
  4. Do your research prior to sitting down to work on numbers. There is almost no mark-up in new vehicles; used vehicles have more room to negotiate.
  5. Know your local bank rates for your credit tier–Many larger dealerships negotiate mainly based upon interest rate. They “buy” rates from the bank and boost the rate and keep the profit.
  6. Credit-worthiness is based on more than your credit rating. First, it depends on the type of credit that you have. If you’re a first-time buyer, you can have an 800 beacon score but still be denied if you have accrued the wrong type of credit. Secondly, other factors come in to play. These things are inequity of a current vehicle, debt-to-income ratio, discharged bankruptcies, charge-offs and repos, medical bills, etc.
  7. Have your mechanic look over the vehicle. Some dealers will tell you “We’ve run it through the shop or service department.” When vehicles go through service, managers have the option to either approve or deny work to vehicles… and in my experience, most of the work is denied.
  8. Salespeople are like you and me… they’re more likely to bend over backwards to help you get the best deal if you treat them with respect and remember that they’re people too; they work many hours per week (I was averaging between 60-70/week) to try to make a living, since most of them are only paid commission.
  9. BE HONEST. We’re all people and salespeople have heard it all. They’re excellent at quickly determining whether or not you’re lying. Being truthful will ensure that they treat you right.
  10. Salespeople are incredible at reading someone. They’re used to seeing couples come in and one will analyze and take notes while the other talks. Salespeople will ask the person taking notes what s/he thinks.

Lots of good advice. I’ll add a couple of points.
It will take hours if you let it. Don’t. I came in knowing a reasonable price, made an offer, got a reply, gave them my bottom line ‘if you’ll sell it to me for this I’m buying, otherwise I’m walking’ price, they agreed. Went to the closing, refused ALL offered packs and warranties (this is CRITICAL), and was out in a bit over an hour. They will try to wear you down. Don’t let them, just get up and leave. You’ll get a call that day or the next, guaranteed.

Short and sweet, No. one, if they write up an offer sheet, and you want to think about it, snap a photo with your cell so you can recall all the details. I have had the experience of the “finance” manager upping the price and they had kept the original paperwork, – after I had sold my car of course, so I was in need of wheels for sure.

And I agree with doing research on line before you go in.

A good salesman will find ways of working factory offers in your favor to sweeten a deal.

It used to be if they had two same model cars on the lot in the same color, they tried to sell the first one quickly.

If you find a good dealer with good service, by all means, you have the right to be treated well when you return – or offer to trade them a time share for the car. :wink:

Unfortunately, my “good” dealership was sold, and I have suffered an amazing number of foul ups in service since at four others, to the point I may never buy another GM as long as I live in this area.

Don’t fall for that question, ‘How much do you want to pay a month?’ That is not RELEVANT. It’s the total price of the car, with the OPTIONS you want, that is being offered. Also: yes, the marketing spiel is exhausting, but I went on a rainy, dead night last Spring and got a super long-term warranty coverage for next to nothing, and it has already paid for itself!