Past and Future of Car Buying

I just spent 3 hours buying a used car. The dealership thought that was fast. Granted it’s a major purchase, but everything else I buy takes minutes, not hours. There has to be a better way - less stress, fewer hoops to jump through, etc. Car retailing seems stuck in the past with bespoke tailoring. What’s the right future? Will there even be dealerships?

I don’t think there is any way around it. If you’re going to throw out $10K to $30K of your hard earned, it takes a bit of research. A dealership is a middle man you negotiate through for the privilege of paying for the college education of a salesperson’s kids. Direct buying may be in your future, but get use to the fact you need to be educated about your purchase and spend at least as much time as picking out a plasma TV. It’s more stressful watching $30k losses on the stock market.

Retailing is “stuck in the past” because they are trying to maximize their profit off you as they always have, always will.

There will always be used car dealerships.

Many are like me and will not buy a car they haven’t actually driven. I hope there will always be new car dealerships. But things may change. I ackowledge the possibility that “dealerships” might someday carry only demos, the actual product needing to be ordered rather than bought “off the lot”.

One of the automotive industries catastrophic business failures these past decades was to rountinely produce excess inventory to keep their factories operating at peak efficiency and then having to offer countless incentive schemes to sell off the inventory. I think they’ve discovered that this was costing them a fortune. Mulally took Ford off the “habit” just before the industry crash and that kept them viable even through tough times. I’d guess that much of the industry will eventually emerge from their recent disaster building to orders rather than inventory.

Especially if we get the current administration out and GM actually has to change their ways to survive.

The Internet (, ebay, NADA, etc.) has leveled the playing field for the buyer. With a few clicks, you can find cars for sale, check carfax and find what similar cars are selling for. For new cars, you can get several dealers to bid on the car of your choice to win your business. In today’s difficult economy car dealers are more willing to wheel and deal. Web sites are also a plus for dealers – they can sell a car to anyone anywhere and do not need to spend a lot of money on advertising or wait for a customer to come to their lot.

A win-win for everyone.


When I was selling cars I witnessed transactions that took anywhere from one to six hours. The more research the buyer had done before walking onto the lot, the shorter the amount of time required. People who either don’t know what they want or can’t decide take the longest, and usually end up spending he most.

The last time I bought a used car from a dealer it took about an hour and a half. I never budged on my initial offer, but it took them that long to realize I wasn’t moving, and they finally agreed.

My daughter recently bought a new Toyota online, and spent only about 30 minutes at the dealership. This may be the future of car buying. At least for new cars.

Used cars are different. You can buy the same new car at a dozen places. This is not normally the case with used cars.

Its to the dealers advantage to make it as complicated and stressful as possible for the customer. The whole idea is to wear you down. Keep tossing numbers at you for several hours until you lose track of what you are doing. You get tired, you get hungry, your feet or back starts hurting. Then they lock you in that little room until you really need to go to the bathroom. By the time the “sales manager” comes in and tries to sell you the rustproofing, scotchgarding, extended warranty, hubcap rotations for life, etc. you are ready to sign anything they put in front of you just to get out of there.

Or at least that’s how they try to do it. If you really do your homework you can win. But most people don’t do their homework, and car dealers know that.

I image Carmax is much quicker. And folks need to just walk out, delay is a ploy on the salesman’s part. I bought a new car in less than an hour, did most discussion by email. And before email, I spent about that long total, they said X, I said Y, they said no, I left. 2 hours later they called, agreed to something pretty close to Y.

Interesting comments to my post. I’ll add another perspective. Car manufacturers and retailers want us to care deeply about which car we purchase. If you compare buying a car to buying meat, once we all had to go to the butcher and have a lengthly conversation about what cut of meat we wanted. A few people still do and some of us take that extra effort for a special occasion. But that’s no longer the norm. Yes a car costs more than a pork chop and a bad purchase decision matters more than one ruined meal, but shouldn’t buying a car be more like going the grocery store or buying a book online? Rather than explaining how car dealerships work today, let’s think about what could car buying could become.

I could see the new cars being sold this way. Customer comes in and test drives the various trim levels of cars they might want to buy. If the customer is willing to wait, they put the order in, factory builds it, ships it and the customer gets it a month or so later(4 months in my case). This of course could virtually eliminate leasing, as the customer would need to start shopping atleast that long before their lease expired.

However, reality is that very few people have patience for waiting for something anymore, and it might not be a popular idea.

I have to keep reminding myself that if CR publications are to be believed, then at least some of the dealers are in the practice of trying to sell us inferior products relative to other choices. We still have to weave our way around the deception. That takes preparedness and time regardless of the format. It wasn’t too long ago in automotive time, that the height of a fin was a big selling point. What is it now…undercoating, finish enhancers and extended warranty ? Like they really matter but it still takes time to negotiate through. Same old, same old.

I love it,if you can actually order what you want-Kevin

Yeah, IF you could order it exactly how you wanted it. This would kill Toyota though. They like to bundle their accessories in packages. If one wants heated leather seats, you’ll have to get that upgraded radio, rims, and moonroof. If you want the upgraded radio, you have to get the moonroof and navigation, etc.
I think this was how it was done back in the 50s and 60s wasn’t it? If you wanted a certain color or just the radio, you could get just the radio and color, no extra junk bundles with it.

I don’t think it would be that bad. You would just sit at your PC and order your car. You can almost do that now. All the manufacturers have a feature that lets you choose your own options. Well, Honda doesn’t. But they don’t have options, either. I would miss the chance to test drive the car and haggle with a salesman about the price.

An outlet mall type of thing setup where one could go test drive vehicles, or even rent it for a small fee for a few days(best to see if it’d be what you’d want)