Life At The Dealership: Rolling The Dice

May 30, 2011

Buying a new or used car, truck, or SUV can be one of the most stressful experiences you’ll have this year. The Internet has helped. It’s now relatively simple to discover the invoice cost of the new vehicle you want to buy, or what a pre-owned car should sell for in your area.

However, when I talk to friends about what they hate most about the car buying process, they point to two factors that kick in upon arrival at their local car dealership: the general lack of transparency and being uncomfortable with the gamesmanship of the sales staff. So, despite the benefits of using online resources for doing research, the most difficult aspect of buying a car for many consumers continues to center around working with people at the dealership.

In this “Life at the Dealership” series, I take you inside your local automotive car dealer so you can better understand how things work from the other side of the car buying process. In turn, this should help you make it through that process easier, with less stress, while hopefully making a better financial deal for you and your family.

First up

The first thing to understand about walking into most mainstream dealerships is there are no hard-and-fast rules about how things will go. It’s like rolling the dice: you could have a great salesperson and make a killer deal, or it could be an experience from hell where you pay a few thousand dollars more than you should. And two people buying the same year, make and model of vehicle at the same dealership on the same day could have diametrically opposite experiences. Go figure.

When I was Internet Manager—and despite my customer-focused approach to working with clients—my customer’s experience would vary depending on a wide range of factors. These included which sales manager I was working with, how much pressure was coming down from on high to meet sales or profit quotas, the make and model they were hoping to buy, the time of day, day of week, week of month, and so on.

Yet, the biggest factor that made my customer’s experience as easy and stress-free as possible came down to a practical approach that virtually every savvy car buyer used. What is this one, simple tactic that can save you time, money, and stress?

Use the force

The smartest, most effective way to buy a new or used car from a dealer is to pre-negotiate as many aspects of the deal as possible before arriving in person. This means pre-negotiating the selling price, trade value, interest rate, and the cost of accessories and extras. Do this, and you can simply walk in, confirm the vehicle with a test drive, complete the paperwork, and drive away.

Don’t do this and you put yourself at the mercy of specially-trained professionals who need to make a sale or they don’t earn a commission. It’s often not a fair exchange. The only way to even the playing field is to exercise the primary negotiating tactic you have: your physical presence. After all, you can’t make a deal unless you go the dealership in person. Use this to your advantage by refusing to attend in person until you're happy with the deal negotiated.

Be forewarned: many car dealers will resist negotiating this way. However, there are things you can do to move past this resistance and make the best deal possible. Stay tuned.

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