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Tips on Purchasing a New Vehicle

Updated on May 16, 2011

Welcome to the Battleground!

The bait...easy pickins.
The bait...easy pickins.

Let’s face it. Buying a new vehicle is detested by most people. Visions of shady car dealers, a nightmare of paperwork and wondering if you got the best deal are always present in your mind. With today’s economy, everyone wants the most bang for their buck. Nobody wants to pay more than they should for anything! Since a vehicle is most likely the second most expensive purchase a family can make, how do you get that best deal and feel good about it?

I have done a lot of research on this subject, plus have worked as a car salesman for a short time. What I have learned and practiced has enabled me to confidently go to a dealer and walk out knowing I paid a fair price for the vehicle and wasn’t screwed over in any way. I hope the following tips and suggestions will help you when time to replace your current vehicle.

Fun vs. Practicality
Fun vs. Practicality

First Tip: Before even stepping on a car lot, do your homework. There are lots of resources out there specifically geared to help you with this. Before you check these, I would strongly urge you to decide which vehicle would be best for you. Certainly a lot of us would like a fancy, fast sports car, but face it, you have 3 kids, so that would be impractical! Determine what the car will be used for. Is it for commuting back and forth to work, taking the entire family out, or ? Knowing what your needs are is very important in the selection. After you have determined one or more suitable candidates, the next step is to compare those makes and models. I recently purchased a new car and had it narrowed down to 3…a Honda Accord EX-L, a Hyundai Sonata LTD. V-6, or a Nissan Altima. I made a spreadsheet listing each cars’ standard equipment and listed the options I wanted. I wanted the Universal Homelink transmitter , Stability control, Traction control, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The only vehicle that had those items as standard equipment, was the Hyundai. I compared everything, trunk space, engine size and horsepower, reliability and repair records, price, etc. When finished, the Hyundai was clearly the winner and I did end up purchasing this vehicle. But, I still did not set foot on the car lot.

Better Business Bureau
Better Business Bureau

Second Tip: After I have pretty much decided on which car I wanted, now was the time to check out the dealers. This is where you have to be extremely careful. To be honest, some dealers are just plain bad news. They will say anything to get you on their lot. Some are just downright lies and traps to get your money. The first thing I do is check to see if anyone I know has dealt with this car dealer. That is one of the best sources to get a general view of them. Ask about how they were treated, are the repair facilities open when you would most likely need them.  After the sale, if there were any problems, how were they handled? I am sure you will think of more questions to ask this person.

But I don’t let it stop there…the next thing I ALWAYS check, is the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Just go on the Internet and Google the BBB in your state. Then just type in the name of the car dealer and viola…a quick view of that company’s history. They are assigned a letter grade based on a lot of criteria, so this is a great tool to find the dealer that will be the best for you. I live in a fairly large city, so most makes of vehicles have several dealers to choose from. Never let the appearance of the dealership persuade you to buy there. For example, the largest luxury car dealership in my area sells almost every kind of luxury vehicle; Cadillac, Audi, Mercedes Benz, Infiniti, Lexus, BMW. Their dealership is beautiful…well cared for, clean, etc. I checked the BBB and they received an ‘F’ grade…the lowest you can get. I have spoken to many people that have purchased these expensive vehicles and most told me they would never buy a car from this dealer again, or get their vehicles serviced. Now you would think a luxury car dealer would never be that low, but it does happen. Personally, I won’t even go to a dealer unless it has a grade of B or isn't worth the risk!

Third Tip: Now it is time to find out the average selling price of a similar vehicle in your area. There are many online sources to help you with this: Edmunds New Car Reviews, Consumer Reports, N.A.D.A.,, etc. Even the dealers have websites and often have online specials that aren’t advertised anyplace else. The key to getting the best price for a vehicle is to find out what the dealer paid for it…called the invoice price. NEVER pay the sticker price for any vehicle. Of all the vehicles I have owned over the years, I have never paid full price for any vehicle, even ones that are very popular and not easy to get. After you know the invoice price of the vehicle with the options you want, that is what you arm yourself with when you go to the dealer. Of course, the salesmen are working and trying to make a living, so a fair profit is in order. I will address this a little later.

Fourth Tip: Okay, now you are armed with your weapons: the suggested average price people are paying for a similar vehicle, you know what you want on the vehicle and what you believe is a fair price, etc. Now comes the part most people hate…talking with the salesperson! First of all, don’t let them intimidate you…you are the customer and don’t be afraid to face them and tell it like it is. Never go to a dealer not knowing what you want. Believe me, the salesperson will try to sell you anything. Find a similarly equipped vehicle and demand a test drive. Most dealers will eagerly agree to this since many times when a person drives a vehicle, the initial excitement can overpower common sense and they fall in love with the car. Take it on the highway, try out all the features, etc. You may find this vehicle isn’t what you had hoped for, but if you did your research, this rarely happens. Ask questions about the car, and also sneak in some questions about their repair facilities, follow-up after the sale, or anything else you think is important. A good 20 minute test drive should be enough. Don’t settle for a 3 minute trip around the block…you need to see what this vehicle can do and a leisurely trip around the block isn’t going to cut it.

Eenie, Meeny, Miney, Moe!

Fifth Tip: After your test drive comes the dreaded meeting to determine the price you are going to pay, that is if you decide the vehicle is what you want. Be sure you get the vehicle with everything you want…don’t settle for less. If the vehicle you test drove has options you don’t want, than refuse to buy it. You are plunking down a lot of money, so get EXACTLY what you want. If the salesperson is not cooperating, ask for another, or do what I do…just thank them and walk out! Believe me, if the sales manager sees you walk out after knowing you were speaking with a salesperson, stuff is going to happen. No salesman wants to face their manager if a customer walks out! So, use your power if you have to! LOL

Sixth Tip: Never mention a trade-in vehicle until after you get the exact price, in writing, of the vehicle you are purchasing. Salespeople will always ask often about a trade-in. Be firm and just say you may or may not have one. If they keep asking, keep repeating! Stick to your guns…don’t let them bully you. Once you say you have a trade-in, the whole scenario changes and numbers can be manipulated! Get the final price of the vehicle you are purchasing in writing before you even mention a trade-in.

Now this is where you have to be careful. Hopefully, you did your homework and know the average price this vehicle is going for in your area. If you don’t know the invoice price, tell the salesperson you want to see it. Insist on it! Every car in the dealership has this information on file listing what the dealer paid for the vehicle. Be sure the stock number matches the vehicle you are purchasing. Don’t let them do the bait and switch thing and use a higher priced vehicle’s invoice card pretending it is the one for your vehicle. Most won’t do this, but don’t take the chance. If anything smells fishy, leave! Now comes the nitty-gritty. Knowing the invoice price and the average consumer’s purchase price of your vehicle, now the negotiation begins. I always make a fair offer. I start at the invoice price which I now know, and go from there. Never go down from the list or average consumer's price! On a new vehicle, I start with a $500 - $1000 offer over the invoice price. Depending on the popularity of the vehicle, it can go higher. I always keep the average price customers paid for the same vehicle in my head. That is the limit I will go, IF I agree with that average price. Whatever you decide to pay, stick to it. There are always other dealers to go to. As I said before, when you do arrive at the final purchase price, get it in writing. If the salesman tries any tricks, like saying he has to get his sales manager’s approval, be careful. This is usually a technique to get a higher price. They may say, “Well, my manager says we can do this for ‘X’ amount, but your amount is too low.” If that happens, say, “Okay, thank you for your time, but no thanks!’ Gather your things and start to leave! Believe me, stuff will start happening fast. By this time these dealers will know you are serious about getting a vehicle and they are not just going to let you walk out! LOL But if they do, do it! Most likely they will call you back and work some more, but remember not to back down. They will try!

Seventh Tip: Whew…take a deep breath and relax when you get the final price both parties agree upon. But your work is not over, unless you don’t have a trade-in. This is the part I just love!!! Now, I get to drop a huge bomb on the whole thing…."Oh, by the way, sir, I have a trade-in." At this point, the salesperson will probably be gasping in frustration, but if you really did like I said and refused to talk about your trade-in or that you even have one, the power is on your side! Now is the time to get a good price for your trade-in. Again, there are many sources of online help for this. Kelly Bluebook,, N.A.D.A, etc. You have to be honest about your trade-in. I know you will always think it is worth more than the books say, but it is very difficult to get the quoted prices in those books from a dealer. Most people will try to sell their vehicles privately. I suggest trying this first! You tend to get more for your trade-in that way, and the amount will be closer to the Bluebook, etc., values. I always try to sell my vehicle first just to avoid the aggravation at the dealer. You have to decide what you will accept for your trade-in. Sometimes they will tell you a price that is just plain ridiculous and insulting.

This happened once to me. I sold a vehicle to a private party for $3100, but took the car to 2 dealers before it was picked up just to see what they would give me. Two dealers offered me $500 and $1200. Needless to say, I looked them in the eye and said, “You have got to be kidding…I know darn well you are going to turn around and sell this vehicle for at least twice that…no thanks!” Of course they will try to 'reason' with you, but I knew that mercy from me! I got up and walked out, both times. The one dealer even got testy with me and told him that his offer was a total insult and that I don’t want to do business with them!” He was ticked off, but who cares? It is my car and the heck with him! I am the customer! He went to his sales manager and knew that was coming and did the same thing to him. Getting the manager is like a bully getting another person to gang up on you...2 against 1. He raised the offer some, but not nearly enough…I waved him off and left! I don't like bullies! I tried to keep from laughing as I left, but think they heard me. Maybe they will think twice before they pull that nonsense again. Salespeople don’t phase me in the slightest! Don't let them phase or psyche you out either!

Eighth Tip: Finally, the negotiations are over and the dreaded paperwork starts if you decide to purchase here. I am certain the dealership (financial advisor usually) will try to sell you extended service plans, all kinds of things when they start typing up the contract.  I just tell them no thanks. They will try to convince you of the need for things like paint sealant, undercoating, extended warranties,  but they are just profit makers for the car dealers and are never worth what you pay for them. After everything is finished, be sure the salesperson sits in the car with you and goes over all the gadgets. With today’s complex techno toys, a good hour should be spent getting things set. When I got my vehicle, I had Bluetooth, a nice stereo system with Satellite radio, and needed help. My salesman, who was fantastic from start to finish, got my iPhone synchronized with the Bluetooth System, helped me program my Satellite radio stations, AM/FM, and CD. Helped me with my iPod so I could play it through the car stereo system, connected my cargo carrier, etc. Any good salesman will do this and they should take you on a quick tour of the repair facilities, introducing you to the service manager

That should do it! You can now drive off in your new vehicle with a smile on your face instead of driving yourself crazy wondering if you got a good deal.

I hope this was helpful to you and the next time you need to purchase a vehicle, you will go in with confidence and boldness. A salesperson's worse foe is someone armed with all the information they need to make a wise purchase. Being educated is your best line of attack! If you can do these things, you will have a pleasant experience, at least on your end, and the dealer hopefully will have a repeat customer. It is usually a Win-Win situation!

Oh, one last thing. Unfortunately, if you are female, this whole process could become more sticky. Some dealerships will try to take advantage of a woman that comes alone, but if you follow my suggestions, they will help. Just stand up to the salespeople and let them know you mean business. Wearing high heel stiletto shoes may help since the men may think they could be skewered if they get out of line! Or, have the bouncer from the toughest bar you know accompany you when you talk to the dealer! Or, as a last resort, do as the lady in the photo did and let her weapon do the talking!

Men aren't totally safe either. One BMW dealer I audited had a female salesperson. She wore a low cut top and believe me, most of the men were looking at her bosom instead of the car. She was attractive and certainly filled her clingy top out nicely. I found out she was their top salesperson...I wonder why?

So everyone, be is a jungle out there...literally!!! Be safe, Be good, and God Bless you all!


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