How to be fabuLESS when buying a car!

I know that most of you dread buying a vehicle– the dreaded sales pitch and pressure tactics, being held captive at the car dealership, the games that sales people and managers play–ugh.  But it doesn’t have to be that way, NOT at all! Buying a vehicle is a BIG purchase, so you need to devote some time and effort, but it doesn’t have to be drudgery– it can even be FUN! Just remember that being an EDUCATED consumer is the best ammunition you have– YOU are in control, NOT the dealer– and, in fact, other than for going for a test drive, you don’t even have to enter a dealership at ALL– you can do just about EVERYTHING over the phone, in fact, I recommend that you do most of it over the phone, not while “trapped” in a dealership!

Buy a car like you buy a house, just like you don’t tell your realtor that you only want a white house with black shutters on a corner lot on Maple Street– you simply say you want to spend a max of $, must have at least 3 bedrooms and a backyard big enough for the dog– same for a car: consider your must have features (i.e. must hold 7 people, air conditioning, leather seats, power windows/doors) and then what you would like to have (heated seats, DVD player– but you can install one aftermarket– NAV– but you can install one after market, etc)– and then see if you can get the best vehicle possible for the best price possible. You can search online at cars.com or autotrader.com and search by price and vehicle type– you can also refine the search by mileage, distance, and whether or not the vehicle is certified by the dealer (meaning that it has an extended warranty and is in excellent used condition.)

Consider buying a car from a NON-local dealer, if you are able to get a fabuLESS price on a vehicle, it might be worth it to either fly there and drive it home or have it transported to your home.  You might even consider buying a vehicle without seeing it in person, generally it’s only recommended to do so if it’s a certified pre-owned vehicle from a trusted dealer as it will be under extended warranty and has to pass certain criteria in order to be certified.  Of course, even if you can’t be there in person, see if you have a trusted friend or family member check out the vehicle for you in person before purchasing it.

Generally, it’s best to buy used (at a fabuLESS price, of course!) and drive it ’til the wheels fall off– but that’s not the best choice for EVERYONE.  You have to look at the TOTAL cost of ownership, not just the price of the car out the door– there are many reasons to consider different options, over the next few weeks, I’ll have more in this series to help you determine what makes the most sense for YOU.

Like homes, cars, especially pre-owned (used!) cars are not a truly ‘efficient’ market– just like the house worth $400K might sell for $275K because the owners NEED to sell– the vehicle might be worth $22K but if the dealer has had it on their lot for too long and is going to auction it off the next day (and expects to get $13K for it at auction) they might sell it to you for $14,500– and you BOTH win.

You can negotiate without being a jerk. I would tell you that if you’re shopping in person it’s almost always (ALWAYS) a fabuLESS idea to leave the lot without signing– it drives car salesmen crazy and they will do almost anything to get you BACK on the lot. If they’re inflexible in price, ask for more services– free oil changes, new floormats, new tires, etc. Consider CPOs– get a better warranty than most NEW cars. Think about how often you buy vehicles, if you’re likely to trade it in, you need to purchase that vehicle BELOW market value to minimize your exposure– and you might even want to consider leasing– I know that’s controversial, but if you’re the type to trade in a car every few years and you want the latest/greatest in options without additional concerns/cost of maintaining an older vehicle, it might be a better financial decision for your family— but it’s certainly not right for everybody.

If you’re buying pre-owned, look for cars that lose their value precipitously and buy those (as long as they’re reliable)– you might be surprised to learn that two cars that cost the same when new are VASTLY different on the used market– also, if you love bells and whistles, those same options that tack on BIG money when buying new can often be had for just a fraction more (i.e. a $2000 navigation option might only add $300 to the value of a used vehicle)– or you might even find a “spoiled” out vehicle for LESS than the base model– again, it’s not a ‘perfect’ market, take advantage of that!

Consult Consumer Reports, edmunds.com, and more to look at reliability and reviews for the vehicles that you’re considering but realize that that the information isn’t perfect– you might buy a ‘reliable’ vehicle only to find that yours is a lemon– or you might get REALLY lucky with a vehicle that is supposed to be unreliable. In any case, be sure to find a reliable mechanic and maintain your car.

Be sure to be flexible and to consider your TRUE needs– the more flexible you are on color, amenities, and model, the more choices you have and the higher chance you have to find a vehicle that will work for you at the price that YOU want to pay! Back to your needs, think about it– do you NEED a truck for the 2x a year you go to Home Depot? Or are you better off with a smaller (and more fuel efficient car) and renting a truck those two days? Only you can decide that. BUT, on the other hand, you might be better off with a minivan or SUV if it means that you can carpool with one or two friends and not be forced to run your kids to soccer practice EVERY time– carpooling is good for the environment and your sanity.

Have fun car shopping and live fabuLESS!