10 Car Shopping Tips


Know How Dealers Work

­­Some dealers still cling to traditional hard-sell methods. Others take a kinder, gentler approach. If a specific dealer or salesperson makes you uncomfortable, look elsewhere. Buying a car should be a pleasant experience, so find a dealer that makes it one. Plenty of dealers these days are concerned about generating satisfied customers, who may come back again later for another purchase.

Even at dealerships where the atmosphere is congenial, the salesperson's job is to make as much money as possible on each sale. Your quest as a consumer is to get the lowest possible price on the car you want. You need to find a happy medium between getting a good deal and allowing the salesperson a reasonable profit. Dealers are businesses, after all. If they don't make profits, they won't be around long.

When you're at the dealership, keep these tips in mind:

  • Dealers can make up to twice as much by selling financing, insurance, and add-ons than they make selling the vehicle itself. Popular moneymakers include rustproofing, paint sealant, "protection packages," anti-theft setups, powerful audio systems, and extended-service contracts. Dealers typically pay little for these and mark them up sharply. You can usually buy them elsewhere for less money-provided you need them at all, which is often not the case.
  • For a good deal, find a good dealer. Price is important, but it shouldn't be your only consideration. A dealership with a reputation for providing good service and giving customers the benefit of the doubt may deserve to charge more.
  • Ask friends and neighbors about their experiences with dealers. Your local Better Business Bureau can provide a Reliability Report, stating whether complaints have been filed against a specific dealership. Look for a pattern of complaints or for signs that problems remain unresolved. You don't want to do business with a poorly run dealership.
  • Notice how you're greeted when you arrive at a dealership, and whether the same salesperson stays with a customer through the entire transaction. Some pass customers off to a "closer" who specializes in high-pressure tactics.
  • Beware of dealers who slap a second price sticker onto every car, listing high-profit extras you may not want. Look for salespeople who exhibit real product knowledge, don't just rattle off a set speech, and are neither pushy nor overly friendly. If you feel bulldozed or intimidated, shop elsewhere. You should expect -- and get -- professional treatment.
  • Some salespeople still treat female customers in a condescending manner. If you come across one, walk away and shop elsewhere.
  • Check out the service department of the dealership. Ask some people who are having their cars serviced if they've been happy with their buying experience and treatment after the sale.
  • Special-ordering the exact car and equipment you desire is usually possible only on domestic models. Dealers can search other dealers for the model you want and can sometimes install options once the car arrives. However, they seldom can-or will-order from the factory.
  • Dealers might add a separate charge for advertising. Challenge this extra fee.