Buying a car can be totally overwhelming, but a boss lady knows that in order to get into the driver’s seat she’s got to be in the driver’s seat during the buying process. The actual process may seem time consuming and frustrating, especially if you’ve never done it before.
Whether you’re a newbie or just want to freshen up some of your negotiation tactics, I have compiled some valuable car buying tips for women based on my own personal experience buying and helping others to buy their cars. Utilized properly, these should minimize the headache and save you some significant time and money.
Buy used. If there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that buying new cars is overrated and expensive. Instead, I prefer to buy a well-maintained used car with low mileage and a great warranty. For example, when my 2010 Cadillac SRX was totaled by a drunk driver last year, I shopped around for a used 2013 model even though it was already 2015 and the 2016 models were about to launch.
For less than the price of a brand new Honda CRV, I ended up with a gorgeous, fully loaded (leather, navigation, seat warmers front and back, front/back park assist, backup cam, cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, temp control for backseat, etc.) Cadillac with a clean CarFax that had been driven less than 30K miles. And the original factory warranty is still good for another 3 years! Had I bought it Certified Pre-Owned from a Cadillac dealership, I would have received an additional 2 year extension on the warranty automatically, but unfortunately the color I wanted wasn’t available locally so I had it shipped in from a non-Cadillac dealership.
In case you’re wondering where I found it: CarGurus.com is an amazing resource for used vehicles. You can also buy used from many of the rental car companies like Hertz, Enterprise, etc. These are great deals and you know the car was well maintained because rental car vehicles have strict maintenance schedules and standards.
Stick to the plan. Part one is choosing a car; part two is negotiating the price; part three is paying for the car. Call me Captain Obvious, but many people get sidetracked from this very simple plan. Don’t skip ahead to discussing financing when you haven’t negotiated the final, out-the-door price of the car yet. And don’t get talked into a car or features that you haven’t researched in advance to determine whether or not it’s what you really want/need/can afford.
Time it to your advantage. Statistically speaking, the spring months are the worst time to buy a new car but there really isn’t much seasonality in my experience. I’ve gotten screaming deals in December, March and even June. Car dealerships have monthly and quarterly quotas that determine bonus levels for the sales staff, so use this pressure to your advantage by shopping and buying at the end of the month or quarter. Also, it may be wise to finalize a deal at the end of the day when the salesperson is less likely to want to prolong the negotiation.
If you’re a woman, then you’re an easy target. Car salespeople may assume that you are not a strong negotiator and can be easily swayed with some flashy language and charm. Let them make assumptions all day long. What they don’t know is that you’re a boss lady and you’ve come prepared to do a deal on your terms.
Patience. More often than not, I start and finish the car buying process in one week or less. It’s a fast transaction overall, but the steps to completion require Buddha-like patience and the ability to play things extra cool even when the other person is clearly stressing out or trying to pressure you into a decision. You’ve got to be coy and play a little hard to get, but always remain in control. This is a prime opportunity to channel your inner Cleopatra, Sandra Day O’Connor, Sally Ride, Beyoncé or whoever your boss lady role model happens to be.
Don’t volunteer information, such as your buying budget, trade-in value, your plans for your existing car, or financing preferences or monthly budget for car payments. I can almost guarantee that one of the first questions you’ll be asked is, “So, how much were you looking to spend per month?” Let them assume that you are going to be paying cash, or flat out tell them that you’re going to pay cash. If a salesperson tries to engage you on those topics, just say “we’ll get to that later” and keep the dialogue focused on the actual price of the car and getting it lowered.
Remember the power of “no” and be prepared to walk away at any time. This goes part and parcel with the patience tip. If you’ve been negotiating and feel like you’re hitting a wall without getting to your goal price, your most potent tactic is to politely end the negotiation. Trust me, this will almost always push the negotiation into a productive direction. They know that you may not come back and you could easily take their so-called “best offer” to another dealer and use it to negotiate a better deal there (especially since you can so easily shop around your region without leaving your home).
NEVER, EVER, EVER PAY THE MSRP STICKER PRICE! This is generally thousands of dollars more than you should ever pay. I completely ignore this price. You should too.
Your goal is to buy your car below the manufacturer’s invoice price — and by that I mean you pay 2-3% less than the invoice price on average. This is NOT the same as the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) which is what you see stuck to the car’s window and is considerably more expensive. There are other factors to consider in just how much below invoice you should target, but below invoice is a good starting point. Invoice price (aka “dealer cost”) is the price that appears on the invoice that the manufacturer sends to the dealer when the dealer receives a car from the factory.
Dealerships get rebates and other incentives from the manufacturers which they may not automatically pass on to the buyer. This means that the dealers may actually pay less than the dealer invoice price as well. So don’t feel bad if they tell you that the price you want is less than what the manufacturer charged them… that’s may not be entirely true because of the other financial kickbacks that the dealership receives.
The world is full of suckers, but you’re not one of them. That doesn’t mean you can’t capitalize on the fact that many people will not negotiate for a car and end up paying thousands of dollars above invoice. The dealership has monthly revenue targets, and they can afford to lose money on some cars in order to keep inventory moving. The money they lose on you will be balanced when those other cars get sold for bigger profits to the “suckers,” if you will.
This one is obvious, but do your homework. I prefer to search online to get some baseline numbers about prices, features, and the availability of the specific vehicles in the area. I like Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds.com, CarsDirect.com and TrueCar.com. Your ability to negotiate will be enhanced if there is enough volume of the car you’ve got in mind. But as with all supply and demand, if you are after a rare or hard to find vehicle make/model/color then your negotiating power declines and you may pay a premium for acquiring something so scarce.
Always start the buying process online. In fact, you may even prefer to complete the entire transaction online! If you’re exhausted by the very idea of having to step foot into a dealership and confront a salesperson on all of these negotiation points, then perhaps keeping the process virtual is a good idea. Nowadays it is possible to avoid the brick and mortar car dealerships entirely, whether you buy a car from eBay Motors and have it delivered to your home, or just want to conduct all questions, follow up, bargaining and payment over the relative anonymity of your computer.
Even if you still want to visit a physical dealership, you should at least get the initial bargaining out of the way in advance. Many of the dealership aggregator sites can get quotes for you, or you can reach out directly to the dealerships in your area. Most dealerships employ an Internet Sales Department and they are able to provide you with quotes just like anyone else at the dealership, except you can negotiate without visiting in person. Ask for fully itemized quotes as well as their very best “out the door” price, which is the total price for the car including all taxes and fees.
Shop around. Once you receive quotes from specific dealerships, compare them to ensure that you’ve got an apples-to-apples view. For example, there can be a big difference between a 2WD and 4WD model of the same car. Review whether any extra fees are withheld or included in price quotes. If one dealer gives you a price you like, you can email or call the quote in to another dealer to get competing offers. In some cases, you can try to push for the price you want even without a supporting quote from a dealership, but be careful not to bluff too much here as the salesperson may ask you to send a copy of the actual quote to prove that it’s legitimate.
Be open about geography and don’t settle for what is on the lot. This is one of my favorite car buying tips for women. Inventory is always changing, so don’t be discouraged if the car you want with the features you want in the color you want is not available at the dealership closest to you. In dating, geographic desirability is important. But with something as infrequent as a car purchase, distance should not be a deal breaker.
It may be worthwhile to drive a few hours to pick up your new ride, assuming you can get the lion’s share of the negotiation finished before you do so. And if you’re willing to wait a few days, a dealership can always find your car in another city or state and have it shipped in. Although it’s not their first choice, dealerships often trade inventory with one another in order to get a deal done.
Don’t be discouraged when they tell you that you’re crazy or that it can’t be done. Sometimes you’re reasonable and they just aren’t in the mood to negotiate (maybe because they already hit their personal monthly quota) so you can either try working with someone else at that dealership, or just move on to the next dealership altogether. Unless you’re negotiating for a very scarce vehicle model or color, then it almost always can be done.
Salespeople know that most buyers will cave and make concessions as long as they can be convinced that their request is unrealistic. It’s their job to make a fuss and give you all kinds of dramatic excuses and pained expressions in order to maximize the markup profit on the car and get you to agree to a higher price. As I mentioned before, the true test of whether it can be done is to politely say, “Okay, no problem, let me know if something changes” and end the communication. Chances are high that you’re going to hear from them again when they miraculously convince their manager to make an exception for you because they “like you” so much.
“I’ll think about it” is salesperson kryptonite. Even after the car salesperson has begrudgingly agreed to do the deal that you want, resist the temptation to squeal joyfully and do the Roger Rabbit around the sales floor. Say that you appreciate all of their help and their time, and that you’re very interested, but that you really need to think about it a little longer.
They might offer you something extra, or ask what they can do to get the deal done today. This is the time to brainstorm with them about the potential for free car washes or oil changes, a gas card, an extra keyless remote, and so on. Be prepared to leave and “think about the deal” if they don’t take the bait, and then wait for them to call or email about finalizing the deal. Worst case scenario, you “begrudgingly” take the deal you were perfectly happy with already.
Extended warranties and other fun stuff. When you have done the deal and it’s time to sign the final paperwork, be sure to review the details carefully. Sometimes the final bill will have a bunch of extra items on it that are itemized at an additional cost (rust protection, fabric protection, VIN etching, tinted windows, etc). Cross them out and ask for a revised total. If they push back on it, stand your ground.
Paint protection and rust proofing are total gimmicks. Ignore any scare tactics and say no as many times as necessary. The same goes for extended warranties; be firm in declining these offers unless truly necessary (like you plan to drive the car forever and it only comes with a 60K warranty from the manufacturer, or if the car is exotic or has a below-average reliability score). Extended warranties in particular are extremely overpriced (a 50% cut is not unusual commission for a dealer) and you really may not need one.
Deciding whether to trade in your current car? Think twice about trading it in to the dealership, where you are likely to get the least value. Verify the car’s potential value using Kelley Blue Book and NADA and then sell it yourself for cash via Craigslist or eBay, taking into account the average selling price of the same make, model, mileage, etc. on those websites. You can also sell to a used-car dealer such as CarMax.