A Woman’s Guide to Buying a Car (It’s more like TJ Maxx shopping than you think).

Soon after I peed on the stick, we (ok, I) started to fantasize about a bigger car. Both Dan and I drive older, compact sedans. Even a weekend trip with Sweet Pea found my Jetta stuffed as tight as my 28 weeks pregnant belly. Also, I was daydreaming of a vehicle that would not require Cirque Du Soleil caliber contortions to strap a child into her carseat, a car that was Blue Tooth enabled and could (my heart be still!) stream Pandora.

First we consulted Consumer Reports and narrowed it down to two minivans and two SUV’s. Ultimately, we decided a minivan would best suit our needs. Next, I asked Dan when he would like to go car shopping. His answer was never. He is ambivalent about new things and he hates shopping. (I think these attributes must be the diagnostic criteria for a major mental malfunction but I love him anyway). Additionally, I would be the primary driver of this car, and perhaps most importantly, Dan had not even a mild interest in haggling over price. I, on the other hand, was adamant we not waste any money paying too much for this car.

While I was not surprised by Dan’s apathy toward the purchase, I was not prepared to negotiate this car buying thing. After all, I am a woman. Everyone knows car salespeople don’t give women the time of day. In my greatest show of empowered feminism to date, I whined,

“How can you make me be in charge of this? Talking to car dealers is a man’s job!”

Dan insisted this was something I needed to handle on my own. After all, I am a thirty five year old woman, pregnant with my second child, obviously a mature woman.

So I called my dad.

Though he is notorious for having been asked to leave a car dealership for offering a ridiculous price, his negotiating skills are the stuff of family legend. I asked him for his advice and wrote down everything he said. Except the part about it being a good idea to wear “something kinda slinky.”

I wore regular maternity clothes, I took some advice from my dad, some advice from Dan, some from the internet, and I ended up with the car I wanted (a new 2014 Toyota Sienna) at a price $2300 below the invoice.

Ladies, I am here to tell you that while shopping for a car isn’t quite the same as shopping on Zappos.com or at Nordstrom, shopping is shopping. The thrill of the chase and the elation that comes with the huntress’s kill are germane to the process, no matter what you are shopping for. Think of car buying as TJ Maxx shopping meets online dating (without the six item dressing room limit or the heartache). My advice to any woman who is intimidated by the car buying process is to put your big girl panties on and go for it. I am glad I did.

Without further ado, I present:

How I Got A Sick Deal on a Car and Actually Enjoyed the Car Buying Process

1) After test driving a couple of minivans and determining which one I preferred and which options I wanted, I called every dealership within an hour’s drive and determined whether they had the type of car I wanted on the lot. They all say they can get the car you want if it’s not already there, but if they have to special order it from another dealership, you will probably not get the best deal. Once the dealership buys the car from the manufacturer, they have to pay interest on it, and they are much more motivated to sell it if it means no longer having to pay the manufacturer and making room for another car on their lot.

2) Over the phone, I asked each dealership, “What is the best price you can give me on this car?” If they told me a price that was higher than one someone else gave me, I said, “Another dealership actually quoted me X. Are you able to beat that?” Everyone I talked to was willing to give me a number over the phone except one.

3) I narrowed my search down to the three dealerships that had the car I wanted in a color that was acceptable to me. And, let’s be honest, it’s a minivan, so who cares? I was firmly opposed only to “salsa red.” All other colors were acceptable.  I told each salesperson the approximate time I planned to come in so that I could meet them in person.

4) I visited the dealerships on a day that Sweet Pea was in daycare. Even if you have to hire a sitter, beg a friend or family member for a favor, or leave your kid with the dog (just kidding!), it is more than worth it to make your car buying adventure an adult-only one.

4) I visited the three dealerships on a Wednesday, just before the end of the month. I was very clear when I arrived at each dealership that I wanted to see the car in question, that I wanted to know what their best price was, and that my next step would be to return that Friday (the last day of the month) with my husband to purchase the car. I wanted them to know that I was serious and this would be their last chance to offer me their lowest price. They have monthly quotas to meet, so the end of the month is a time when you are likely to get the best deal. I asked each salesperson to print me an invoice of the car and to write their price (not the invoice price or the MSRP, which is on the invoice, but the price they would actually sell me the car at- not including any rebates or trade-in values) and to initial or sign it.

5) Here is something interesting you should know. The salesman I liked the least (Salesman B) ended up being the one who sold us the car. Here is how that went down:

Salesman A was more than willing to write down the price and initial it. He told me this price would be good until the end of the month. He even told me straight up that since the car had been on the lot since September (this was noted on the invoice), they were itching to get it off the lot.  His price was the same as what his dealership had quoted me over email, earlier in the month. Actually, he initially gave me a higher price, but after I showed him the email their internet sales manager had sent me with the lower price, he was willing to honor that price.

Salesman B was initially not willing to tell me a price at all.  Over the phone, he had said “Just come down and I will give you the best price possible.” In person, he insisted, “I will match or beat any price” but refused to give me a number. His manager gave me the same song and dance. I went to the ladies room to pee because pregnancy =  always having to pee. In the stall, I was seething, and I contemplated returning to his cubicle to tell him, “I do not appreciate you wasting my time, making me drive all the way out here, only to give me the run around. I will not be calling you or coming here again.” (This place was nearly an hour from home). But when I emerged from the ladies room, he was waiting for me. He gave me a price that was nearly $1000 lower than the lowest price I had previously been quoted. Although he refused to write it down or initial it, I wrote it down on the invoice and he promised me he would honor it if I came back. I had to assume he was telling the truth. With Yelp and Google Reviews, it’s pretty easy to publicly trash someone’s reputation.

When I met Salesman C, he told me the price he had quoted me over the phone was his absolute lowest price. A little background on me: One of my areas for personal growth is basic math. So, when I arrived at his dealership, I had it in my head that the price Salesman B gave me was merely $70 less than Salesman C’s price (versus the actual difference- $1000 less). Meanwhile, with our whole family having been sick for days, and my being pregnant and in the throes of remarkable sleep deprivation, I said “Thank you very much, I’ll be in touch” and left without ever mentioning the price Salesman B’s price. Once I was in the car headed home, I realized my folly (though still thinking the difference was slight versus enormous). I made a U turn and returned to Salesman C with the invoice from Salesman B. I apologized sweetly for taking up more of his time and explained that I totally forgot to mention Salesman B had offered me X price. He looked at the number I had written on the invoice and muttered, “Some people want to give cars away!” I felt confident that his anger meant I was getting close to the best possible price. I assured him that if he could match this price, I would not shop any further. (I was serious. I liked this guy). But, after speaking with his manager, he told me he could not go any lower than he already had.

When I got home, I debriefed with Dan. He asked to see the invoices. And this is why everyone should marry someone smarter than them- When Dan looked at the invoices, he did the math in his head quickly and looked at me, astounded, “This is not a $70 difference. Salesman B’s price is $1000 lower than the other guys (Salesman A and C were within $50 of one another). Even though Salesman B was a much farther drive away, it was a no-brainer to buy from him at this point.

6) When we bought the car, we refused all of the extended warranty options. Each time we refused, the finance manager came back with a lower price, and/or an additional year of coverage. We still didn’t go for any of it, but if you want this, it may make sense to say no and see if they come back with a better offer. The finance manger even admitted “It’s the last day of the month so we are really trying to meet some goals.”

Other tips:

-Consult Kelly Blue Book to see what they list as a fair value for the car. Although I paid much less than this, it was one more piece of data.

– If you want extras, like heated seats or a remote starter, call Car Toys to get a rough idea of how much it would cost to install these after-market. This will give you some info about what a fair price would be if you want to negotiate these add-ons with the dealer. I ended up getting neither because Salesman B could not come down on the prices and I knew that if I was dying for them in a few months, we could get them for way cheaper at Car Toys.

– Google “Tips on Buying a Car” or “How to get the best price on a car.” I learned a lot from random articles I found on the web. Like, you have every right to see the invoice on a car. They are really hot to sell cars they’ve had on the lot for over 90 days. There is something called a dealer holdback, which means that even if you pay the invoice or even less for the car, the dealership still gets paid by the manufacturer.

– It might be worthwhile to look into having AAA buy your car for you. I think Edmund’s does this too, if you are not a AAA member. This was recommended to me, so I called a AAA agent who buys cars for people, told him what I wanted and he got back to me within a day with his best price. The dealership pays this agent’s commission, not you, and my guy took a no-pressure approach. Even though I did not buy the car through him, his best price (which was not nearly as low as the one I found) was another piece of data that let me know I was getting close to my best possible price.

I hope my tips are helpful. Do you have any tips to share? I would love to hear them in the comments.

9 thoughts on “A Woman’s Guide to Buying a Car (It’s more like TJ Maxx shopping than you think).

  1. Sarah says:

    This is great. And assertive. That’s my favorite part. 🙂 We did exactly the same thing two years ago sometimes calling other dealerships while we stood in the dealership where we test drove the car we wanted. In the end, we bought the right car at the right price and then we had it delivered. Sweeeet!

    • Pam says:

      Oooh, delivery like a pizza? I would have loved that. Giving you a bigtime girl-power-car-buying cyber high five right now!

      • Sarah says:

        Yes. For real. It was kind of awesome. And I didn’t need to tip. I still think this doesn’t beat my brother buying a BMW off of eBay 10 years ago…. but still. Pretty easy. And it’s not about negotiation that much any more, I think. It’s more about using the internet to find the best price and the person who’s most interested in selling you a car.

  2. Amy Mak says:

    My husband is the great negotiator when it comes to cars – I’m so glad he takes care of it. We’ve been driving a Honda Odyssey for almost 10 years and I am dreaming up of a newer model. 4 children have wrecked our current ride. I’m a big running fan – so glad to see you are trying. That’s all that counts 🙂

    • Pam says:

      Hi Amy! Thanks for visiting. I am sure 4 kids multiply the age of a car by at least 3 times its chronological age, regardless of mileage. And I’m not trying to run, actually! Just staying fit for now, and planning to resume running sometime this summer. And I don’t feel bad about it:)

  3. Nicole Stanley says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post..Buying a new car can be an exciting time.The Internet is the first place you must search to determine what kinds of cars you need and you can find all the information necessary to help you avoid paying too much or getting fleeced on your trade.

  4. Jessi says:

    YOU are the stuff of legends. Look out, My Favorite Uncle! There’s a new kid in town.

    I, on the other hand, was literally sweating in my seat when we bought our Subaru. I was (A) not pregnant and (B) with my husband doing (most) of the talking. He had been researching Subaru (Subari? What is the plural?) for years before we even went to look. We ended up heading to the suburbs to avoid the city dealerships.

    I absolutely hate doing this kind of thing and so does he. It took the whole day and we ended up bought a model off the floor. All in all, they wanted to get rid of the car because they were getting new models in so we got an okay deal. We probably could have done better…

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