Car buying virgin!
September 21, 2009 6:11 PM   Subscribe

Buying a used car from a dealer - what questions should I ask, what should I ask about, and what deals should I insist on so I don't get cheated?

I'm about to buy a car on my own for the first time. Out of all the ones I test drove I loved both the Toyota Matrix and the Pontiac Vibe. I liked them both equally and this isn't a question about which one I should choose, I'm not putting the year/mileage/price on here specifically for that reason. I am going to decide based on which dealership gives me a better deal. My next stop after knowing that I like how these 2 cars drive is to look around at the prices at the nearby dealerships are asking for (online as well as at the dealer) and try to get them to beat the other guy's price. Is that the correct next step?

- How much should I be willing to pay compared to the Kelly Blue Book values? $2000 less? $3000 less than kbb?
- Aside from buying from the dealer with the best price, what statements should I be saying in order to get them to lower the price? Stuff like "some of the buttons in the car are peeling and there's a scratch, I don't feel like it's in good enough condition to justify this price" or do I pretend I am not interested and walk away to get them to lower the price? All my friends are telling me to "play the game" and I've just never done anything like this, so any tips are appreciated!
- Is it worth having a male friend come along just so the salesman doesn't think he can take advantage of me as a girl? I feel like even going to get my car fixed I get different responses whether I'm alone or with a male friend.
- If I finance the car, does the dealer really get a bonus from the bank? If yes, how do I get them to reduce the price of the car for that amount?
- Do I need to know which bank I would use to finance it? What's a good interest rate now, in NYC/NJ?
- If I officially live in NY and I'm buying the car in NJ, anyone know which sales tax I pay? If I have to pay the NY one is it worth asking if the dealer would take the difference off the price of the car?

As you can see, I am clueless as this is my first experience, and out of the dealers I did talk to today, most of them were exactly the way I expected them to be - they seemed sleazy, like they were ready to take advantage of me and not listen to me and just talk over me. So any tips of how to talk to them and exactly what to say and do to get them to lower the price would be appreciated.
posted by KateHasQuestions to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Don't Get Taken Every Time is a popular and well-respected book on the topic.
posted by box at 6:23 PM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Some general tips:

Definitely ignore Kelly Blue Book values. has more realistic prices.

Arranging financing beforehand through your own bank or credit union is usually a much, much better idea.

The Pontiac Vibe / Toyota Matrix is a pretty common car, so it's not like you can't just walk away if you don't like the feeling at a dealership.

Don't go into the dealer's office and sit down at a desk unless you've already decided you want to buy the car and they have offered you the price you want.

If it's used, it's ESSENTIAL to make sure it has a clear title.

And yeah, reading that book would be worthwhile.
posted by dacoit at 6:37 PM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh and yes, if you can, bring a friend who has some experience in this area, and yeah, who is male. It's sad but it's true, that will probably make a difference in the way you're treated.
posted by dacoit at 6:40 PM on September 21, 2009

Confessions of a Car Salesman -- more geared for new cars, but good info nonetheless. I believe I found the link here on MeFi.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 6:44 PM on September 21, 2009

(The bit about "...up to?" is especially illuminating)
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 6:46 PM on September 21, 2009

You ARE aware the Vibe and Matrix are almost the same car, right?

Definitely track down a car nerd and bring them shopping. In fact, find a car nerd and figure out who they'd take with them, and take that person (expert's expert). I can't stress this enough. You wouldn't buy a house without consulting an expert on whether that house had major problems, would you? And heck, in terms of repairs, a car is probably a bigger money sink than a house.
posted by paanta at 7:01 PM on September 21, 2009

This video (5min, very entertaining) about car buying has a lot of good information and strategy to cut through the crap and get the best price:

Rob Gruhl - How to Buy a New Car - Ignite Seattle 2007
posted by jpeacock at 7:15 PM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

A great comment from 2006.
posted by Paragon at 7:17 PM on September 21, 2009

Yes, they will try to hose you more as a woman alone, not that they don't try to hose guys too. Consider taking a guy friend. You could even use your pal as a prop and pretend to be the helpless woman when secretly you're not. But that's advanced spycraft, so be careful! An interesting experiment would be to go to two dealers of the same type of car you don't actually want and try negotiating once solo and once with a guy friend and see if things go differently. Not scientific, but might be insightful anyway. Plus practice is great. You can practice with full confidence since you know you're not actually buying it. The one time I made a salesman totally capitulate was when I had actually decided against buying a particular car and he thought I was bargaining. I was like, "no, seriously, I've decided. I'm going with the VW instead, just wanted to let you know." Bingo!

This guy gives a 6 minute overview
of some techniques to make the sales people play your game instead of vice versa. According to him, not being in a hurry is your best advantage. The sales people don't want to see you leave, so make 'em sweat. Make them reel you back with either better offers or recison of previous sneaky moves. On preview, this is the same as jpeacock's link.

It's been a while since I bought a car, but a while back, a trick was to call up the fleet manager and negotiate a deal over the phone so that you bypass the salesman and just walk in to pick it up, deal already done. Another was to call a number of dealers, tell them you're looking for who can give you the best price, and let them compete. I imagine they've had time to get wise to the former by now, but maybe the latter is still worth trying.
posted by Askr at 7:22 PM on September 21, 2009

You only pay taxes in the state your register the car and in NY the taxes get paid at the DMV at the time of registration.

Go to Edmunds and find out the trade in value - that's your target. While you are at it read the reviews at Edmunds and here to find out what you are getting into - that's the one real benefit of buying used, you get to find out if the model is a lemon or a peach.

Don't fall in love with any car, it's just a machine and if you can't get it at the price you want there will be another - better car - on another lot waiting for you next week, patience is your friend when purchasing a used car. Missing maintenance records or owner's manual, strange tire wear patterns or mismatched tires, bent rear license plate, and incorrect fluids or fluid levels are all bad signs with any used car. Bring this checklist with you.
posted by any major dude at 7:23 PM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding what Paragon said.
posted by ellenaim at 7:57 PM on September 21, 2009

Have the car inspected by a mechanic. Not their mechanic, but a mechanic that you are paying for.
posted by fieldtrip at 8:45 PM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

What fieldtrip said - this is essential - get it inspected. Some dealers will want you to have agreed on a price before they'll let you take a car to an outside mechanic, some will be helpful about transporting car to/from a mechanic. You may have to leave a deposit but don't skip this step!
posted by leslies at 4:53 AM on September 22, 2009

Once you have a car you think you will buy (if the mechanical inspection checks out) negotiate a price before borrowing the car overnight. I made the mistake of not doing that earlier this year. When I came back the next day with only a couple of minor issues with the car my negotiating position was poor because they knew at that point I wanted the vehicle. I still got a good deal as it was a great time to be buying a used SUV, but I probably could have done a little better if I had negotiated a contingent deal before I took the truck home for the night.
posted by COD at 5:56 AM on September 22, 2009

ALWAYS be willing to walk away. Even over the most tiny, petty little thing. If this dealer won't give it to you, another one will. It helps that they're totally desperate right now.

Use Edmunds/KBB to find the "invoice price" of the car. Then, dig your heels in, and don't pay more than the invoice price + $1000 or so. The $1000 is what the dealership "makes" on the car, before "dealer holdbacks" and other maker/dealer incentives. That constitutes a "fair price" on the car.

Do not let them talk you into any aftermarket or dealer-installed options. If you want a DIO, you should be the one to ask them for it, *after* negotiating the total price of the car. (For example, if a dealer tells you that they aren't allowed to sell you a car without an alarm system, walk right out of there.)

Unfortunately, if you're leasing, the math just gets fuzzy in a way that's never helpful to you. When you lease, you need to basically come up with a monthly amount that you're comfortable with paying, and start bargaining from about $50/month less than that. And, when leasing, NEVER put any money down on the car up front, aside from the tax and title fees imposed by the state (which must be paid at purchase).

I've found that, at least here in the NY area, I've always gotten better deals on financing from the dealer than from my bank or any other credit outfit. However, my experience seems to be exceptional and unusual. It's always good to get a good non-dealership credit line for your car if you're buying. If you're leasing, then you're basically stuck with what the dealership can provide.

This is mostly "new car" advice. For used cars, I agree that you should have your own trusted mechanic inspect the car for fitness. Also, use Carfax. It's cheap information insurance against, say, buying a car that's been submerged in water, been totalled and rebuilt, traded for scrap, etc. These are all Very Bad Things. And, continue to use the edmunds/KBB price as an anchor for digging your heels in.

Good luck! Let us know if you get a good deal!
posted by Citrus at 8:23 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ask how they acquired the car.
posted by Zambrano at 10:59 AM on September 22, 2009

Have the car inspected by a mechanic. Not their mechanic, but a mechanic that you are paying for.

QFT. Essential. If they refuse, or try to make you an offer, saying "I'l give it to you for X if we can conclude this deal now" RUN, DON'T WALK AWAY.
posted by lalochezia at 9:43 PM on September 22, 2009

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