Tried a "Car Concierge" to buy a used car. Didn't go well. Now what?
February 5, 2013 7:04 AM   Subscribe

I need to buy a used car. I hate the process, am afraid of dealerships, and am easily talked into things — so I hired a "car concierge" buying service to do this for me. But it didn't work out like I thought and I felt pressured to spend more than I wanted. Should I give up? If so, how do I deal with buying a used car, when it completely freaks me out?

Back in November, I hired a "car concierge" to handle the purchase of a used car for me. They charge a flat fee. So far I have paid a $200 deposit. The total fee is something closer to $600-$700 (and they typically save you at least that much in the negotiation process). I wanted to spend between $5K-$8K for something like a wagon or smaller SUV. I barely drive, and it's purely for recreational purposes. I also live in a gritty urban neighborhood and don't want to put anything too nice or new out on the street where I'd be parking it.

I thought the concierge would a) present me with some options, b) let me pick one, c) handle the negotiations all by the deadline we'd set of four weeks. All along he was skeptical of my price range and was asking me to spend more. At first he encouraged me to lease, which I rejected. He did present me with some options at first, I chose one (a Toyota Matrix for $8K) but it failed the inspection process. Then, he tried to get me in one of his clients' cars (a sedan I never wanted), and then tried to talk up my price range to $11K. He keeps emphasizing, like a condescending dad or something, that he "doesn't want to put me in anything that is unsafe," etc., but I feel like he's not listening to what I really want. When I sent him an email about a month ago, listing specific used cars I found online that I liked, and reemphasizing that I was OK with a car with higher mileage since I barely drive, but really wanted to stay in the target price range, he didn't respond to the email at all and called me back present was another Matrix for $11K with 60K miles, and I've been stalling, because it really is more than I want to spend. But as I said, I'm easily talked into things.

I think I want to fire the guy, but I am TERRIFIED of dealing with car dealerships and think no matter what I do on my own I'll be taken advantage of. I also want this process to end quickly! I really wanted to have a car by now and it's causing some additional stress not to have one available. I have no family nearby that can help, and don't want to lean on friends to do this for me.

What should I do? Fire the car concierge? Go back to him one last time with firm criteria? Find another car concierge? Buck up and just deal with some sleazy used car dealer? Buy from a private owner? I hate all of this and just want it to end. And I want a car.
posted by amoeba to Shopping (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a Carmax in your area? I've bought all my cars there. The process is completely painless and open - their inventory (with prices) is listed on their website, you pick what you want, go in and drive it to test it out, and pay whatever the price is. No negotiating by anyone.
posted by something something at 7:07 AM on February 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

To be quite honest, your price range is not amenable to using a car buying service. Generally, concierges are more interested in the "new/nearly new luxury" market than the "moderately used utilitarian" market. The profit in your area is too low and the quality is too inconsistent to ensure that you will be happy with your vehicle. It was very unprofessional for the concierge not to tell you that from the beginning - perhaps he thought he'd be able to upsell you more into his desired price range. Either way, I don't think you'll get what you want from the concierge (and he should already have told you that).

Normally, I don't really like services like Carmax. You will be overcharged and hence, it's not "painless" as something2 indicates - you just don't notice the pain. Howeve, if you really hate car dealerships as much as you say, it might be right for you.

If you do want a better deal than Carmax (and you should; we're talking about thousands of dollars here!), then working with a private seller is probably the way to go. Don't consider it negotiation - consider it a statement, "I will buy this car for $x - does that work for you?" If the answer is yes, buy the car. If the answer is no, walk away. Most private sellers are similarly not interested in negotiation and will simply honestly tell you if your price works or not. If the seller is going for a hard sell, I would be a bit untrusting of them anyway. You can simply walk away from those sellers.
posted by saeculorum at 7:25 AM on February 5, 2013

Is it possible that the concierge is trying to tell you that there are no suitable cars in your price range, and that you'll have to spend more to get the make/model you want?

In terms of alternatives, if you have access to a credit union that uses Autoland, I bought a used car there painlessly. I looked online at their inventory, called my local rep and told them what I was looking for and my approximate budget, and within a week, there was a suitable car in my area. The test drive, financing paperwork, and call to the insurance company to arrange coverage were completed at the credit union in under an hour--no pressure, no haggling.
posted by serialcomma at 7:28 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your car concierge sounds like a schmuck. You said you want to fire him; once you feel that way it's over. It may be that there's not a car in your price range but they should have told you that up front, before they took your $200.
posted by Nelson at 7:39 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Okay, buying a car is not an invitation for you to get hosed. It's just something you don't do all that frequently.

Don't go to a sleezy used car lot, go to a reputable dealer in your area. Ask friends and co-workers who have purchased cars how they felt about their dealers. Go to the ones that get a thumbs up.

You will not best a dealer, it just won't happen, but you can come away unscathed and very happy with your purchase.

The reason people used to have a hard time negotiating was that there was an information parity issue. The dealer knew everything about everything about the price of the car and the consumer didn't really have a lot of understanding about it. Now we have the internet and we can ALL see the man behind the curtain.

Check out, (Kelly Blue Book) and Hell, download the apps on your phone so you can check as you go.

So, here are the Ruthless Bunny tips to balancing the scales and not getting ripped off on a car deal.

1. Fix your budget and have your financing in place BEFORE you go in to deal. If you're paying cash, AWESOME! If you're financing, have that in place, but be open to dealer financing, as sometimes they can do some neat things.

2. Don't fall in love and don't be afraid to walk away if you feel pressured or uncomfortable. We're trained not to hurt people's feelings, but this is a transaction with money, nothing more. If the salesperson is playing games, keeping you too long, or otherwise making you crazy, get up and walk out.

3. They will offer you a beverage or some small thing of value, only take it if you believe that you won't feel obligated to buy an $8,000 car in exchange for a .50 cent Pepsi.

4. Know exactly what you want when you go in. If you want to test drive a certain auto, take it out for a test drive. Tell them expressly that you won't buy until you're done with your process and after the car has been inspected by YOUR mechanic. No matter what they offer by way of waranty, have the car hooked up and inspected by a mechanic you trust.

5. Take someone intimidating with you. I'll go if you live in Atlanta. I love buying cars, I'll go with you. You want someone who will cool your jets, help you stick to your plan and if you feel uncomfortable, will happily cock-block the sales-person who is asking, "So what can I do to get you into this auto today?"

6. Ignore the dire predictions of the car's imminant sale to some other buyer. There are plenty of cars out there.

7. Once you're in the finance manager's office, decline an extended waranty, Gap insurance, etch, and undercoating. No Add-Ons. If you're financing, you can buy Gap Insurance (covers the difference between what the car is worth and what you owe in case you have an accident;) and/or if you want an extended warranty, you can buy them separately directly from the company and save a shit-ton of money.

8. Review the dealer's inventory before you go. When you get on the lot, say, "I want to look at this car, the 2008, Toyota Matrix, VIN Number XXXXXXXXX." That lets them know that you know what you want and you're not dicking around.

9. If you're buying from a private party, INSIST on having a mechanical inspection. Also be sure to get an accurate bill of sale, and have the transaction notarized, you can do this at the bank or any UPS store.

10. Get the Carfax!

This is not a process to fear, this is something to conquer. YOU have all the power in this negotiation because at any time you can say no and leave. It's YOUR money. Yes, it's stressful, but once you do it, you will feel like a million bucks and suddenly, you can say no to anyone who asks you to do something you don't want to do.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:40 AM on February 5, 2013 [33 favorites]

Best answer: In your price range, I would be looking at private sellers rather than used car lots. Private sellers generally don't want trouble, they just want to move the vehicle. The best thing you can do for yourself in this situation is have a mechanic that you trust. For example, when we bought our 1997 truck, we told the seller we would buy the truck contingent on it passing an MD state inspection. Our guy we trust did the inspection, and everyone walked away happy.

It was pretty painless, and in fact the seller was as nervous about getting scammed as we were. And like others have said — if you feel bad, walk away. There are a million other cars in the sea.
posted by mindsound at 7:54 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have been on both sides of the private-seller transaction, at the sort of price range you're talking about, and like mindsound says, I've found it pretty painless. You should feel comfortable walking away if you get a weird feeling about the person, and of course you need to get the car checked out by a trusted mechanic. But both times there was very little haggling and I don't think anyone (buyer or seller) was trying to screw anyone else over. We just wanted to exchange cars for money as quickly as possible.

If you start looking at cars on craigslist or the classifieds you're going to interact with some scammers but they're mostly pretty obvious.
posted by mskyle at 9:05 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Based on my experience, I advise the following for the "everyday person" such as myself who hates buying cars:

- do your research online, dealer websites, etc. and pick the cars you are interested in
- see what those cars are worth through several popular online avenues
- eat a filling, satisfying dinner
- have absolutely nothing to do or get back to that night
- last Saturday night of the month, go to the dealer no earlier than 1 hour before closing time
- show partial interest in the car you like
- say, you like the car but "can't afford" to the numbers they quote you
- have a face saving offer ready, tell them then that you are ready to buy tonight, and present it when it's shortly past closing time
- good chance they will accept at that point (after telling you how they "can't afford to eat tonight"). Most want to just get out of there to enjoy the one day they have off in the week. MeMail if you require more details.
posted by Kruger5 at 9:21 AM on February 5, 2013 [8 favorites]

When I was looking for a used car a few years ago I subscribed to CARFAX.COM for a month, looked for the type of car I wanted in my price range within 25 miles of me. Carfax was worth it, I got a great deal from a dealer, amazingly, probably because car has minor cosmetic issues. I've driven it around 75,000 miles with no problems, which is pretty awesome for a $5,000. car.
posted by mareli at 10:31 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would recommend spending some hours researching any car you are thinking about getting. My best tool.
Be creative with your searching. price compare, not just different cars, but the same car from different areas. There is also advance search, which gives your a bit more options, although it can sometimes appear small, & hidden. The regular search tools do wonders.

Good Luck.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 1:10 PM on February 5, 2013

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