car buying for people apathetic towards cars
June 16, 2017 10:26 AM   Subscribe

I hate car shopping but I'm in the market for a used car and there's no way around it. Please tell me: * how to deal with aggressive car sales folk * How to find a car that hits the sweet spot between super reliable and reasonable cost Car will be mostly used for city driving and occasional road trips.
posted by bunderful to Shopping (32 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a Costco near you? I haven't used the service personally (I don't drive) but I am told that Costco will do the legwork and present you with a list of options you can take or leave, although this might be only for new cars.
posted by Tamanna at 10:38 AM on June 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Carmax is made for people like you. No haggle pricing. Find a car that meets your needs, and then find one at a Carmax near you. Their entire inventory is online.
posted by rachelpapers at 10:51 AM on June 16, 2017 [21 favorites]

Can't make specific recommendations on cars unless we know how many people you need to carry around. Not a lot? A Honda Fit ticks many boxes that you describe.
posted by rachelpapers at 10:52 AM on June 16, 2017

Buy a used rental car!

I just (back in March) bought a car from Enterprise and was very pleased with the whole experience. All the cars available are in great shape and have been well maintained, none of them are flashy, and there's no pressure or haggling. You go in, tell them what you want (reliable, reasonable car for city driving and occasional road trips) and they'll go through cars with you until you find the one you want.

For me, I had already looked on the Enterprise website of available cars and found exactly the car I wanted, a low mileage Subaru wagon that was in a lot in Indiana that would need to be shipped to me. The salesfolks in Chicago pulled a few cars off their lot (one that sat as low to the ground as the Subaru with similar blind spots, one that had the same body length as the Subaru) to give me an idea of what the car I wanted was like, so I could make sure I knew what I was getting since it was pretty different from the car I had been driving before.

All in all, a very easy zero-pressure experience that I'd recommend to others in a heartbeat.

p.s. Learned about used rental cars right here on mefi, as evangelized by Eyebrows McGee who had a positive experience with Hertz.
p.p.s. If you decide to talk to Enterprise, memail me so you can give them my name, they give anyone who refers buyers to them $100.

posted by phunniemee at 11:00 AM on June 16, 2017 [10 favorites]

AAA also has a car-buying service (note: that's the California link, you may need to check your own region), including bringing them to you to test drive. I just found out about this on AskMe a few weeks ago.

See also: How to buy a car by email.

If I was buying used, I'd either use the AAA service or Carmax. All my introvert friends rave about them, and they've all gotten good solid cars out of the deal.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:01 AM on June 16, 2017

I dealt with aggressive car sales folk by never setting foot in a showroom until I'd picked out the actual car and agreed on a price. The following is assuming you're looking for a new car, not used.

- Narrow down your desired makes and models by price, reliability ratings, whatever's important to you.
- Rent a few cars for a few hours from Zipcar or similar. This is your test drive.
- Find out which dealers nearby have the one you want, or can get it from another dealer.
- Do your research on pricing
- Ignore the listed price on the dealer websites and email them (do not give them your phone number) with an offer (let's say $20,000) They come back with $24,000. You respond with Dealer X offered $22,000, can they match that? Etc. Tell them goodbye at any time, and they'll chase after you if they can go lower.
- When you've agreed on a price, find out when they can have the car ready. Go into the showroom, look at the car to make sure it matches what they put on the website, sign a bunch of paperwork, and drive off.
- Block emails from all the other dealers. They will email you forever.

Emailing gives you time to think without pressure as well as getting the offer in writing. They will try to get you to talk on the phone or come in - don't' do this.
posted by AFABulous at 11:03 AM on June 16, 2017 [9 favorites]

I know a few people who swear by CarMax.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:03 AM on June 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding Carmax. You won't get a rock bottom price there, buy you won't get ripped off either.
posted by COD at 11:13 AM on June 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Most of the time I will be the only person in the car. Occasionally I might have a single passenger
posted by bunderful at 11:15 AM on June 16, 2017

I've sold multiple cars to Carmax, and the people there are really great. I bought two Saturns in the 90s just because of the (Saturn dealer) buying experience, and Carmax seems basically the same... totally non-aggressive and low-pressure.
posted by Huck500 at 11:15 AM on June 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

In your shoes I would go to Carmax and buy a Honda Fit and be done thinking about the problem.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:19 AM on June 16, 2017 [8 favorites]

And yeah, Honda Fit is the stock answer for this question. Don't know your budget, but I'd probably look for one between $10k and $15k and under 50k miles.
posted by Huck500 at 11:30 AM on June 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Agree with Carmax. We've purchased our last 2 cars there and it was super easy. As others have said, there are also super low-hassle services through a few providers now that find the best deal for you. Costco, USAA and lots of credit unions will take care of locating the car for you at a very, very competitive price.

If you go the traditional dealer route. True Car will give you much better price transparency so you can be secure you're getting a good deal.
posted by goggie at 11:32 AM on June 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Nthing a Honda Fit, but Fits really hold on to their value, which is great once you have it, but not so great looking for one used. It's not a great used buyer's market, at least not around me. On the plus side, dealers seem to be really incentivized to get them out the door, likely to create lifetime Honda customers. Markups are pretty minuscule (if extant at all) from what I can tell. We've had ours (manual LX) for a month and really dig it.
posted by supercres at 11:36 AM on June 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

OK, carmax does seem legit. But if you go to a "normal" place, I have a suggestion that is rude and aggressive, and is intended to manipulate a person. Since 100% of auto salespeople I've ever interacted with are also rude, aggressive, and manipulative I think it's fair game. Here goes:

Tell them the wrong first name when they ask it. But make it something similar. If your name is Alan tell them it's Alvin. They will most likely call you Alvin about a million times. It's stupid trick that's supposed to make you think they are your friend rather than your adversary. Literally every car seller has done this name-thing with me. And after the nth+1 time they call you Alvin, and maybe you're getting close to a deal, you get real offended.

"You know, this deal stinks. And you can't even get my name right. It's ALAN, dammit! I'm beginning to think you don't even care about me. Maybe I should just leave... I bet they treat customers right over at the next car seller... "

And then try to contain your laughter while they spin and sputter trying to apologize and make concessions. At this point, their confidence is wrecked, and you will have a much better time with them.

Also, make sure you go at the end of a calendar month, or better yet, fiscal year, when everyone is extra desperate for sales/commissions to top off the ledgers.
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:53 AM on June 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

Wifey is like you: when we had a car die this spring, we went car shopping, and by the third dealer wifey was ready to buy anything to avoid shopping any more. Through patient guidance I was able to persuade her to continue looking, and we found the perfect vehicle for us.

My advice on pushy/skeevy car salesmen: unless you're in a small town with only one or two dealers, if someone gives you a bad vibe just walk away. They're preying on your patience and the standard expectations of human interaction in order to manipulate you into doing what they want. If they give you a vibe that they're not going to be helpful, just leave, go to another dealer. They don't even deserve a 'thanks, bye!', just walk away, any discomfort with rudeness can be ignored and discarded. Your time is better spent finding the right dealer along the way of your search for the right car.
posted by AzraelBrown at 11:58 AM on June 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

In addition to the afore mentioned Costco negotiation program, many credit unions offer something similar. As with CarMax, you probably won't get the absolute bottom price but avoiding the headaches of dealing with negotiations can make it worth it.
posted by Candleman at 12:04 PM on June 16, 2017

So, about Carmax: they have their inventory online, which is helpful. But you can also go to the lot and walk around, and look at a bunch of different cars and sit in them. Only once you pick something you'd like to test drive do you really have to start interacting with a sales guy, and even then it's a fixed price. So if you don't already know what make/model/type of car you want, go walk around and check some out.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 12:24 PM on June 16, 2017

I bought new, but I imagine this would work used as well. As others have mentioned above, I knew exactly what I wanted before I went in. I also secured financing before I went in. I got the name of the finance manager (I do *not* talk to a car sales guy), told him the make and model I wanted, gave him vague details about the financing I already had, and asked if he could get me a better deal. He started to do a little bit of an upsell dance to a different model, I told him "thanks but no thanks", and turned around and started walking away. He stopped me, said "ok, you know what you want, I respect that" and sent me out for a test drive "to make sure" while he crunched the numbers. He got me a much better deal on the financing than I'd come in with (yay!), but tried to upsell the extended warrantly (boo). Again with the walk-away and stop and the better offer.

I left with the car, the warranty (he gave me more for my trade to compensate; the bottom line - not the monthly payment but the actual total), and a free remote start. And they gained some loyalty, because I will 100% go back there (and play the same game) when I'm ready to buy again.

tl;dr - always be willing to walk away, and talk to finance instead of sales if you can.
posted by okayokayigive at 12:28 PM on June 16, 2017

There was an Ask Metafilter comment (or maybe it was just a Metafilter comment) that had a lot of great car-buying advice. I just failed to find it, though, but this piece from The Toast has pretty similar advice.

Of course, you have to know what kind of car you want, or at least what category of car. I bought a 2013 Chevy Spark last year and I pretty closely followed the process in The Toast piece (I also contacted dealers about the Mazda 3, Nissan Versa and something else? It wasn't a Fit because they were slightly out of my price range for the model year(s) I wanted and honestly, I find the Fit to be slightly too big for me). I didn't have to negotiate because the Spark was the price I aiming for anyway (and the out-the-door total was less than the Kelly Blue Book value so I felt good about it). Also, it was the end of June and I think they were trying to clear cars out before the end of the quarter. (That doesn't give you that much time to shop if you're starting from scratch, but I'm pretty sure I started the process around now and had a car about a week later.)

I've been really happy with my Spark. It has a few quirks (some of the sensors seem sensitive to moisture, for instance) but in a year, all I've done, other than oil changes, is replace the tires (because I think the tires that were on it were the original ones and I had the money). I've gotten gas mileage as high as 38-39 on the highway. In the city, it's much lower (25-28, depending) but I'm really only using it for short trips.

It may be smaller than what you're looking for, though, but I am a fan of tiny hatchbacks.
posted by darksong at 12:37 PM on June 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Nthing doing as much of it online as possible. This is roughly what I did the last time I was buying a car and it worked well:

Figure out a few models you're interested in and identify which local dealerships sell that model. Using online reviews (yelp), figure out which dealerships are the lowest-pressure, and use email to set up a time to test-drive that model (you can also just walk in, but they don't always have used models on-site, so it's best to set up a time). When you get there, be very clear that you are absolutely not in a position to buy the car that day. Don't say "I'm not planning to buy a car today," say "I can't buy a car today." If they ask you why, say something vague like "oh, life stuff." Any reason you give is just something for them to try to work around.

Once you've decided on a car, use online calculators (like Edmunds, and there are a bunch of other services out there whose names I can't remember) to figure out how much you should pay for the car based on year, model, miles, etc. Before you go buy the car, if you are financing it, try to arrange your financing through your bank, since the financing stage is where they try to extract as much money from you as possible (they might actually offer you better terms than your bank, but it's helpful to go in with financing already - give them terms to try and beat).

Once you know how much you are willing to pay, email the dealership and do your negotiating over email. Make your offer and stick to it until they offer you a price you are willing to pay. They will probably try to get you to come in, or entice you to buy a different model (one that's more expensive or they're trying to offload). It's easier to resist pressure over email, so just politely reiterate your offer.

This is a lot of work, but it really can save you money. I see folks suggesting car negotiation programs, but I think those are mostly for new cars (I could be wrong).

Oh, one other thing: if you are buying used, it can be hard to find the exact model year you want to test drive ahead of time, since dealerships will do things like list cars that they don't actually have at their lots, etc. So you may need to test drive a new model, which is fine if you're ultimately planning on buying a late-model used which will be pretty similar. But if you're buying a used car without a warranty (ie, it's not certified pre-owned), definitely do not buy it without getting it checked by a trustworthy mechanic, no matter what the dealership says, or what paperwork they show you. It's not worth the risk!

Actually, I lied, there's one more thing: if you are in the early research stage and you are not ready to deal with car dealerships yet but there's a model you're interested in, see if it's available as a zipcar near you. I did this with a few models and it's how I discovered that I actually hated the Honda Fit despite its rave reviews. You can also go to a local rental car agency and see if they have any of the models you're interested in and rent one for the day.
posted by lunasol at 12:56 PM on June 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

To get yourself in the mood, listen to the "129 Cars" episode of This American Life. It's great.
posted by CheeseLouise at 1:52 PM on June 16, 2017

This brilliant comment by cebailey about buying a car by email is probably the one darksong is thinking of. It is indeed quite similar to the advice by The Toast.
posted by danceswithlight at 2:29 PM on June 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

Agreed on buying a used rental car! We bought one from Hertz about 18 months ago and it was soooo painless. (It was a Nissan Versa Note, which is similar to a Honda Fit; we like it quite a bit — it's fuel-efficient and nimble). What you're missing is the haggling, but then who are we kidding? We, the buyers, are not usually the expert hagglers. We're not really going to talk anyone down a meaningful amount. So when people think they're missing out on getting that magical unknown super-awesome price through haggling, they're just really not thinking very clearly.
posted by Mo Nickels at 3:09 PM on June 16, 2017

Wow, if I hadn't bought a vehicle there myself, I'd assume that this question was being brigaded by CarMax sockpuppet bots.

But, yeah, nthing CarMax. Easy to work with and no pressure.
posted by Hatashran at 3:11 PM on June 16, 2017

Used rental car is great, I stumbled into it because of the brilliant advice to rent the kind of car I wanted to buy so I could try it out for the weekend with my kids' car seats in it, and discovered I could RENT THE SPECIFIC CAR I WANTED TO BUY and if I liked it, keep and and start doing the paperwork online to purchase it, and if I didn't, return it and pay the rental fee and be done. No haggling, and I got a significant % off bluebook because of the "used rental car" stigma. My mechanic thought it was in great shape. It has a few cosmetic issues (some dings and scratches) but I have three kids so LIKE I CARE, I don't even remember which ones came with the car and which ones my kids did last week.

The rental car fleet is very much "super-reliable, reasonable cost" so you'll have a lot of choices about 2-3 years old in that sort of car.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:28 PM on June 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

One piece of non-CarMax advice:

At least consider financing the car in some way that does not involve the dealer. Credit unions and other smaller banks offer car loans. Check it out and compare rates against whatever the dealer is offering, assuming you are using some form of loan to buy the car. In my experience, dealers will try to "make up" whatever concessions they give you on the price by messing around with the terms of the financing. People are so focused on the top-line price but dealers are very focused on the entire package, including financing.
posted by Mid at 3:30 PM on June 16, 2017

Re rental cars, I worked for one of the chains back in college and would recommend the everyday type sedan cars. Rare that those would be driven hard. However the specialty stuff especially sports cars would often be beaten to shit.

Everything got scheduled maintenance and regular inspections.
posted by aerotive at 5:59 PM on June 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am the happy owner of a Honda Fit bought at Carmax! I did test drive other cars and had a really positive experience at Carmax where they went above and beyond to get me my car in time. Highly recommended.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:23 PM on June 16, 2017

If possible do not finance a used car. If you have to, never do it through the dealer. Most ideas car dealers are actually in the ripoff loan business. Cars are just a path to those sweet profits.

CarMax is fine. You pay a bit more but for most people you make up the difference in saved time.

Don't bother trying to out-game a used car dealer, they are professional liars. Also they don't care about your name.

Do not buy an extended warranty from anyone.

Honda Fits are super reliable and the most boring and unengaging and to me also uncomfortable cars ever made to drive. If you like driving or do a lot of it you're better off getting a Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Ford Focus, or Mazda3, or if subcompact, a Ford Fiesta/Mazda2 or Toyota Yaris. If you want the official car of people who don't like driving or cars (Mefi!) a Fit is a great joint and it will never let you down. Or thrill you.

Avoid all Fiat/Chrysler, Mini Cooper, and VW products if you aren't a car person who knows what you're getting into.

Insist on a CarFax accident report. Have the car inspected by a mechanic. Always. Every time.

Pay cash. If you can't afford to pay cash buy cheaper. If you can't afford a reliable car in cash, finance through a credit union or bank, the least amount possible. You are buying a rapidly depreciating asset, not an investment.
posted by spitbull at 4:46 AM on June 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: This follow-up comment might be too late, but I'd also appreciate some advice on selecting makes and models. I've looked at lists of reliable cars, etc, but it's all pretty overwhelming. A while back I found an online tool (which of course I can't find now) that provided a complicated questionnaire for users to complete and then told them what car to buy. It was annoying in that it asked a lot of questions about things I do not even know about, much less care about, but it did allow me to rate the importance of each feature.
posted by bunderful at 5:41 AM on June 17, 2017

Just remembered that the last car I bought was a former lease. It had less than 5k miles in and got the full once-over by the dealer before handing it over. I don't recall the details anymore but it was a very good deal. Not as easy as a CarMax or Saturn situation would be but if you use some of the tactics listed above you'd be Okay.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:46 AM on June 17, 2017

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