Can a geek girl buy her own car without getting screwed?
December 29, 2006 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Buying my first car as a female engineer -- do I need a male buddy to go with me?

Within the next six months I'll probably be buying a new Honda Civic. I've done a bunch of research on the car itself, and I know what features, trim level, and accessories I want. I have a decent idea of how the finances will work, though I plan to consult more extensively with my father (a financial planner) first to figure out loan issues.

That said, I am a 22-year-old female who is also an engineer. I hear horror stories of women being screwed over by car people (dealers, mechanics, etc) and my mother, a kickass woman in her own right, will not go do car things without making sure she has her wedding ring on to show that a guy has "approved" what she's doing ... but as an engineer I feel like I know enough about cars (and about the specific one I want) that I'll be okay. Then again, maybe I just know enough to be dangerous, and I shouldn't let pride get in the way.

Knowing that they'll try to screw me no matter what, which of the following would probably have the best outcome?

1) I go by myself, after having done research (yes, I've seen this) and bringing along with me all relevant information I can find.
2) I bring along my boyfriend, though he is probably on the same level of car knowledge as me, and I would dominate the conversation at any rate.
3) I bring along a friend of mine who is a car guy, who would be more likely to dominate the conversation and confidently argue with the dealer.

Other relevant info: I live in Boston, and I have recommendations from coworkers on a few dealerships to shop around at, but the coworkers are all male and cannot speak to the gender issues.
posted by olinerd to Shopping (41 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I dont think car knowledge has anything to do with buying a car. When I had to do this I brought it the toughest negotiator I knew. Impressing the salesman with technical knowledge isnt going to make him give you the proper price break. Salesmen do respone better to men, and if costs you nothing to bring a dude to just look surley, then why not?

If youre going for some pricinpiled protest why not vote for your dollars and give business to one of those "one price only" dealerships?
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:51 AM on December 29, 2006 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Motley Fool recommends you don't go buy a new car. Instead, they suggest you fax a list of exactly what car you want and features and make it clear that that's *only* what you want and will pay for and tell them you've faxed X other dealers and you'll be down tomorrow to buy the one from the person who has the best price and that they don't get a second shot at submitting a price.

I've never tried it (I'd never buy a new car), but it certainly sounds like it would work.

Sounds ideal in your situation. You wouldn't even have to put your first name on the fax, just O. Linerd or whatever.
posted by dobbs at 8:55 AM on December 29, 2006 [3 favorites]

I second the advice above. I don't think you necessarily need to being a guy with you, but anyone who has a good grasp on the whole "car buying" process would be a definite plus. In fact, when my wife and I recently bought a car, I let her do all the talking a negotiating and she was a real champ. She knows about that stuff much better than I.

Find someone who knows how to negotiate and someone who won't be intimidated by a car salesman. Then, take them out for a nice dinner in your new wheels!
posted by punkrockrat at 8:56 AM on December 29, 2006

I felt the same way the first time I went to buy a new car on my own (I'm a girl, it was a Civic too).

I knew exactly the car I wanted, and I knew from research what I should expect to pay and what interest rate I should expect to get for the loan.

It was surprisingly easy. I told them what I wanted, and they tried to say they couldn't give me the car on my terms, at which point I just casually said, "Well, that's fine, I'll try Honda of [nearby town], have a nice day." They ended up giving me the car at about a hundred dollars more than I wanted to pay, but I still got a very fair deal.

The dealer can only screw with you so much - if you know what you want and on what terms, you can just calmly leave if they can't give you what you want, or even if you don't like their attitude. And you can do that at *any* time in the process - I don't care if they spend two hours with you and at the last minute they try to backtrack, you can still walk away and go to any one of a number of dealerships.

I was surprised that it wasn't harder, and kind of glad that my dad told me to do it on my own.

Oh, if you are trading in, know what you want to get for that too - that part might be tricky.
posted by KAS at 8:56 AM on December 29, 2006

I *am* a car guy, and the last (okay, only) time I bought a new car, I used one of those bidding services because I had not the time, patience, nor inclination to work through the haggle process. Just another option.
posted by LordSludge at 8:58 AM on December 29, 2006

Best answer: The best way to buy a new car, I think, is to fax a bunch of dealerships how much you're willing to pay for the car (after doing a lot of research), then see who takes the bait and you don't have to negotiate. I thought I originally saw it on getrichslowly, but i can't see to find it there. If you search around, though, you shoooould be able to find a walkthrough about it...
posted by soma lkzx at 8:59 AM on December 29, 2006

You don't need to bring anyone along because the thing to do is to get all your price quotes over the phone. That makes it very obvious that you're going to be talking to other dealers. I recommend paying Consumer Reports $15 for their price report and starting negotiations there. Call around and pit them against each other. Once they've given you a quote make them stick to it. Get a VIN and the guy's name whenever you get a quote, too.

I don't know whether it will help to have a male voice on the phone.
posted by aubilenon at 8:59 AM on December 29, 2006

here we go!
posted by soma lkzx at 9:01 AM on December 29, 2006

When I was shopping for my Civic, I took my then-boyfriend along just in case... and as soon as the salesman slithered up to us with his hand out he automatically went for my then-boyfriend's hand... I butted in and grabbed his hand first and looked him right in the eye and said "Hi, I'm Sarah". This clearly communicated to him that he needed to be dealing with me. Of course, I had done my research and knew just what I wanted and was shopping around for the best price. Also, ask about special financing for recent college grads, I got it when i went through Honda Finance Corp. a couple years ago.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 9:21 AM on December 29, 2006

My partner and I bought our last car from a woman sales agent. There was none of the slimy feeling that men agents left us with. Surely Boston has female car sales people?
posted by Carol Anne at 9:22 AM on December 29, 2006

One thing to remember that is in your favor. You can walk away from the deal if you don't like it. Be firm in your price and don't put yourself in the trap of feeling like you have to drive off the lot in the new car. If they loose the sale, it is nothing you should feel bad about.
posted by onhazier at 9:27 AM on December 29, 2006

Car dealers and most other salesmen respond positively to aggression and punishment. They're kind of like puppies. You have to warn them very clearly when they're doing bad and reward them when they do well. You have to always remember that you're in control and remind them about it. They'll try the usual tricks, usually a mixture of guilt (to inspire sympathy) and playfulness (to disguise disobedience), but you have to maintain the hierarchy. And you have to be very clear and forceful when you want them to do something for you. By yourself you may not be up to the task so it'd be wise to bring somebody else for moral support and as an observer.
posted by nixerman at 9:37 AM on December 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

Always feel free to walk away. We were looking at new honda accords last year, and wanted a specific color and options and test drive one at dealership #1. we went to lexus, nissan, etc and decided the honda was the one. we went back to dealer #1 and the same lady was kind of bitchy to us now for whatever reason.

so we left - she actually earned the sale but she lost it too. dealer #2 thought we were crazy. "we want this car with this and blah". sure enough, there is only one in mpls like it, and we had already test drove it at dealer #1. The dealers did a inventory trade and we bought that same car from dealer #2.
posted by thilmony at 9:42 AM on December 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oops, I forgot to say why dealer #2 thought we were crazy - it was because we didn't test drive or even ask for a salesman, we went to the main desk and said "hi we want a black 2005 accord ex-l with XM and navigation today"
posted by thilmony at 9:44 AM on December 29, 2006

There was a post about a year ago in the blue about a journalist going undercover as a car salesman. It was very enlightening and entertaining. The article gave away all of the trade's secrets. I can't seem to find the article, but you can be darn sure I'll read it again before I set foot on another car lot.

Anybody have a link to the article handy?
posted by mds35 at 9:45 AM on December 29, 2006

Aha! Found it!
posted by mds35 at 9:47 AM on December 29, 2006 [6 favorites]

FWIW, I'm a guy and I would never think of negotiating on a major purchase like a new car without my wife. She is much better at haggling than I. Were I to buy a car by myself, I would simply be walking out of dealership after dealership because they did not immediately meet my price. I can't stand that back-and-forth-check-with-my-manager-how-about-this-price-no-wait-i-like-you-tell-ya-what-i'll-do-for-you tripe. I know what I want, I came to get it, I don't enjoy wasting my day playing charasmatic volleyball. Take my money, give me a car, or goodbye. Of course, instead I would waste my day driving from one dealership to another...

The fax/phone call ideas sound much more up my alley.
posted by iurodivii at 9:53 AM on December 29, 2006

My rule of negotiating is simple. Decide what you want and what you are willing to pay for it. Don't budge. Don't offer less than you are willing to pay. Let them know it is not a game. "Here is what I want. Here is what I will spend." When they say no, you walk away. It is really very simple. They will usually chase after you once you walk away. If not, there are other places to buy cars. As long as your price is reasonable, you will win.

It may sound too easy, but it really is that easy. Never budge. Just walk out. Their leverage is that they can lower the price for you. Your leverage is that you can walk out. Just plan on doing so, and you will be fine.

This negotiating strategy clearly doesn't apply when you absolutely have to have an item because of its uniqueness. But buying a car does not fall into that category.
posted by flarbuse at 9:56 AM on December 29, 2006

Coincidentally, I just bought a Civic today. I did not step foot into a dealership, and I recommend that you don’t either. I faxed 12 dealers with my exact specs, and 7 of them responded with a quote. The difference between the highest and lowest quotes was 2412.99. There is a book describing this negotiation-free method of car buying written by Wm. Bragg.
posted by langedon at 9:58 AM on December 29, 2006

One guy's two cents:

My sister bought a Civic some years back. She initially went through Autobytel, and while she didn't actually deal with any of the dealers who responded to the autobytel blast, the dealer she did wind up buying from said to her something like "well, I can see you've gone through autobytel, so you know what the dealer price is and all that." He wound up giving her a good deal. No male companion involved.

Also a few years ago, my then-girlfriend bought a Civic Si. I did go along for the test-drive, but scarcely said a word the whole time. The salesman was friendly to me, but at no point did he treat me as if I were the "man in charge." I think she got a fair deal.

If you know exactly what you want, are prepared to walk away if you don't get it, and the salesman isn't an egregious jerk, I think you'll be fine.
posted by adamrice at 10:11 AM on December 29, 2006

I hear the fax attack worked well in previous years. Do have as many as three dealers you would consider buying from, and check their online inventory
A few things to consider, whether you bring someone with you or not:
1. Try to avoid at all costs having to deal with the dealer's finance department. So, get loan information from your bank or credit union, and know your FICO score before you go. But if you're paying cash, well, that's one less thing to worry over.
2. I don't know if you are trading something in or not, but leave that out of the discussion until you want to close. Know your car's realistic trade-in value (Edmunds' site is very good for that).
3. Have a good idea of the invoice price of the car you want.
4. All that said, the dealer will likely propose rustproofing, paint guard, undercoating, glass etching, LoJack, remote starters, and just about any other kind of bullcrap to claw back profit from the sale. As you are in Boston, rustproofing and paint protection might be very good ideas if you want to keep the car forever, but only on your terms. Some people say these are complete thievery anyway, YMMV. (I buy paint protection). Know whether you want them ahead of time, research the companies that do this for a living and then when you get 'offered' these, see if their prices and warranties are at least competitive with the free market. Or respond with 'No thanks'.

If you think you're going for an even-playing-field negotiation, you're in for a surprise. Stick to your guns and have an escape for a bad sales experience, say a cell phone call that you have to answer at a key point, at which juncture you can walk away for a minute or two, and then 'hang up' and say you have to go, you're terribly sorry. Then on to the next, where you can use the previous horror story on the next dealer, and say, 'I don't have time for that. I want to do business with a dealer that I can recommend, not tell horror stories about.'

And as much as one might think that having a guy with you might help, it won't really.
posted by nj_subgenius at 10:17 AM on December 29, 2006

It has very little to do with you, and a great deal to do with preconditioned attitudes many male salesmen have. You can negotiate like Koffe Annan and blind him with science and he'll still treat you as 'the girl', and you will still have the disadvantage.

I'm a guy who's had to be present on behalf of women dealing with agents (not necessarily, but usually, automotive). I'm a lousy negotiator, especially in comparison to the women I accompany, but my presence counts for a massive change in treatment. I hate this crap too -- I'd rather be doing other things -- but the dealer's office is usually not the place to initiate social change.

A story about this working against the chauvinist, to lighten the mood: A friend of mine worked in a computer sales/repair shop. It was owned by a woman who had electrician training in the military and took apart computer monitors for fun. She knew her business, and she knew the technology. One day a customer came in, shouting past her to ask for 'a guy who knew what I'm talking about'. So she handed him off to my friend, who had no idea what the gentleman was talking about. Lost sale, but you know, who needs that kind of business?
posted by ardgedee at 10:32 AM on December 29, 2006


Car dealers make it a point NOT to give pricing over the phone.

"come one down and we can iron it all out... I'm sure we have something on the lot you will like"

Their goal is to get you into the store.

If you feel confident with your ability to say NO. Thats too much, then go alone. If you dont, take someone.

The prices on the net will give you a good deal but remember its more then JUSt about prices. Its about an ongoing relationship with this dealer. If you feel comfortable with how they interact with you and you get a fair price then jump at it.

Rock bottom prices sometimes equate to rock awful service too. Its all a balancing act.

Good luck and enjoy your new wheels!
posted by crewshell at 10:38 AM on December 29, 2006

In January of 1996, when I was 22, I (a geeky female) bought my first new car, a Neon, in the greater Boston area. I considered taking a male friend with me, but ended up going alone. I did fine, and I'm sure you will.

I did plenty of research before I went, and had a pretty good idea of what features I wanted. I had identified a few area dealerships before heading out, and actually ended up deciding not to go into the first one on my route. At the second dealership, I found a car that had more or less all of the features that I wanted, except that the interior was not the color that I wanted. After the test drive, and some discussion with the dealer, I decided -- sincerely -- that I wanted to explore further and see if I could find one with my dream interior color, and told the dealer that I was going to leave for now. He then brought the price down quite a bit (to around the Blue Book number, which I knew from my research). The moral of this story could be that one has to be a hard bargainer to succeed, but I think that it is that it is important to believe that you don't need to buy a car then and there. In other words, what KAS said.
posted by sueinnyc at 10:46 AM on December 29, 2006

My girlfriend just bought a new car, and had a very positive experience--I assisted a great deal in the process, but all of the decisions and negotiating were hers. I was physically there through the deal, but said very little. What made it great was that the deal was basically done before we ever set foot on the dealership lot.

You should absolutely put out internet bids (, et al, all offer this service), and then work out a deal by phone. According to the advice on, which I've found consistently good through two new car purchases, now you can almost do everything but sign the contract by phone.

If you know what car you want (along with trim level, options, colors), what you want to pay, and what terms you want, there is no reason to meet a salesperson face to face until you arrive to test drive the exact car you want, and sign the paperwork if you approve. The dealership we went with even sent our salesman 450 miles round trip to make a dealer trade for the exact car she wanted, since it's a hot model right now (Nissan Versa)--and she only paid a few hundred above invoice!

She'd spoken to the salesman over the phone, and simply said that she was looking for exactly x car for x price--could he provide that? Then, the only things we had to be aware of at the dealership were: 1. making sure she got a competitive interest rate--which we could be sure of, since she went to 2 banks and a credit union ahead of time to get rate quotes on the term she wanted (60 mos. in her case), and the dealership beat every one--and 2. add-ons at contract time, which in our experience were only two things, pitches for extended warranty and lo-jack anti-theft tracker. We said no to the lo-jack, and got the guy to cut a really good $2500 extended warranty to $1000, which my girlfriend felt really good about, though I was ambivalent.

So: hope that helps. My email's in profile if you'd like any more specifics, but really, the industry is so competitive these days, that it's very easy to call up a dealership and say "I want exactly this--can you do that?" You just need to do thorough research to make sure that what you're asking for is a good, fair deal (to all parties involved).
posted by LooseFilter at 10:50 AM on December 29, 2006

I should also say, at least in California, that dealerships really make their money on 'monthly payment' buyers--uninformed buyers who come in worried about what a car will cost them each month, with little comprehension of the big financial picture. The salesmen I've talked to say that most of their customers fit that mold. If you approach in a smart way and are clearly informed, my experience has been that a salesman will back off quickly, and just try to get the deal done as quickly as possible. After all, if you're firm on what you want, most dealerships would rather mover that car quickly that day, than wait and see if they can get a few hundred (or even couple thousand) more.

I don't think you should be worried very much about being a woman (male chauvinists are, in my experience, not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier); I think you should be worried about being a less-than-fully-informed buyer.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:57 AM on December 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: To answer the actual question, yes, the presence of a hopefully tall, large male seems to help in all kinds of situations like this. Sad but true story: I was the lowest, youngest employee on the totem pole at this office. Occasionally, customers would get needlessly nasty with the women behind the counter. All I had to do was stand, drift over and say, "Is there anything I can do to help?" clasping my hands together in a helpful manner that also displayed my shoulders. Wham - instant politeness.

It isn't right, but #2 or #3 are your best best. A really vicious negotiator is a plus, so maybe #3 is your best shot. With #3, you can gang up on the guy and go for the one-two punch.
posted by adipocere at 11:13 AM on December 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

So much for negotiating hints, and you may know the price of the car, but do you know the rest of the story?

1. Dealer Prep charges. 100% negotiable. The manufacturer does not charge the dealer to do anything to the car. There is some dealer labor involved, but that should be factored in to whatever they are selling the car for.
2. Document fees (other than DMV fees) 100% negotiable. My last car the dealer tried to tack on $250.00 in document fees. which is 100% profit. MA Law says they can only charge $5.00 above the registry fees, but says nothing about other dealer fees.
3. Hold Back, or advertising fees. These are really tricky as they seem to be a moving target. Usually in the 2% range. Be aware that this topic may never come up because that 2% is 100% dealer profit (if the dealer makes certain sales goals).
4. Dealer installed options. Just because it is on the car or in the car doesn't mean you have to buy it. Fancy floormats, carpet and upholstry protection, rust protection, non-factory stereo etc. If you like the car, but don't want the extras have the dealer remove them.
5. Service contract. NEVER buy a dealer or local contract. Only a manufacturer's warranty extension program if you are so inclined. Also this price is highly negotiable.

Good luck.
posted by Gungho at 11:26 AM on December 29, 2006 [2 favorites]

Oh and I second the notion of never talking monthly payments until AFTER the price of the car is determined. I've walked out on salespeople who would not give me a total dollar price. In reality the monthly price is between you and the loan agent, not the salesman.
posted by Gungho at 11:29 AM on December 29, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. You've been really helpful. I'll probably try the fax thing first, then if I do have to go in, I'll bring a guy friend along just for backup. Thank you all for the links/info!
posted by olinerd at 11:32 AM on December 29, 2006

One more voice for being prepared to leave the lot. Last car(used) I bought at a dealer, I asked for some things to be fixed. They said they couldn't do it, so I cheerfully said, "thanks for your time, I'll keep looking." and got a call the next day offering everything I asked for. Also, shop at the end of the month, when they have quotas to meet for bonuses.
posted by theora55 at 11:32 AM on December 29, 2006

Let me just second a few helpful things already said above and maybe add a little color:

1. The fax attack works. I know people who have done it. That said, be prepared to get a very low response rate; some dealers just don't do this. A friend got only two or three responses from his very broad fax attack. He ended up with a good price, though.

2. I would recommend no boyfriend. Salesmen will try to play you off each other, the boyfriend will feel pressure to "step up" and show that he's man enough to negotiate, etc. I would try it alone at least once and just see what happens. Also, you can use the abscence of the boyfriend as a delaying/negotiating tactic: no, I can't buy right now because my boyfriend and I are buying together and he needs to approve the final price.

3. I recommend staying away from the dealership financing guy. You've probably read up on this, but negotiating the price is less than 1/2 the battle if you are going to get a loan from the dealer. Typically, after you're completely exhausted and stressed out from negotiating the price of the car, the dealer sends you into a closet-sized office with the financing guy, who proceeds to take back whatever $$$ the dealer lost on the price by sticking you with all kinds of fees and interest charges. If you can swing it, get financing from someone else. Call you bank or local credit union and ask about a new car loan. If you can line up financning from someone else, you can focus completely on getting a good price. And, if you don't tell the dealer that you have your own financing until the end, they will be more likely to give you a break on the price, thinking they will make it up in the financing. First get a good price, then tell them that you will be paying by certified check! I did this and it was great. I got the dealer down to a fair price, then said: I can hand you a certified check for that amount right now, if you agree that there will be no fees of any kind added. They agreed.

4. Dealerships employ all kinds of overt and not-so-overt pyschological tactics to make you feel pressure to buy. Most of these tactics depend on making you spend lots of time at the dealership. The most obvious is the salesman "going to talk to his boss" about a price question. The salesman will then go get a cup of coffee and have a smoke while you stew for 10 minutes. They will do this all day long if you let them. Another tactic is to get you into an office and then have several salesmen come in and stand around in the office, crowding you and making you feel like everyone is waiting for you to buy. These are just the most blatant tactics -- they have many more which are all directed at making you feel like you have spent a lot of time (theirs and yours) and are now obligated to follow through on the purchase. Don't do it! Don't stand for this kind of stuff and always always feel free to walk out. If you don't feel free to walk away, even after spending some time, you will get taken. Also, don't hesistate to say something like: "look, I really want to make a decision soon, but I only have one hour, so if you keep having to talk to someone for 10 minutes, this just isn't going to work." Having a set time limit is a good way to keep them from tiring you out.
posted by Mid at 12:03 PM on December 29, 2006

I would recommend against bringing a guy friend. I've heard from women who've tried this that sales guys spoke only to the guy, ignoring the woman entirely, even though they both said repeatedly that it was her money and her decision.

Last time I bought a car, I did my research and walked in with a printout of exactly the car I wanted and exactly how much I wanted to pay.

I handed it to the sales guy and said, "Here's what I want. If you can give it to me for this price, I'll buy it from you. If you try to talk me into some other deal, or if at any point this process becomes unpleasant for me, I'm leaving, and I'll buy my car over the Internet. Do we understand each other?"

It worked like a charm. Total contrast with my first car-buying experience, where I negotiated a decent deal on the car, but got screwed without lube over the extended warantee and financing.

Remember: you have all the power in this transaction. Enjoy it!
posted by ottereroticist at 12:19 PM on December 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

One thing I found useful when I was negotiating the price of my car was to make it fairly independent of the financing option. I had some flexibility in how much money I put down on the car in the first place, so I made everyone negotiate with me based on $350 a month payments for 36 months. What was the down payment going to be in that circumstance, with everything else absolutely included and no extra charges to be added later at all (except the MTO registration fees which they couldn't tell me in advance)?

I didn't care if they structured the deal as a low price and high interest rate or low interest rate and high price - which gave them some room to fiddle with their profit margins and commissions in whatever way would get the saleswoman the best paycheque, and I only had one number to worry about - the down payment.

I had a a few thousand dollars worth of swing range in my down payment, though, so that isn't necessarily something everyone could use to their advantage if they only have a very low down payment, but it worked very well for me. I feel like I got a reasonable deal on my car and that I had understood the entire negotiation process along the way.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:39 PM on December 29, 2006

Here's my suggestion for changing the frame of the negotiation: Bring a friend with you (male or female) and have him/her wait exclusively in the car you came in. Whenever the salesperson/sales manager/finance person gives you a decision to make or offer to consider, say you need to discuss it with your friend. Go to the car, discuss the decision/offer, and return with a decision or counter offer. Your friend can help you remain objective and will be under zero pressure. This could be fun and emulates the way the sales person leaves the negotiation to get "approval" from the sales manager.
posted by found missing at 12:41 PM on December 29, 2006

No to to smear all car dealer but frankly, most are still living in 1948 and even to this day, internal polls of car sales guys seem to indicate many believe that women are clueless about cars so it all depends on how you value your time. If you're like my dad who actually enjoyed going into a dealership and wrestling the guy mentally until he gave - then great - gather up your facts and go in and take no prisoners.

And as others mentioned, get your finanacing lined up unless you have pristine credit and intend to apply for some 0% deal.

As others alluded to the faxing thing - fax it to the fleet sales guy even though you're buying one car - they are the people you normally deal with when you use a car buying service like Costco or AAA.

Though since you're buying a Honda Civic which every Honda dealer has plenty of - if you really want to have fun - show up on the last day of the month an hour before they close - salesman will need to make one more sale to make the next tier and or they just want to go home like everyone else - refuse to leave without a car at your price :-)

Or if you prefer just to use a car buying service directly - you might pay a couple hundred more but you save lots of time, a quick trip to Edmunds will tell you how much each option is and you can either click to try to find a dealer in your area who will sell you that car at that price or you can also use AAA or Costco's car buying service. Basically the same deal - you pay a set price above the invoice price - once you determine the car & options you want, they give you a price - take it or leave it. It's probably not a bad way to go with a Honda Civic since it's car Honda wants to sell a lot of unlike some of their other cars/trucks where they don't have that many on the lot so they are willing to hold the line on pricing.

Remember their goal is to obscure the price of the car and just get you to focus on the monthly payment because paying an extra $500 is not that noticable spread out over 48-60 payments.

So, if you can, NEVER trade in a car at a dealer since they'll just pay you $500 less for a used car and the sleazier places will refuse to return your key during negotiations by claiming, oh, we're washing it for you ...

Oh, and speaking of sleazy, there are places that will videotape or listen in while the salesperson goes away to discuss "financing" - all in the name of security, of course ...

And once you decide on a color, you're ready to buy ...

As for extended warranties, you can also buy those elsewhere though Honda Civics are pretty reliable.

This is a great read from Edmunds, an undercover car salesman

Good luck!
posted by jbelkin at 1:18 PM on December 29, 2006

option number 3--car guy--take him!
posted by uncballzer at 6:46 PM on December 29, 2006

I wouldn't bother with the "fax blast" method. Just go to or and build the exact civic you want, then request three quotes from nearby dealers. Make sure you say that email is your preferred method of communication.

Once you have three quotes, you can easily play them off each other, even over email. Usually the lowest price won't be at your closest dealer, so I like to ask my closest dealer if they can beat it. Also be sure to check the prices against any honda civic forums, which likely have a shopping/pricing section where people share the best prices they could get.

Using this method, I bought my truck from my hometown dealer for $5k off the list price, $1k below any quote that was sent to me the first round. I only had to pick up a phone at the very end to confirm the price, and that I wanted to buy it asap with honda financing.

I actually had a 3pm meeting the day I bought it and I didn't get to the dealer until after 1pm. I never thought you could physically buy a car in less than 4-5 hours (as was all my previous experiences) but I was driving off the lot about 90 minutes after I arrived. It was totally perfect and all done over email, which is great when you are a meek nerd like I am.
posted by mathowie at 11:53 PM on December 29, 2006 [2 favorites]

Haven't checked it out much myself yet, but was just covered in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It's a site that purportedly helps women buy cars without resorting to your options #2 and #3.
posted by jumble at 4:45 PM on December 30, 2006

jbelkin, I had the "missing key" trick pulled on me once. I was there with my then-husband, and when we decided to walk out, they "couldn't find his key." But since we were both there, we simply got in the car, used MY key, and proceeded to drive out. I swear to you, one of them was hanging on to the door handle trying to stop us -- we had to warn him to let go before we could escape. Unbelievable. :-)
posted by citysquirrel at 9:40 PM on December 30, 2006

I went along with my fiance to buy her car about a year ago. Having me along served as a kind of acid test for whether or not she wanted to deal with that salesman: If they assumed it was for me, then all they were doing that day was wasting their time and providing her with information.

She bought the car from an experienced 50-something salesman who sized us up and figured out quickly that we were low-pressuure types who wouldn't appreciate being pitched to -- and who showed us the respect of asking who it was for before he focused on the buyer. (He'd read our body language first and figured it out, anyway, but he did ask.)

But those fax suggestions sound great...
posted by lodurr at 2:07 PM on January 9, 2007

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