Everything is negotiable when buying a new car

Let’s make a deal: everything is negotiable when buying a new car

T.R. Witcher

Buying a car is never easy. Any given car usually has three or four worthy competitors offering similar performance and features at close to the same cost. Doing the research, in magazines or online, takes time. Choosing a dealer, working out financing, and the dreaded n word–negotiating–leaves many buyers cold. They don’t always get the best deal. But below are stories from three buyers who prove that buying a new car can be satisfying experience. If any lessons prevail, they seem to be the importance of doing your homework on the car you’re interested in before you enter the dealership, choosing dealers on the recommendations of friends or family members who have had good experience there, and never appearing desperate.

FAMILIAR TERRAIN

Sandy French and her husband, Zack, had already purchased three Fords–and Explorer, a Mustang, and a ZX2. When searching for a second car for herself, Sandy looked at a Lexus SUV and a GMC Envoy, but she wanted a BMW x5, the 4,000-plus pound luxury SUV, which she figured would be good for navigating Chicago’s brutal winters. But that car’s $50,000 price tag was a little steep.

“Since it’s a second car, this is for me tooling around the area. I couldn’t justify that cost,” she says.

So the Frenchs returned to the dealer they trusted. “We had had a good experience in terms of buying the car and it working well,” says Sandy of auto dealer Ray Fregia, who had even let the family keep a car in his garage for a few days so the could surprise their son. “Even though we’re friends, if it hadn’t been a good experience, we would not have repeated the transaction.”

She settled on a slate blue Ford Explorer that was priced around $40,000, but they were able to negotiate the price down to $36,000–with an extended warranty. “We’re pretty good at doing our research and knowing what the car’s valued at versus what they want to get versus what we want to pay,” she says. “We researched on the Internet [to determine] what we thought it should cost and what we were willing to pay,” Sandy recalls.

approved on the spot through Ford Credit, they negotiated a four-year deal at 3.9% interest, which gave them a monthly note of $567 (a much better deal than the current 7% on her existing vehicle).

The Frenchs traded in their old ’96 Explorer for $9,000. All in all, she felt the purchase was a bargain. “We got a good deal because we knew what we were looking for going, having done the research.”

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM

As an electrician, Stephen Nicks puts a lot of miles on his vehicles. The Aurora, Colorado, resident was happy with the Infiniti G20 sedan that he purchased in January 200B–until May, when he spotted the new $38,000 G35 sedan while at the dealership for an oil change.

He had to have one–that day–but managed to keep his enthusiasm in check. “If you need a car, that’s when they can get you,” he says, “If you don’t, they have to work with you.” While waiting for the oil change, he spoke with salespeople who offered him $16,000 on his trade-in, which Hicks had paid off that March after taking out a low-rate loan against his house. Hicks paid $24,000 for the G20 and wanted to trade it in for $20,000.

“They kind of make you wait awhile,” Hicks says. Salespeople would periodically come out and tell him they couldn’t close the $4,000 gap on the trade-in. Hicks was unflappable. “I’m cool with that,” he’d say. And why not? Hicks felt he was in the best negotiating place of all–he was content not to buy the new car if the price wasn’t, right. After all, he had a car that was only four months old. “I was willing to leave. I was willing to walk out of there.”

About an hour or two later, a salesperson came back with a figure Hicks was willing to work with. He ignored the dealer’s comments that the dealership wasn’t making any money off the sale. “All they’re doing is making me a satisfied customer.”

The $20,000 trade-in allowed him to negotiate the deal he wanted on the new car. He told the dealer he wanted to pay no more than $375 a month for three years. The dealer offered $320 a month for five years. Hicks refused to budge; the dealer relented. Hicks wound up paying less than $17,000 for the new car. He opted for the sports package, which had better handling and sporty rims.

ONE FOR THE ROAD TRIP

Denifield Player and his wife, Bettye, were planning an Independence Day trip to Columbus, Georgia, and were concerned that, his 1988 Mercury Cougar wouldn’t survive the five-hour trip from his hometown of Gainesville, Florida. It was time to upgrade.

Player, an associate in anatomy at the University of Florida in Gainesville, liked the look of the Saturn a friend had recently purchased and decided to look at one for himself.

He looked at the Saturn Ion sedan. At first, says Player, he thought the sedan would be swallowed up by big trucks. “But the Ion holds its own on the highway.” He also wanted to make sure the car was durable, as lie tends to drive cars into the ground. “I just wear them out.”

In July, he settled on a taupe ion sedan, which cost $15,000. Player opted for a lower monthly payment–$278–stretched out over a longer period of time–five years. Normally, he arranges his financing through a credit union, as he can have his car note automatically deducted from his payroll, but GMAC offered him a 1% APR.

Despite Saturn’s no-haggle policy, Player feels he got a good deal. Though the price of the car remained fixed at around $14,000, the dealership was offering a choice between two incentives–0% financing or $2.000 cash back at 1.9% (significantly better than his last financing arrangement, which stood at 6%). Player took the 1.9%. “With the interest rate they were offering,” he explains, “I felt I was getting a good deal.”

The one mistake Player made was trading in his Cougar. “I should have kept that car,” he says. He only got $500 for it, even though the car was still running reasonably well. He had thought a bout selling it himself but didn’t want to be bothered with the hassle of placing an ad. The mechanic who had worked on the old car told him he could have sold it for $1,000. “I’m going, ‘Thanks for telling me after the fact.'”

Player has had his share of bad experiences buying cars. “I feel like I’m getting ripped off. There’s always some high-pressure salesperson hounding you around the place, always haggling for a deal. You feel like you’re not getting the best. Saturn’s no-pressure policy was attractive.”

But he was happy with this purchase. “The service is just superb. I liked the fact that we got 36,000 miles worth of oil changes [and that] they wash your car for you when you bring it in to be serviced.” Player also was pleased to support a black dealer. “Whenever I can patronize an African American [business] and walk away satisfied, it makes me feel better. It just so happened that I did like the Saturn. If I didn’t like the Saturn, I would have moved on.”

DRIVING A BARGAIN

Buying a new car is all about preparation, patience, and perseverance, Read on to learn some tips to remember when you’re shopping for a new set of wheels.

* Assess your needs. “The first thing [you] need to do is evaluate your transportation needs.” says Wayne Young, director of automotive services for AAA Missouri in St. Louis Is the car just for you or for your family? Is the car for business or personal use? Are you more concerned about fuel economy or safety, reliability or performance? Do you want to buy or lease?

* Start your research. Consumer car magazines and publications like Consumer Reports provide detailed reviews on virtually all new cars. Websites such as the one run by AAA (www.aaa.com) one NADAguides.com (run by the National Automobile Dealers Association) provide information on vehicle features and pricing.

* Appraise your trade-in. To do this, visit Edmunds.com (www.edmunds.com) to determine the retail value of cars dating back to 1980.

* Find your own financing. Young recommends that you snap for a loan before you shop for a car. As the AAA Website points out, dealers often structure financing so mat you pay off almost all the interest before paying the principal–in several years this may leave you still owing more on the car than the car is worth.

* Save the trade-in for last. Don’t discuss the trade-in until you get the best deal you can on the new car. “People get confused,” Young says, “They think they’re getting a great deal, when they might have gotten a better deal.”

* Know what the dealer paid. If you’re aware of the wholesale price your dealer paid for the car, you’ll know how that price compares to the one you expect to pay or are negotiating to pay. This may help you get a better deal. The dealer markup will be greater for luxury cars than for economy cars.

* Watch out for unnecessary add-ons. Some buyers like stylistic add-arts like wood-paneled interiors, pin striping, or gold lettering. But other extras, such as undercoating or fabric protection, are unnecessary and only add to your costs.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group