My trusty Toyota RAV4 was an admirable workhorse for the nearly 15 years it was in my family. When ownership was bestowed to me in my junior year of high school, I was ecstatic. My very first car! My own parking space at school! I was growing up so fast.
With it came a euphoria that could only be doused with unsolicited requests for rides from bum friends who were indeed lucky that I enjoyed their company enough to chauffeur them around. It hauled pets and even once a sofa, made frequent treks across the southern states, and was undeniably a great vehicle—that was, until I decided that I was ready for the inevitably expensive adult milestone of purchasing my first vehicle.
I honestly don’t know why I thought buying a new car was a great idea; my knowledge of cars is limited to my obsession with Top Gear on BBC, and I’m not particularly savvy in social scenarios. Being the diligent researcher that I am, I had a vague idea of how everything would happen, but I really like for every little social nuance to be spelled out for me in these types of situations. Luckily, my anxiety wasn’t suffered in vain. Here’s what I learned:
#1 Do your research before leaving your house
The sales process is initiated when another party becomes involved, and you better believe they will be ten times more clingy than your ex who just couldn’t let go. This entails formulating a budget, pinpointing desired features and selecting some makes and models you’re interested in. If you don’t know much about cars, it’s a good idea to check out local dealerships online and glance through their offerings. The fewer people you engage, the better. It’s hard to make a choice with a salesperson breathing down your neck, and they’re trained to ignore any deferring remarks you might make (ex: “I’m just here to look!”) and push you toward a sale. Avoid arriving at a dealership unprepared and asking for suggestions. Remember: they’re on commission; the goal is to play their game, not fork over cash.
#2 Kelly Blue Book is your B.F.F.
No, really. With a few clicks, it gives information about how much you can hope to get for a trade-in, shows you fair purchase prices to help you determine a good talking price, and it offers a whole slew of research tools.
#3 The moment you step on to a lot, expect to be greeted by a rather aggressive sales person.
The key to selling a product is to know your audience, so it shouldn’t surprise you that your age will be used against you. To them, you’re young, inexperienced and either don’t have a lot of money or have mommy and daddy’s help. It’s okay be relaxed and affable, as long as you’re cautious and watch what you say.
Only volunteer the bare minimum; they don’t need to know any probing personal information, your spending limit, or how much you can afford per month, but no matter how many times you deflect these questions, they will keep asking. If you slip and give them a number, they will do their very best to nudge you toward the most expensive model they can. What they do need to know is what features you are looking for in your car and any specific models you’re considering. I won’t lie: this is so much easier when buying new because there won’t be much variation, just tiered luxury add-on packages.*
Regardless of what you tell them, they’ll likely tempt you with a luxury car out of your price range and dote on superfluous things like heated leather seats. Be firm with what you want and what you can do without; indecisiveness (my tragic flaw) works in their favor.
*It’s also important to note that companies always make more profit from selling used goods as opposed to new, so car salespeople usually get a much larger commission on used cars. New car sales might only net them a hundred dollars or so.
#4 Do not give salespeople your phone number casually
If you leave the lot without buying that day, they will ask for your contact information. Only oblige if you intend on coming back or are considering a car on their lot. Be warned that they’ll pester you as much as humanly possible. I strongly consider taking a day after viewing to collect your thoughts and make a final decision. Salespeople will convey a sense of urgency, and while it’s not entirely unfounded, just ignore it no matter how restless it makes you feel.
#5 Nothing can prepare you for the horribleness that is negotiation
Did I mention I suffer from social anxiety? I felt sick and jittery through the whole ordeal. Negotiation is long, and finalizing is excruciatingly lengthy too; it took me around three hours.
To start, you will probably need to initiate negotiation. Have an ideal figure in your head (remember your B.F.F, Kelly Blue Book?). The seller will likely start talking about monthly payments and the best way to deal with this is to insist on only dealing with the total cost. Monthly payments are easy to manipulate. They can easily work with any number you give them by increasing the duration you’re paying, which in turn increases interest accrued.
Once you’ve got them talking about the total number, keep whittling down toward your target number. They’ll usually say something dismissive and disappear in an office for an extended period of time, then return with a counter-offer. The process continues until one of you gives. It’s nerve wracking and you’ll be tempted to give in out of sheer exhaustion.
This is how my negotiation went after all the messy monthly payment nonsense:
Me: “I want [insert number] for the car.”
Seller: “The car is already marked down coming from the dealership. You’re already getting savings, so there’s not much we can do.”
Me: “The Internet tells me my price is the standard price for that exact car in the area. So..I want it for that much.”
Seller: “People come in here talking about what they found on the Internet, and you know, the Internet doesn’t know everything.”
Me: “Right. Well, according to the manufacturer, you got it for [number] and the fair selling price is [number].”
Seller: “If I give you the car for that number, will you drive out of here with it today?”
A few hours later, all the paperwork was signed and everything was finalized.
Once you’ve got your car, the fun isn’t over yet! If you had extended contact with any other salespeople, now is the time to call them and break the news gently because if you don’t they’ll just keep calling anyway. Tell them you’ve moved on, found the one for you, and are in a happier place. They’ll ask a lot of questions—that’s okay! Answer truthfully, wish them the best, and have fun in your sweet new (or used!) wheels.