Four years ago, my husband and I went to buy our first new car. Neither of us enjoys negotiating and we hate sales pitches, so we weren't exactly looking forward to it. We ended up with a car we liked but didn't love (we only kept it for two years) and we paid more than we wanted to.
So here are 11 things I learned and the conversations I wish had taken place during our car buying experience. In my fantasy reenactments, I'm a real badass car shopper.
11 tips for buying a car
1. If you intend to have kids in the car, please refer to my tips on car buying with kids in mind.
(I don't mean delivering them in the car – though that's something to consider if you live far from a hospital.)
Badass Me: No, this sedan won't work. This stomach I'm rockin' is a baby and this no-air-vented, slanted-back-windshield, middle-seat-humped, hard-to-crawl-into back seat isn't gonna cut it.
2. Understand the term "out the door price."
Finance Guy: Of course the "out the door price" does NOT include the interest on the loan, because we don't know how long it'll take you to pay it off.
B.M.: Then you and your sales guy need to get your s**t together because he told me that the out the door price included the interest and I'm not taking this deal unless you make that happen. Also, I don't appreciate the "of course it doesn't" attitude. I know you're trying to embarrass me so that I just accept your word for it, but I'm a badass.
3. Beware the finance guy. It's his job to change the "out the door price."
Finance Guy: I'm a good guy. You can trust me. Let me tell you about my kids so I seem like a family guy looking out for your best interests.
B.M.: Stop the act. I don't want your maintenance package or your extended warranty. I want the "out the door price" I agreed to with your sales guy.
4. Don't fall for the bait and switch.
Any car buying service will make it look like they have exactly the car you want when you're browsing online, but then you drive there and they don't have exactly the car you want but... lucky for you, they have a similar car. Sometimes they even magically find the car you're looking for after you say no to a few other cars.
Sales Guy: Well, we don't have exactly the car you saw online...
B.M.: Okay. Bye.
5. Intimidation is a sales tactic.
I dealt with a finance guy at another dealership whose tactic was to make me feel stupid. I asked a few questions and his attitude was, "You should be embarrassed that you don't know these things." I did start to feel silly and embarrassed. Then I tried to clarify something about the APR and he responded, "Your high school math teacher would be so proud." We did not buy a car from him.
B.M.: I actually can't tell you what my badass self would say, because this is a family friendly blog.
6. The maintenance package is only worth it if you keep the car and don't total the car for the life of the loan.
Finance Guy: Well, you did it. You're a good negotiator. You talked me down to only $25 a month for the maintenance package.
B.M.: But it's not really "only $25 a month," is it? You're going to add the total amount of the maintenance package for the life of the loan to my loan. So you add $25 a month to my five year loan for a total of $1500. Whether I trade in the car in three years, or sell it in two, or total it in one month, I'll still owe the full $1500 for the maintenance package I won't be using.
We've been talking about your maintenance package for 30 minutes. I didn't want it when it was "only $45 a month." I didn't want it when it was "only $35 a month." And I don't want it at $25 either. Frankly, it's getting weird that you won't stop talking about your package.
7. An extended warranty does not have to be bought at the time of purchase.
B.M.: No, I don't want to add the extended warranty cost onto my loan. You and I both know I'll have many chances to buy an extended warranty as I approach the end of the original warranty, because your company will send me twenty solicitations about it.
8. If you have any reservations, even if you're three hours into the buying process, walk away.
B.M.: It's 9 PM. I've been here for hours. I'm tired of you coming up with new ways to increase the "out the door" price. I'm going home to watch "Full House" reruns.
9. Ask for silence during the test drive so you can actually pay attention to the way the car drives.
B.M.: I'm sorry your acting career isn't taking off like you hoped. Can I listen to the tires hitting the pavement now?
10. Only pay for what you want. Looking at the breakdown of what exactly we were paying for on our new car, I noticed a $500 fee for some anti-theft coating on the door.
B.M.: I don't care about that.
Sales Guy: All our cars come with that. It protects the cars on the lot.
B.M.: Then you pay for it.
11. Shop via email. That way you can shop two towns over and bring that price to where you are.
B.M.: Culver City Auto said they'd give me this car for $23,500 with the tech package I want. Can you match that? If not, can we take a test drive over to Culver City?
Photo: Stephanie Wallace