How To Buy A Car

As you may have figured out, I’m a rather private person when it comes to me. I also tend to keep my blogging and Tweeting separate from Work Life. That said, you may know that I’ve been selling cars for over 4 years now, after having been in wireless from 1994-2010. And I did selling before that, too. Why am I bringing this up? Many customers ask me “what is the best way to buy a vehicle?”

Good question, and there are lots of answers. Most sites on the web tend to focus on “how to negotiate the deal”. Some people love negotiating, some hate it. Some prefer no haggle places. And so many seem to despise car dealerships. And the sales consultants.

Why? Starting out, there are many types of salespeople, just like there are many different types of customers. The two predominate ones are those who “are there to sell you a car” and those who “are there to help you buy a car”. Most of the bigger, more reputable companies teach consultants to be the latter (this applies in other sales areas, too). A modern sales consultant has to realize three things. First, the customer is the one with the money. This isn’t the 1980’s and earlier. Second, there are lots of places to go buy a car, including dealerships that sell the same car. Third, a consultant has to part advocate for the customer, part for themselves, and part for the dealership. They must find a win-win situation.

A “sell you a car” rep thinks about this sale. A “help you buy” rep thinks about all the sales you will send them in referrals, along with you, the consumer, coming back. They know that you, the consumer, can frag them on various social media platforms, or help send them business on the same platforms. If I work for you, you buy, and are happy, and send me more sales. You buy, and put money in my pocket, and then more money from others. I also have to think about selling you more during initial interaction. Hey, you would do the same. Always remember that.

Now, there lots of advice I can give on buying a car, and maybe I will get to some of the others in the future, but the main advice I give people is to know the answers to 3 questions that a good auto consultant will ask right from the get go (to go with other probing questions on needs, wants, must haves, like to haves, style, et (these are Discovery questions) and questions about you (Connecting)

  1. What is your price range?
  2. What is your monthly budget
  3. How’s your credit?

Now, when I ask those questions, I tone them down a bit, make them a bit friendlier and less judgmental, but that is what they come down to. And they Freaking Important. How can you possibly look to purchase something like a car, house, boat, motorcycle, etc, if you do not know the answers?

If you answer #1 with $20000, and the 2nd with $200 a month, do you have roughly $10000 for a down-payment? Figure, on a base average, $100 for every $5000 financed. Taxes and fees must be calculated in.

If you talk to a real estate agent, and do not know the answer to those questions, do you think they are going to spend any time showing you homes? Not likely. They won’t spend even one day driving you around. They might probe a bit. But, if you do not know, they are going to consider you to be Not Serious.

Well, most good auto consultants will follow the thought that “everyone is going to buy at some point”, along with “don’t prejudge” (I love when folks come in dressed down in an attempt to get sales people to think they aren’t actually interested. Money, baby!) But, if you cannot answer those questions, they will, unfortunately, start thinking you aren’t serious and you’re wasting their time. On a slow day, hey, OK. On a busy day? Forget it.

But, here’s what a good rep will also do: probe. I’ll ask a question such as “OK, so how does $600 sound?” “Too much? $500?” We can try and pin it down. If you really still don’t know, then why are you looking? If you go purchase a TV, tablet, stereo, smartphone, computer, heck, a pair of pants, I bet you know your budget. If you’re talking about thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, and having a monthly payment, you best know your budget.

The problem with all those questions, though, is that this so often creates and adversarial interaction. Which creates a reason (well, one of them) why many hate car buying. Seriously. Look, you’re buying a motor vehicle! You’re going to spend lots of money, and usually have a monthly payment, for something that, on average, you will spend an hour and a half per day in. My goodness, on most days I spend no more than an hour in my car. This should be a fun, enjoyable, rewarding experience. It shouldn’t be tedious, terrible, awful, etc.

Now, some of those negatives can certainly be blamed on bad consultants and bad companies. But, good ones can make the process enjoyable. Or, at least as enjoyable as can be possible, with Americans programed to hate the process.

So, have the answers to the questions, especially #2, and know your maximum. And don’t lowball it. Why would I show you a $30000 car when you told me $300? Sometimes it works out, for various reasons. Mostly, no. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t really know” on the credit question, but be upfront and willing to have your credit pulled. It’s rather important to see what the finance companies are willing to do, and early. It makes things easier on you.

You’ll also want to know the answer to the question “if you are going to buy the car today, what kind of down-payment can you pay today?” Be as upfront as possible on what you are looking for. That openness will eliminate the adversarial attitudes that crop up, and have the sales consultant doing all they can for you. They’ll work their behind’s off for you. If you throw up roadblocks and red flags, there comes a time when the phrase “diminishing returns” appears in the reps head, and they start looking to move on to someone who could provide money to feed the reps family.

And, if the rep is one of those “sell you a car” ones, walk away. End it. YOU have the money. Get a different rep, or seek a different dealership. Do not be Sold. Do you know how many times I’ve heard “I can believe I bought this vehicle”?

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5 Responses to “How To Buy A Car”

  1. JGlanton says:

    For the last 20 years, my policy has been to only buy what I can afford to write a check for. That vastly changed my thought process on the value proposition. Whether I bought a commuter car, truck, SUV, or luxury vehicle, it’s saved me a ton of money over the years.

    I just checked my 6-year old SUV’s value last week, and it has depreciated only $7K since I bought it new. And it’s never needed a repair. Because I went through the pain of saving and writing a check for it, I made sure that my money was put to the best use.

  2. Kevin says:

    I hope you’re not leaning too hard on the belief that you’re ‘anonymous’. Every reader here knows that you live at 742 Evergreen Terrace in Springfield.

  3. Blick says:

    Captain, you are right about the buyer should know their budget and have researched what kind of car they want. I always research the maintenance record of the cars I might consider. saves big headaches down the road. Two, the Salesman should ask questions to determine the buyer’s level of readiness. I have had salesmen assume I was a broke college student and try and be a jokester. I had enough cash to buy two small cars or a new pickup. A smartass salesman makes me walk right out the door.

  4. Great post, boss

    btw I sold cars (BMW/Benz) for ten years in CA, also worked in corporate…
    tough to make $ in that business these days, you must be good

  5. You’re one of the rare ones, J. Something like 90% finance.


    Questions are very imoortant, and I ask a lot. Problem is, many consumers do not know the answers in any shape or form, and are already defensive, leading to an adversarial interaction. Seriously have little clue.

    I love selling, so it is more like play for me. Though, I did briefly work for a big dealer that acted in a shady manner behind the scenes, so go out quick.

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