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How to Compare and Select the Best Vehicle Dealer
With almost 18,000 car dealerships in the United States, and thousands more dealers selling boats, RVs and motorcycles, there is no shortage of selection when it comes to choosing a car dealer. While there is no difficulty in finding a dealership, it can be a challenge to find the best one for you and your needs.
Clarify Your Needs
One of the best ways to begin the search for the best vehicle dealer is to decide what you’re looking for. If there is a particular brand of a car or a boat you’re looking for, you’ve narrowed the field considerably. If you’re looking for a dealer with a service location, you’ve narrowed it even more.
The factors that are most closely considered are price, location, service and availability.
- Price. Nobody likes to think they paid too much for a new car, boat or camper. Price hunting between dealerships can lead to some great bargains.
- Location. Sometimes driving a long distance to buy a particular vehicle makes sense from a financial standpoint. Others prefer to work with a local dealer for convenience.
- Service. Vehicles will need service, and finding a dealer you trust to service your car or RV is a big consideration. Often it is the service department that creates a lasting relationship with a dealer.
- Availability. Small dealerships offer relationships and personal service, but they may not offer the same availability as the massive dealer up the road. While special ordering a vehicle is an option, it’s not a fast option and opting for a dealer with more stock may give you variety if you have very specific requirements.
Before you start working with a dealer, do some digging online. Thanks to the internet, social media, and sites like Pissed Consumer it’s almost impossible to hide a bad reputation. Social media posts and review websites are a great source of information.
The Better Business Bureau website can also give you information about how well a dealer has been in business and how well he is ranked in the industry. The higher the ranking, the fewer complaints. Other sites like J.D. Power will compare dealer experiences across different manufacturers through the U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index. The results of the survey rank the dealers based on customer experiences.
Look at Available Inventory
Dealer websites offer a wealth of information about what is in stock and the current asking prices of the vehicles. Remember that there is always room for negotiations in dealer prices, but a difference of thousands online should give you an idea of who is the most willing to negotiate.
Looking through available inventory online should also help you narrow down the vehicles you’re interested in and allow you to choose a dealer who has the exact vehicle you’re looking for.
The State of the Dealership
There is a fine line to walk when it comes to the impressive nature of the dealership. A giant, fancy dealership will have a lot of overhead and maintenance costs which will likely be passed on to you through higher prices. A small, outdated office may be a warning that the dealership doesn’t make enough sales to improve it.
Look for the middle ground – a dealership that looks well cared for and clean. The attention to detail is a sign of professionalism.
Consider Dealer Extras
Dealers may offer special offers to help lure in buyers, and sometimes those specials and extras are worthy of consideration. Dealer perks to consider might include:
- Special promotions. Sometimes a dealer will give away a new television set, sports tickets, or the like to those who make a purchase during a set time frame.
- Free car washing. Bring your car by for free car washes at the dealer or at least expect your car to be cleaned every time you bring it in for an oil change or other service.
- Available loaner cars. A free loaner car makes the process of lengthy service much simpler. A similar option is a pick-up and drop-off service to get you where you are trying to go.
- Free oil changes. While it can be nice to have free basic services like free oil changes and tire rotations, you may wind up waiting a long time for the services to be complete. This particular perk is also a nice way for service departments to find other things to “repair” or sell you for your engine.
Your Gut Instinct
No matter how much research you do or how much you like the chairs in the waiting area, if your gut tells you something is off, the dealership may not be a good match. Often this comes down to how you feel you’re treated by the sales staff. Every dealership has a culture, and the salespeople are the ones who will often show that culture most clearly.
The Best Way to Shop for a Used Car
More than 40 million used cars change hands every year. That’s a lot of buying and selling, and finding the right car and deal can be daunting. Finding the right used car is simply a matter of knowing how to shop for one.
Step 1 – Determine Your Budget
You need to determine how much money you can realistically spend on your new-to-you car. Your car payment shouldn’t be more than 20 percent of your take-home pay. If you’re paying cash, consider saving some of your funds for the maintenance and additional items you may need like new tires.
Step 2 – Make a List of Cars You Like
Make a list of cars based on the features you’re looking for. Make a list of roughly three possibilities that should fall into your price range.
Step 3 – Check Price Ranges
Check the price ranges of different cars. Kelly Blue Book, for example, will give you a price range on a vehicle based on its age, condition and miles. Remember that other factors like demand and availability can drive prices as well, so check prices on car dealer websites, personal listings and average car prices on websites like Edmunds to get an idea of what to pay.
Step 4 – Check Vehicle History Report
It’s worth it to pull the vehicle history report. The report will let you know if the car has been previously totaled, salvaged, flooded or had the odometer tampered with. You only need the vehicle identification number or, in some cases, the license plate number.
Step 5 – Inquire via Phone or Email
Start your buying process over the phone or email. This is the time to see if anything feels “off” about the deal. Go ahead and question the actual availability of the car, the reason behind the sale, the mechanical condition of the car, and anything that wasn’t mentioned in the original ad.
Step 6 – Inspect and Test-Drive the Car
Getting in, adjusting the seat and actually driving the car will be the only way to see how comfortable you are in the vehicle. While in the car:
- Be sure to check spacing for you and your family as well as how easy it is to get in and out of the car.
- Check for a “check engine” light and for any odd smells or sounds.
- Turn on the air conditioner, heater and radio.
- Check all turn signals, blinkers, wipers and other switches and knobs.
- Inspect the tires and ask about their age. You may need to replace them almost immediately.
- Check under the hood for parts that are steaming, leaking or extra oily.
Finally, be sure to ask about service records for the vehicle. A collection of service records should tell you how well cared for the car actually is.
Step 7 – Let the Professionals Check It Out
Let the pros check it out for you. You’ll wind up paying about $100 for a pre-purchase inspection, but this is a great way to alert you to problems or things that the dealer may have tried to hide under a good engine steam cleaning. This may be an unnecessary step if you’re buying a certified pre-owned vehicle as they come with inspections and warranties.
Step 8 – Talk Numbers
Armed with your research on the value of the brand and model as well as the condition of the car itself, start negotiations for the car by offering less than you’re willing to pay. This offer should still be reasonable based on what you’ve found in your research. The seller will likely counteroffer with a higher price, but you may get lucky and have him accept your opening bid. Your final goal is a number near the average price paid that accounts for any repairs or damage that needs to be accounted for.
Step 9 – Finalize the Paperwork
If you’re buying a used car from a dealer, you don’t have to do much other than to follow through and to read the paperwork carefully that the seller has put together for you. You may have to stand your ground against add-ons the dealer may try to include in the deal to boost their own profit. A used car purchased from an individual should include the clear title of the vehicle signed over to you. Then you will likely have to register the vehicle according to instructions in your area.
Step 10 – Drive Away!
Once all of the paperwork is signed and the money has changed hands, it’s time to drive away in your new car! Be sure to have insurance for the vehicle before you get behind the wheel, however.
A large purchase like a new-to-you car is exciting, but can be stressful. Working through the steps above with careful consideration should make the process more understandable and predictable. The end result should be a vehicle that is exactly what you want for at the exactly right price.