Monday, July 28, 2008

Never Go Car Shopping Alone

This is an update to a column that originally ran about a year and a half ago, December 8, 2006. I’m continuing to get daily phone calls from car buyers who mostly have “already bought a car”. The “horse is already out of the barn” and they want me to give them advice on how to get it back. The vast majority of these car buyers went car shopping and bought their car alone. The majority of the complaints have to do with verbal promises by the sales person, not committed to writing. Bringing at least one other person when you are car shopping doesn’t negate the importance of getting all promises in writing, but substantially lowers the chances of a car salesman trying to pull a fast one. The salesman and his manager know that, in court, two people’s word trumps that of one.

A woman wrote me a letter this week in response to one of my columns. Her husband had recently passed away and this was the first car she had bought on her own. The dealer did not have the model car with the accessories she wanted and was unable to locate one at another dealership. She did not want to make a decision without seeing the actual car she wanted to buy but the salesman and manger talked her into signing a buyer’s order, assuring her that she was under no obligation to buy. They also included two accessories that she did not want because “the manufacturer required it”. I’ve heard of distributors ordering cars with certain accessories from the manufacturer which essentially makes them “standard”, but never “$250 floor mats” which was one of the accessories she mentioned. I get a lot of emails, phone calls, and letters from people who made a bad deal in their car purchase and want to know how they can get out of it. This is actually one of the less egregious, but I chose it because it was a simpler and shorter example.

There is strength in numbers when shopping and negotiating to buy a car. In fact, this applies to any serious decision in life. You might be the sharpest, shrewdest negotiator on the block, but your odds of striking a better deal and not get taken advantage of are enhanced when you have others on your side. Personally, I make a habit of always having at least one partner when I am engaged in a serious, adversarial decision making process. When meeting with those on the other side, I make it a point to arrive with at least as many people as they have present. One reason is the psychological factor. When you are in an office by yourself with 2 or 3 others, it can be intimidating. Another reason is that you always have people on your side to corroborate what was said. If a salesman or a sales manager makes a verbal promise that can be corroborated by a friend or two, it is far less likely to be broken. It will also hold up in court, if it has to come to that. Of course, the better solution is to see that all promises are committed to writing.

Buying a car, especially a new car is more often than not, an emotional decision. Having a friend or two with you can help you make more of an analytical, logical decision. Another point of view is always useful when making an important decision. Also, having one or two friends with you slows down the process to a level more easily absorbed and understood by you. A friend will often think of a question you should have asked but forgot.

Ideally you should bring someone with you who is skilled in negotiation and experienced in buying cars. However, if you don’t know someone like that, somebody is better than nobody.

By the way, most car dealers are unhappy when prospective customers bring in advisors and friends. Naturally they feel that way because they recognize their chances of making a fast, very profitable sale are diminished.


  1. Dear Earl,

    THANKS FOR YOUR ADVICE, but there is a much better and simple way to BUY A VEHICLE getting everything in writing without the need to have a Lawyer, Priest, Wise Negotiator or Police Officer by your side.

    This is the most effective method of purchasing a vehicle:

    FIRST access the Toyota website
    Make sure you understand what features are STANDARD / OPTIONAL equipment for the vehicle you want to purchase.
    Make sure you click in MONTHLY OFFERS to see REBATES/INCENTIVES available for the vehicle you want to purchase.


    - Describe the vehicle you want to purchase. List ALL optional equipment you need even a floor mats.
    - Zip Code where you will be registering the vehicle.
    - Specify: NEW TAG or TRANSFER TAG.
    - Specify: PAYING CASH - even if you Financing the vehicle always Say PAYING CASH.
    - Never inform that you want to trade your current vehicle UNTIL you get in writing 3 Out of The Door Price Quotes.

    THEN YOU ASK FOR THE PRICE QUOTE, at the following:

    Please, quote your best Out of The Door Price INCLUDING ALL FEES APPLICABLE - Do Not Include Any REBATES or INCENTIVES.

    NOTE: The reason you do not want ANY Rebates or Incentives included in the quote: Some dealers may include incentives you do not qualify just to get you in the door.


    If Saint Earl Stewart offers you the best price BUY FROM HIM. If NOT just tell him HAVE A NICE DAY!


  2. Saint Earl of ToyotaJuly 29, 2008 8:27 AM

    Dear Anonymous,

    Thanks for one of the most intelligent postings to this blog that I've read in several days.

    I happen to agree with most of what you advise. In fact, one of my articles on this blog is entitled, "The Best Place to Buy a Car is on the Internet".

    You are obviously an "insider" and are either currently or formerly employed in car sales. If all car buyers had your level of knowledge about how they can be deceived and taken advantage of by many car dealers, there would be no need for my blog, newspaper column, or radio show.

    You say that your advice is a much "simpler" way to buy a vehicle. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of folks that don't even own a computer and, if they do, are not very good at using the Internet to shop and compare prices. The average age of car buyers in Palm Beach, Martin, and St. Lucie Counties is much higher than the national average. My average buyer at Earl Stewart Toyota is 55+ v. s. the national average for Toyota which is 45.Folks who are 60+ tend to shop for cars "the old fashioned way"...they visit the showrooms.

    I also believe that you are minimizing the danger of the Dealer Fee/Documentary Fee/et. al. All dealers in South Florida include their Dealer Fee in their Internet quotes. Some of them quote the price "plus tax, tag, and fees"...hoping to trick the buyer into thinking the "fee" is a state, federal, or local official fee. This wouldn't trick you, because you are an insider and may have tricked lots of customers yourself.

    Another thing you failed to mention is that some dealers simply won't quote a price on the Internet at all. Often they will insist on calling the customer on the phone which often pits a very slick salesman against an "un-slick" victim. Getting a bottom line, out the door price, even including the accurate tag and registration fees is next to impossible at most South Florida dealerships.

    Therefore, I stand by what I said about never going car shopping alone, even if you start your shopping on the Internet.

    With all that said, I have to compliment you on very good blog posting.

    Saint Earl of Toyota

  3. One very important matter that seems to have been left out of the internet shopping strategy...make sure the dealer with the lowest price actually has the car before heading out!


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