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.