In anticipation of our 2-week cross-country journey/drive to Alaska, Heather and I have slowly been shopping all summer for an adequate vehicle. Making sure we have ample time to do our homework and not be pressured into buying by pushy car salesman, car-fever or time constraints has proven worth while.
Over the past two months we have visited around a dozen dealers or smaller car lots. I have spent probably some 30 hours online looking for cars, and we have looked through hundreds of suitable cars. From this, I have learned several things about the car buying process that will help me (and you) next time.
1) Know what you want before you even visit a dealer. The sales people are ready to do business, and if you're not they'll seem more pushy than they're probably being.
2) Shop while you drive. The best place to scout out what body style or kind of car that is pleasing to your eye is on the interstate. While driving you'll pass virtually every car out there today. Take note of the ones you like.
3) Get the sales people to work for you. I contacted dozens of dealers, even ones out of state, asking questions, making inquiries, etc. Most of them offered to take down the specifics of what I wanted and find it for me. This is very helpful. *(I also learned that you can do all the buying right over the phone, then just go, sign the already prepared papers and drive away. How cool is that?)
4) The old method of haggling back and fourth over price is on its way out. With more dealers actually and honestly offering bottom dollar prices these days it's forcing others to do the same.
5) When buying, ask to see the invoice (how much the dealer paid for the car). This will show you if you're getting raked over by a high percentage mark up.
6) Internet prices on vehicles are very often less than on-the-lot prices. Make sure you see both.
7) Don't name a price. The first thing sales people asked us was our price range. "But never give them a number," says my good Singaporian friend Greg who is a salesman himself (but not the car kind).
8) Avoid car fever. "Car Fever" is that excited, gotta-have-it feeling people get when they first start shopping. One salesman admitted to me that he gets a lot of business from car fever. It took me about a month to get over this feeling, and I began thinking clearly again. Car fever will almost always make you spend more money. Most people buy a car within 48 hours of their first visit to a dealer because they contract car fever. That's rarely enough time to make a wise decision.
9) Check the car fax report. Make sure the vehicle you're considering has never been wrecked or salvaged or something like that. All cars have one. If you can't view it online or if the dealer steers you away from seeing it don't buy the car.
10) Mileage matters more than year. I would rather buy a 5 year old car with 30K miles on it than a 2 year old car with 50K milse. Cars age by the mile, not so much the year.
11) Never buy a brand new car. Dave Ramsey (money guru) will back me up on this one. Most cars lose over half their value during the first few years of ownership. Buying a 2-5 year old car will save you big bucks in the long run, and it will run just fine. Dave Ramsey says that only people with 1 million dollars in cash sitting around can afford the financial loss that comes from buying a brand new vehicle.
For Alaska, Heather and I needed a 4-wheel drive vehicle with pleanty of seating and cargo space. We decided on a pick-up truck. We then decided we wanted to be patriotic and only buy American. It came down to either a Ford F-150 or a Dodge Ram. Either would do. And in the end we found a good deal on a Dodge Ram 1500, quad cab, Big Horn. And it happened to be Heather's very most favorite color...ever.
We actually found it at a dealer in North Georgia, where I noticed cars tend to be cheaper than expensive ol' Asheville, NC. It's 3 years old but it only has 11.5K miles, nearly new. And the price was compatible with all the other used ones we'd looked at, even cheaper than most F-150s.
A gas guzzler, yes. And, it's a far cry from our little 2-door Saturn (which we're selling by the way, so if you're interested let me know). But it is fun to drive!
Of course, you can see from the picture this is very much a personality car and probably requires a name. I want to hear your suggestions. Please post them in the comment section.