Recently I spent some time shopping for a new car. A dear friend of mine, Ahmad, recommended some good internet resources. These helped me find out how good was each deal that I got. He also helped me with some different issues in financing and mechanical/design things.
I will try to briefly explain the steps that I took, and how they were useful. As usual, it is just my experience. Verify everything and decide for your own. Here is a summary of links if you are in a hurry:
- Edmunds Paid Price and Buying Experience Forum
- Annual Percentage Rate Calculation Program
- Yahoo! Finance Resources
- Edmunds Price Estimator
- Excel Sheet Auto Loan Calculator
- Edmunds Long-Term Road Test Blog
- Confessions of a Car Salesman
Read more about my experience using these links below…
- Find out the price range
You need to decide: (a) how much down payment you can afford (b) how much you can pay each month, if you are looking for auto loan. Please note that buying a new car will change amount of monthly insurance and gas payment from what you spend now.
Once these two are decided for, you can estimate the final price of the car you are looking for. Some companies have reverse calculators. You enter monthly payment and down payment and they tell you what car and what total price you can buy. Honda has a simple tool here.
Later in the process I used software like Annual Percentage Rate Calculation Program. Better than that was a Excel sheet auto loan calculator. I used it to calculate some different prices that I guessed. I had these prints with me, and was able to catch an unannounced change in price in one dealership. Saved me $1000!
This step helped me narrow my search to a smaller number of models.
- What make and models are close to my price range? Which of them have good reviews?
I looked at Consumer Reports annual special issue for new cars. They have classified cars based on price, quality, consumer satisfaction and other factors. I don’t know much about cars and their reviews were consistent with what my know-about-cars friend told me. I also asked a couple of friends who had recently bought cars. This narrowed my search to base model of Honda Fit and Nissan Versa 1.8S.
One important thing is to check which cars are going to be redesigned. If a car is redesigned next year, your new car will look “old” from the moment the new design comes out.
- What options these model have that are useful for me?
Again, I consulted friends who had driven the same car before as well as online resources and Consumer Reports. Specially I liked the Edmunds’ Long-Term Road Tests Blog. Also, Edmunds has a step by step price estimator, during which you can select options and see the prices. In this step I decided I liked to have ABS and cruise control options in the Versa. Honda Fit did not have any option for the base model.
Also note that some options are always installed on cars. For instance most Nissan Versas that I saw have splash guard installed by default. I realized this when I checked inventories of Nissan dealerships in my area. You can either check their inventories from Nissan’s main website or local inventories. Also you can search third party sites like AutoTrader.com or Cars.com. My experience was the inventory of Nissan’s main website was not up-to-date. Also, the third party websites did not have all the details of options installed on the cars sometimes.
- Talking with dealers and finding good deals
I tried getting online quotes from dealers through Nissan’s main website. The result was not so interesting. Then I tried using the third party websites and Edmunds.com. The ones I contacted using Edmunds.com were the ones I got good price quotes from.
After the initial quote, I had around 10 emails passed back and forth, negotiating the price. They made “mistakes” sometimes and quoted me the MSRP. I would remind them the fact that I have a better quote, and then they would correct their quote. Ahmad just reminded me that there is no need to mention you are getting financing from them before going to their dealership. In fact what I did was I would let them convince me that I needed the financing from them. This makes negotiating easier, as you still have the “upper hand” somehow.
I noticed, with Ahmad’s help, that Nissan had an incentive choice of either $1000 cash back or a %1.9 APR. Most dealers would give a price quote with the $1000 reduced. So when I mentioned I am getting the APR in the dealership, they would jump $1000 up. When getting quotes, ask them for quotes “before reducing any incentives applied”.
One good website to see the price quotes others get is the Edmunds forums. I usually searched Versa+paid+price in Google to reach the forum. The first result is usually the answer: http://townhall-talk.edmunds.com/WebX/.ef17997/ You can check the prices and see what is the good prices people get. This should be way lower than the MSRP unless the car is in high demand. In my case the MSRP was $1350 higher than the final price I paid. Worth the time, isn’t it?
- Test drive, negotiate and buy
Test Drive: During the test drive I only tested how was the visibility and how I liked the shape of the car. Also I asked a friend to come with me, and before the test drive when the dealer was driving I would seat in the back seat and see how was the back of the car. After the drive I would write down the VIN number of the car.
Price: I usually would almost finalize a price over email with the dealer. Telephone price quotes are hard to prove and the dealer may claim there was a “mistake”. I would ask every detail, i.e. the VIN and the options and price before incentives, to be sent to me with email. Then I would take prints of the emails from all dealers when going to see a dealer. The prints are very useful for negotiating. I got a lower price from a dealer to “match the price” of another dealer, just by showing their printed quote. Also if you are trying to get an incentive that the main company provides, print that page and have it with you.
Buying: During the final buying step, I just made sure nothing other than what was agreed was there in the price break down, of course by mistake. Also, the accompanying friend told me that the “finance” person that I was supposed to talk after the dealer was in fact a sales person for the extended warranty stuff.Â “Just say no!”., he recommended. Go through the documents that you sign, take your time and check this is what you want. I also wrote the VIN number on the check for down payment, just in case.
This is my experience and I hope to update here in near future if I remember something more. Hope it helps you get a better price. Again, verify everything. I don’t share your car with you, and I don’t share the trouble either 😉 Good luck with your new car!