Dealing with dealers

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Jen recently mentioned that paying attention to the big ticket items can offer the biggest bang for the buck in savings. I'd like to talk a little more about buying a car.

I gladly gave up car ownership when I moved to Berkeley (Some time soon, I plan to get to a discussion of how much more can be saved if you can avoid buying a car.) But before that, I lived in New Jersey and had a car. A friend had recommended the book Don't Get Taken Every Time, and I'm very grateful to him. It portrayed car sales as a cutthroat world in which the salesperson would lie, manipulate, and wheedle by any means to take you for the most. Really, it was hard to believe, but even in my slight experience, having bought only one car, I encountered many of the dirty tricks described.

The basic advice was to comparison shop and choose the model you want, and never allow yourself to get sucked into a discussion of price on the spot. Research the model's cost, and come up with a firm offer. Have your financing in hand from your own bank or credit union. Make your firm offer to the salesperson, and don't deviate. If the salesperson won't agree, move on to another dealership.

The salesman misrepresented their financing to try to make it sound better than my credit union's. He balked at my offer, saying he could show me the dealership's own invoice, demonstrating that they had paid more than my offer. When I wasn't interested in looking at his fictitious invoice, he blew up at me and stormed out of his own office, ranting about how unreasonable I was being. I got up and left. As I was getting into the car of the friend who'd driven me, he ran out all smiles, saying the manager had agreed to my offer.

A friend of ours is looking at buying a car, and we're working to steel her against the lies and manipulation she'll face. I pointed her to this story by a reporter going undercover at a car dealership. It shows how the dealership deliberately creates a system of punishments and rewards to drive the cutthroat behaviors. This video presents an updated version of the advice I followed years ago; the most salient difference is recommending that after you know what you want, you contact multiple dealers for competitive bids on it. It warns you that they'll claim they don't do that, until you make clear that your business will go to someone who does. Then, suddenly, they do.

Don't get taken every time, or any time. Know what you want, and refuse what you don't.

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