In Part One I wrote about retail (MSRP) and wholesale (invoice) pricing of automobiles. I pointed to hidden profit areas such as holdback that allow dealers to sell vehicles “below cost” and still make money. I also said that knowing the MSRP and invoice pricing really doesn’t matter because in the end the only thing that does matter is getting the lowest price for which a dealer is willing to sell the vehicle. Even so, if you are like me then it will be a matter of some comfort to know invoice prices for the base vehicle, options and packages.
Helpful Web Sites
Enter TrueCar.com and NadaGuides.com. These sites allow people to look up vehicles and options and provide both the MSRP and invoice prices for the base vehicle and each option and package. Both sites also providing a range of prices paid by shoppers for specific vehicles in your area. If I recall TrueCar even says how many vehicles were in each sample. (When looking on TrueCar at the range of prices paid, note that they include incentives such as cash back that are currently being offered by manufacturers to retail customers. I’m not sure about NadaGuides.) That said, in my experience these sites aren’t always perfect. Pricing may be out of date or for one reason or another or other information may be incorrect. That isn’t surprising considering the number of automobiles and options choices that they must track. Even the manufacturer’s own web sites are sometimes wrong.
Apart from pricing information TrueCar, NadaGuides and similar sites allow people to get an idea of what options are available. Likewise for the Build & Price pages of the manufacturer’s websites although these won’t provide any pricing information apart from MSRP. If you don’t know the exact vehicle and options you want then a visit to these sites can be very useful. Bear in mind, that with some vehicles there can be a dizzying array of options. Sometimes, selecting one option may be in conflict with another, and there may be cases when certain options are only available as part of a package. Sometimes a stand-alone option may also be part of a package. All this is to say that it can be confusing and time consuming figuring out what options are available and under what circumstances. Here a dealer may be of some assistance. I stress may, because in my experience shopping for a somewhat esoteric truck where a great many options were available I often found that I knew more than the salesperson with whom I was talking.
What made my truck esoteric was that I was looking for one ton diesel and my neck of the woods being the city few dealers sell as many of these as in more rural areas. That’s my guess. I soon learned to ask for a truck expert when visiting a dealership. Many salespeople will declare themselves experts because their commission is at stake. When someone said he or she knew about trucks I’d ask “What advantage is there to a manual exhaust filter regeneration option?” I think of the four or five times I posed that question only one person even knew what that was. So if a sales rep you are dealing with doesn’t seem to know the product well, say so and ask for someone with more product knowledge.
Going to a Dealer?
The title of this article mentions getting a great price without ever talking to a sales person, so why am I writing about talking to sales people? Simple, there are two stages of purchasing a vehicle: 1) deciding what vehicle and options you want, and 2) negotiating price. I think it’s fine to visit a dealership to collect information so as to help finalize your vehicle and options choices, but when it comes to negotiating price, save that for later, for when you are home and then handle price negotiations via email. Negotiating price at a dealer’s location is exactly what they want you to and exactly what you don’t want to do. If a sales rep brings up anything at all about price say to them straight away you don’t want to talk about price until you are completely settled on the vehicle you want and any further mention of price during your visit to the dealership will be unwelcome. I recommend you learn as much as you can about vehicles you may be interested in by exploring web sites such as Edmonds.com, KBB.com (Kelly Blue Book), ConsumerReports.com, JDPower.com, and any user forums you can find where owners discuss the vehicles you are contemplating. YouTube can be a good source of information if you can sift through the hyperbole of dealers selling vehicles, egos of people trying to justify their own purchases by recommending the vehicle they bought, and just plain stupid or poorly crafted videos. Sometimes there will be a pearl or two even in the most biased or poorly done videos.
While I’m on the subject of web sites to consult, there are any number of web pages out there on the best way to negotiate automobile prices and, no surprise, you will find conflicting information from one to the next. One site I spent a good deal of time at was Car-Buying-Strategies.com. There is a lot of interesting information there. In my opinion, while interesting, much of it, as well as information found on similar sites is of dubious value because as I wrote above there is really only one thing that matters when it comes to price and that is finding the dealer willing to sell you the vehicle at the lowest price. This will almost certainly require contacting more than one dealer. When I was ready to buy I contacted somewhere between 30-40 dealerships and got prices that varied as much as $2,800 for the exact same vehicle! It took some time tracking down dealerships and importantly, the right person to contact at each one, but in the end I saved $2,800 over the highest price given to me and almost $5,400 compared to MSRP.
In the previous installment of this article I wrote that here in Part Two I would “write about the online web sites I used to determine pricing and how I used that information in emails to the proper people in order to get the price I did.” It seems I have only accomplished the first part of that promise so may I offer my apologies while saying I will catch up in Part Three. I will detail how I located dealers, who to talk to, how to find them and who not to deal with. I’ll also write about how I approached asking for a price.
If you missed Part One of this article it’s here.
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