It’s true. I have recently (yesterday!) purchased a motor vehicle. It was a pleasant and invigorating experience, and my car is very beautiful and full of confusing technology and excessive purse storage. I have named him Dracarys, and he will serve me well. Having accomplished this task in less than 48 hours with only a brief flurry of emails, one telephone call outsourced to A Man, and a ten-minute in-person visit merely to sign pre-arranged paperwork and receive a bucket of swag and two sets of keys, I now wish to share with you the lessons I have learned along the way. They’re applicable to those of you who might want to purchase a new or certified pre-owned vehicle, I will not pretend to know anything about the niceties of used-car-haggling. I hear Roxane Gay’s dad is who you should bring along for that. Otherwise, this is what you should do.
Figure out exactly what car you want to buy. Do this online. Do not walk into a dealership. The internet is literally stuffed with rankings and reviews and Best Mid-Price Blue Sedans lists. “Shouldn’t I test drive some cars?” No. Can you drive a car? You’re set. After you’ve been driving it for a week, you won’t be able to imagine driving a different car anyway. Why spend a couple hours of your life trying random cars like you’ve flown into Phoenix for business and are trying to figure out where the parking brake is on your rental? It’s a new or certified pre-owned car. They drive. They go vrroooom. I am glad you have picked a car.
Discover who sells this car in your area. Let us now move to my beautiful, personal story of triumph. I decided on a particular car, as per Step One, let’s call it a Dragon. There are two Dragon dealerships in Salt Lake City. I went to the dealership websites.
Let’s get one thing straight: I do not talk on the phone.
You don’t have to! You never have to talk on the phone if you don’t want to. That is because you can…
Contact the internet sales department! There will either be an email address for this, or a generic “Make an Inquiry” box, into which you type “please email me, I would like to buy a car.” Then you wait. You will probably wait about four minutes, because car dealers are like travel agents were fifteen years ago: hungry, and aware the end of their industry is upon them. Okay, you have received an email from a person. Ideally, you have received emails from a minimum of two dealerships. If there is only one in your town, email one in the NEXT town. You need two to tango, trust me.
Say “Hi! I’ll be doing this over email. I would like to purchase a 2014 Model X with the extra-fire package. What is your best price on that?” At this point, I received a very rapid response from each of my two dealers. Dealer One said: “That model is retailing for Money, I can offer you a discount which will bring it down to Money – $1000.” Dealer Two said: “I would have to order that in for you special, so it would probably cost Money.” NOW THE DANCE BEGINS.
SIDEBAR: In lieu of offering you a PRICE, you may hear “I can offer you 0.9% financing over 60 months!” Pay no attention to these words. You want the best price, not to be distracted with what your monthly payments will be. And, if you are actually planning on paying cash, do not tell them until the very, very end, because they make a lot of money off financing, and you will probably not get as good a deal if they know upfront they will not be making said money. Speaking of not mentioning things, if you have a trade-in, keep it to your damn self until I tell you it’s safe to mention it.
Email Dealer Two (or whoever made you the inferior offer) and say: “Oh! I’m talking to Dealer One, and they have one on the lot they’re willing to offer me for Money-$1000.”
SIDEBAR: The beauty of this system is you need speak only truth! You are merely a CONDUIT for the truth to be passed back and forth between two dealerships. You are not the enemy, the other dealer is. It is they with whom they do battle. You will drink the blood of the fallen.
Now, in my case, Dealer Two responded instantly to that message to announce that HE HAD FOUND a 2014 Model X with the extra-fire package, right there on the lot, like magic! Isn’t that incredible? And I could have it for Money – $1200!
Email the Dealer Formerly Known As The Best Deal and say “I’m talking to Dealer Two, and he can do Money – $1200.” Wait. Dealer One can now do Money – $1400! You’re no fool. You know we’re going to email Dealer Two and tell him that Dealer One has countered with Money – $1400. Wait.
This is a great time to take yourself over to truecar.com, plug in the model and year and package info, and see: 1) the MSRP (what you would pay for this car if you just showed up like a yokel and handed them your money no questions asked) 2) the invoice price (probably what the dealer paid for the car and will basically never go below – I mean, it can happen, but I’m not a WIZARD) and 3) what other people in your area have wound up paying for this car. It will also say things like “a good price for this car is below X,” “a great price for this car is below Y,” and “a YA GOT SERVED price for this car is F for FOOL.” Then you know these things, it’s nice. Back to the dance.
Obviously, this elaborate gamesmanship could go on forever. It will not, though, because one of two things will happen!
Scenario One: Eventually, one dealer will just give up. You have taken him to the ragged edge of invoice pricing, and he can go no further. In this scenario, you will buy from his competitor. We’ll come back to this part. But you have won!
Scenario Two: Both dealers will have gone through the basically inevitable step of saying “I have to go talk to my GM to see if I can go any lower on this car.” (Spoiler alert: when the alternative is losing the sale to another dealer, the GM will tell them they can go lower on this car.) At which point, they will say to you “I am authorized to do whatever it takes to beat the other dealer.” This is great! This is not helpful, however, to your dance. You want numbers. Again, you will speak only truth: “Hahahaha,” you type, “that is exactly what Dealer One is saying to me! What is your absolute bottom dollar on this car?” They may not tell you. They may simply repeat that they will beat the other guy. What do you do now?
Those numbers you ran earlier on truecar.com? Now you’re going to use them. You are probably in “great price” territory already, having brought these two dealers to their knees. Whatever increments prices have been dropping by ($200, $400, etc), double up, and make sure that the amount you are about to offer is ASPIRATIONAL and BOLD. Email your favourite of the two dealers. Trust me: you will have a favourite by now. Mine was Dealer One. Email him and say “Okay, I’d really like to buy this car from you. If you can give me this car at Most Recent Best Offer – 2x The Usual Drop We’ve Been Doing As We Go Back and Forth, I will not email Dealer Two and ask him to beat it.” He will probably say you have a deal. If he does not, you’re not an idiot, take it to Dealer Two.
NOW, if he says yes, you could theoretically still email that number to Dealer Two, like a jerk. It’s probably fine. I couldn’t do it! I gave that nice man my word, and we barely scraped above invoice, and I was very happy.
The important thing is, one of these two dealers is going to give you the absolute lowest price you can get away with paying for this car. You have won.
Optional Step Ten:
Do you have a trade-in? THIS IS WHEN YOU MENTION IT. Trade that lil fucker in. In our case, we had already unloaded our 1999 Chevy Tracker for a thousand bucks to a nice young couple and wished them luck.
DISASTER STRIKES. Because you cannot talk on the phone, but want to pre-do most of the paperwork (again, you want no surprises when you walk into the dealership to sign), you pass this phase off to your husband, A Man. (Gay women would never be so silly, I do not include them in this disaster scenario.) While your husband is on the phone, he remembers that you need a roof rack. Because he is not engaged in THE DANCE, he finishes the call, walks into the room where you are working on your misandrist blog, and says “we’re good to go! Oh, I had forgotten we needed a roof rack.” It transpires that he has paid MSRP for the roof rack, and thus eaten into some of your hard-won gains. You will hold this against him for at least a day, probably less if your misandrist blog money is not paying for the majority of said car. But it’s the PRINCIPLE.
Go pick up your car (do not buy an extra warranty, do not buy magical sealing paint, do not buy anything extra.) It is yours now. Finance, pay cash, who cares. You have forced men to the breaking point and beyond. You are a feminist hero. Play Liz Phair very loudly on the trip home.
Special thanks to John Adams of Jody Wilkinson Acura of Salt Lake City, who was a really nice guy. Additional thanks to Twitter user Pete Gaines, who spent many years in the car business and told me I didn’t have to talk to someone if I didn’t want to.
Nicole is an Editor of The Toast.