Hey there, friend! You’ve landed on this page because you’re: 1) interested in buying a car, 2) want to know how to score the best deal, 3) want to know about the overall process of buying a car or 4) All of the above. Have no fear–because I GOT YOU! I write this to share my experience with you, shed light on the process, and hopefully help you score the car of your dreams. Here are my tips for buying a car for the first time!
Before I begin, I want to be transparent and say that this was my first time purchasing a car on my own and so I’m well aware that I don’t know everything. But I certainly learned a lot about the system and how to get the car you want for the best price, so here is how I went about purchasing my first car!
Step 1: Research, research, research.
Before you even step foot onto a car dealership, first decide the following:
- What is your budget range? What is the maximum amount you are willing to pay? For me, I was personally looking to pay between $25,000-$28,000, given the car I wanted. I did not want to pay more than $28,000. I set the number to be below $28,000 in my head and decided I would not settle for anything more than that. The other stipulation I set was that my final price with taxes and fees out the door would be less than the MSRP (sticker) price.
- What cars are you considering? Research what features you know are non-negotiable, what model is the best for your needs, what the price difference is between each of the cars you are considering. Spend time getting to know the features each model you are considering has and what works for you. I personally wanted a small SUV and considered both the Hondas and Mazdas. Specifically, I was looking at the Honda HRV and CRV and the Mazda CX-3 and CX-5. After reading up on comparison reviews on Edmunds and U.S. News and World Report, I ended up deciding on the Honda, though I still wasn’t sure about whether or not I wanted the HRV (less expensive) or CRV (more expensive).
IMPORTANT STEP BELOW:
3. Know the average price for the cars you are considering by creating a profile on TrueCar. TrueCar is awesome because it will tell you the average price the car is selling for in your area (before taxes and fees) and will even give you an automatic TrueCar discount from the MSRP price. This price will be e-mailed to you and you can bring that into the dealership and ensure you get at least that amount off from the sticker price. DO THIS because otherwise the salesmen will prey on the fact that you don’t know the TrueCar price and I will guarantee you they WON’T honor it unless you ask for it.
TrueCar will also give you 3 local dealerships with your exact car in stock. This does NOT mean that other dealerships don’t have your car. Once you get the TrueCar price, you can easily take that and use it to shop around at other dealerships like I did. It all depends on how far you’re willing to drive and how much you want to save.
WARNING: Once you press submit on TrueCar, you will be inundated with phone calls and e-mails from the dealerships. They ALL want your business so be prepared to have your phone blow up and your e-mail inbox flooded.
4. Once you have your TrueCar price, you can figure that taxes and fees will be about 10%. Do the math and that will the price that dealerships will generally try and sell it to you for, that is, WITHOUT any add-ons. So for me, with taxes and fees, I figured that my car would come out to be about $28,875. That was higher than what I wanted to pay so I knew I had to try and get it down a little bit more.
Step 2: Set a couple of appointments up using the website’s online contact form and schedule a time to test drive your cars. Bring a parent, a guardian, or friend to come with so they can be your second opinion.
When you go into your first dealership, do not expect to buy there. I used my experience at my first dealership as a way to get a feel for how they moved, the price range the dealerships were aiming to sell at, and to see if I could build a relationship with a salesperson that I felt had my back.
Once I test drove the HRV and CRV, it was immediately clear I wanted the CRV. It drove way smoother, came with more safety features, was more comfortable and spacious, and overall a better car. As soon as it became clear that I was set on it, we moved from test driving the car to meeting inside at one of their office desks.
The funny part is that the salesperson almost becomes obsolete–at every dealership, another guy would come and sit down and walk me through numbers. Every dealership will add on things to the car price because that’s how they make their money. They will play it like they “can’t take it off” but if you press and tell them you DO NOT want any extra’s, they’ll ultimately take it off. Here’s an example of things that were added to my car:
- Nitrogen in tires
- Security system
- Wheel locks
- 3M protection strips
- Extended insurance
All those things together added about an additional $5,000 to the car and I was NOT about to be bamboozled and pay for it all.
I went to three different dealerships and by the third, I knew how these salesmen moved so I got good at just stating: I do not want any additional add-ons. I just want the car. Take off any extras on the price. I recommend going to dealerships in person because every salesperson is different. Some are more willing to work with you, and some are just plain stiff. I also shopped around in person to get a feel for the final numbers they were willing to offer. Here are the numbers I was offered from each other dealerships:
- Dealership #1: $30,441 (MSRP was $28,045)
- Dealership #2: $27,925 (MSRP was $27,925)
- Dealership #3: $27, 884 (MSRP was $27,925)
As you can see, the first dealership was on the high end and refused to budge. I disliked their salespeople too because they were rude and very unwilling to work with me. The second dealership started off high, but I worked them down to give me the car with taxes and fees out the door for the MSRP. However, I wanted by car below the sticker price and felt that I could keep looking around. The third dealership was great and I almost bought the car there! The only thing was that the car was not in the color I wanted. I decided to hold off and shop around other dealerships so that I could get the right color. If I’m going to be paying that much, I might as well get what I want!
Tip: When the salespeople give you the written numbers, ask them if you could have a minute to discuss privately (with your parents or whoever you bring). When they leave, take a picture of the final price they give you. You will need this as “proof” when you shop around other dealerships so that they can verify that you’ve actually been offered that amount.
Step 3: Once you have your lowest offer from a dealership that is around the range you would accept, leverage that to make your final offer and seal the deal. This time, do it over the phone instead of going directly to the dealership.
After I shopped around and saw that the dealership offered me the car for $27,884, I knew that was an acceptable car price I was willing to accept. I then went online to the other Honda dealerships around me (I am lucky because there were 3 more that were within 30 miles of me) and checked to see if they had the exact car in my color in stock. I then called ahead and used this exact script:
“Hello, I see that you have the CRV EX in Gunmetal in stock online. Can you verify this? *once verified* Great, I’m ready to purchase today, but here’s the deal. I’m not interested in add-ons–I just want the car as is. I need you to beat the lowest price I’ve been offered which is $27,884. If you can beat this price, I will come in today and buy it. What’s your price?”
The salesman will then go to his manager and ask if they can beat the price. This process worked so well because I didn’t have to drive in, waste time negotiating, I simply stated this is what I need from you and if you can give it to me, I’m ready to walk in and buy. I found two dealerships willing to give me a final price below the sticker price and ultimately went with the dealership that was a 5 minute drive from my house.
I even asked if he could “Sweeten the deal” because I am a teacher (Oh, yes, I milked it), and he threw in wheel locks and the 3M protective strips on the car doors (protective film that will prevent scratches on the doors) for FREE! It would have been an additional $300 or so…but ya girl scored them for free. 🙂 So you’re probably wondering what my final price was? My sticker price was $28,045…and I got my car with taxes and fees plus the wheel locks + protective film, out the door for…
After you agree to your final price, you’ll have to walk through a bunch of paperwork and go to the finance office to work out your finance plan, unless you are paying for the entire car that day. The rest is boring, but definitely know how much you can put down, how much you want your car payments to be and how long you think you’ll need to pay it off.
Final Car-Buying Takeaways
- Ultimately, they WANT your business. YOU are in control of this experience and do NOT ever feel pressured to commit to anything that you’re not comfortable with.
- Be patient. If you are lucky enough to not have to have the car IMMEDIATELY, be patient and wait because these salesmen are hungry for the sale and will ultimately budge at some point.
- Go in to buy the car at the end of the month. The salesmen have quotas they need to meet and also get bonuses at the end. They’ll be more desperate to sell you the car for YOUR price toward the end of the month rather than the beginning. I purchased my car on the last weekend of July which is why I think I was able to get the deal I got.
- Speak and move with confidence. State facts, cut straight to the chase, and tell them exactly what you want. Use the script I provided above!
- Don’t be afraid to walk away. I walked away from three dealerships before finding the one with the best deal. You’ll get calls and e-mails after you leave because they want your business that badly.
I hope this post helps anyone looking to buy a car and especially my boss babes! Do not be intimidated by the salesmen–they use a lot of pressuring techniques to get you to budge and a lot of “fear” based language to get you to agree to the add-ons. Remember, YOU are in control of this experience and at the end of the day, you never have to commit to anything if you don’t want to. If it doesn’t feel right, or you need to time to think about it, walk away and shop around to see if you can get a better deal. I ended up talking to about 8 dealerships total via e-mail, in person, or through phone in order to snag my dream car at the price that worked for me!
Feel free to leave me a comment or question below! I’d love to hear about your experience or if you have any other tips that helped you! And if this guide helps you, please let me know too! Thank you for reading, sweet friends.
Did you really think I’d write a blog post and not include what I’m wearing? HA.
Outfit deets below:
- White button down shirt from Old Navy
- This is the shirt I have and it’s on sale for $20! I’ve had it for at least 3 years and it still fits so well!
- White popover tunic shirt from Old Navy
- Also on sale for $24–this would be a cute option for the relaxed, casual feel!
- Wide Leg Linen Pants from Abercrombie
- Sold out in the green, but available in 3 other fun colors! On sale for $29!
- Cropped linen pants from Old Navy
- Available in several cute colors and on sale for $25!
- Gold sandals from ALDO (Almost identical to my pair!)
- On sale for $29! Such a steal!
- Caslon slingback sandal from Nordstrom
- Comes in several different colors! A bit pricier at $79.