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Doing a lot of research before buying your first car is crucial for getting the best deal possible. Of course, in today’s market, anything at or around MSRP is a good deal. However, with dealer markups running rampant, it’s still a good idea to know what you’re getting into before stepping foot in the dealership. If not, you could end up making one costly mistake.

What is one major mistake that first-time car buyers fall victim to?

A Toyota car dealership, one of the best places for an oil change
Toyota Dealership | Erik Mclean via Unsplash

Negotiating at the dealership can end up costing car buyers a lot of time and money. According to an article posted by Car Edge, “You should never step foot into a dealership before you know the entire deal.” It goes on to say that buyers should know the “sale price, trade-in value, financing rates, tags/title, add-ons, and the exact payment.”

Basically, get an entire rundown of the deal before heading down to the dealership. And if the salesperson asks, “when can you come in?” Set an appointment to do a test drive, if needed, and nothing else. That way, you’re not negotiating on their turf.

This also works if you’re ordering a car from the factory – which is common nowadays. If you’re met with any objections like, “You need to come in to place an order,” just ask for the sales manager. The sales manager should typically accommodate your needs to make a deal. Also, you should be able to build the car from home.

Ultimately, getting everything figured out before stepping into the dealership will allow you save time when you’re there. It could save you money since you’ll be able to negotiate from home and call multiple dealers to shop the price around and get the best offer.

Additionally, some dealers are known for telling you one price over the phone and then changing it once you’re at the store. So knowing the price beforehand could negate this potential “bait and switch” tactic.

Thoughts from a former car salesman on this practice

A kia dealership
A sign with the Kia logo is displayed at a Hyundai dealership. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As a former car salesperson, I agree and disagree with some of the points made by the Car Edge article. I agree that there are a lot of details on the deal that you can easily hammer out over the phone or via e-mail with a salesperson.

If the car is in stock, the salesperson should be able to tell you what the “out the door” price of the car is. This is the car’s total price, including the sales tax, registration fees, add-ons, and any markups.

However, when it comes to your car’s trade-in value, the salesperson will only be able to give you a ballpark appraisal value for it. That value can change once the used car manager sees the car in person and appraises it.

The reason it changes is that there could be scratches, dents, or other wear and tear items that need to be accounted for. These are things that can’t be seen in pictures or by a customer that tells you “it’s in good shape” over the phone.

Why do car dealers want you to come to the dealership?

good cheap used SUVs, best used SUVs
A family of four looks at a Saturn Outlook SUV | Matthew Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Car dealers want you to come into the dealership so that they can have you drive, touch, and see the car in person to make sure that you want it. Afterward, the salesperson can get your trade-in appraised and go over the final sales figures in one shot.

Now, I understand that this process takes a while sometimes, but it will still take just as long, even if you could get all of the sales numbers over e-mail. When I worked at a dealership, I had every customer that bought a car test drive the car they were buying to make sure that they wanted it – even if they had already test driven the car somewhere else.

It’s like buying an expensive pair of shoes. If you were spending $20,000 on a pair of shoes, wouldn’t you want to make sure they’re exactly what you want before forking over that kind of money?

Sure you do. But instead of shoes, this is a car that’s going to be taking you from point A to B safely. So it’s important to ensure that you’re getting exactly what you want. After all, a car is a product just like any other.

Ultimately, buying a car takes a lot of time, whether you can get all of the research and paperwork done at home or not. The process is never that simple once you’re at the dealership, and it’s a good rule of thumb to clear your day before buying a car – or at least a few hours.

The paperwork, test drive, and detailing the car all take a lot of time, no matter how streamlined the process is. If you’re buying a new car for the first time, I suggest doing as much research as possible from home, narrowing your search to one car, test driving it, and then working the deal at your convenience – whether it’s from home or at the dealership.


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