Our resident car guy explains how to get the car bargain of a lifetime
When I bought a new car last fall, I went in with a plan. And while there are some details to my plan, it can be summed up in one sentence: Buy an unpopular car at the right time. If you go out thinking, “I want to this particular car, now,” you’re going to get hosed, because a salesperson will pick up on that vibe faster than a very fast thing. If you want to get a great price, you may need to broaden your mind. Here are some ways you can get the right car for you and a screaming deal, too.
• Do everything online.
There are many reasons the internet is your friend, but one of the biggest is the Internet Sales Manager. Every dealership has one, and that is the person who’s going to be able to get you the best deal. But the Internet Sales Manager can do more than deal—he (misogynistic, but demographically accurate) can give you extras to seal the deal, and transport cars from other dealerships. Work multiple dealerships against each other until you can’t get the price any lower. Print out that email and take it with you.
• Look for an alternative body style.
If you need to transport a family, you’re probably thinking minivan or SUV. But we’re saving money here, so look at a micro-mini like a Mini Cooper Countryman; a wagon like a Hyundai Elantra GT; or best, something way off the beaten path. I’m talking (my) Mazda5, Scion xB, Ford C-Max, Fiat 500L (America’s least reliable vehicle!) or even a Toyota Prius V.
• Buy last year’s car.
It’s 2015, but there are still plenty of 2014s on lots. They can’t be priced against a 2015 model, however, because that looks bad. Plus, the dealership is losing money every day it sits on the lot, getting older every day. A little Google-fu will reveal exactly how long they’ve had it in inventory—90 days is OK; three months is better but what you want is the dog that’s been there for six months. You’ll find most of them between August and now-ish.
• Get the obscure variant.
Did you even know there’s a Volvo V60 Cross Country? There is: They sold 28 of them nationwide in January and they’re already deeply discounted. The Hyundai Elantra GT can be had with a 6-speed and manual 2014s sell under $14,000 NEW. The automatic is $2,000 more. If you don’t drive a standard, it worth $2,000 to take a weekend to learn?
• Find something that’s radically different this year.
Another reason the Elantra GT is going cheap is the 2016 looks completely different. Dealers know this, and as the summer goes on, they’re going to want those outdated ’15s off the lot. What you want to do is take your list of possibilities and look at the difference between 2014 and 2015. If there’s a new version or a major refreshing, that old one is for you.
• Go where your relatives go.
If the dealership is any good, then customer loyalty will be very important. They would much rather sell two cars than one and it’s good to have “my mom bought her car here” in your quiver if negotiations stall. This can be really iffy, though. You have to have the same salesperson your mom did; and they have to care. Ideally, you and your relatives go in together each time for the “treat her right and I might buy a car here” vibe.
• Don’t have tunnel vision.
As I suggested earlier, for bargain hunting you don’t want to be fixated on a particular model or even make. Admittedly, you should probably avoid anything from the Consumer Reports “10 Worst List” (four of which are from Fiat-Chrysler!), which does kind of rule out the 219-percent-below-average Fiat 500L.
• Think about what you need first, what you want second.
Make a list of your top priorities, not more than five. Then make a list of the vehicles that meet those needs. Then strike off the ones that don’t meet most of the criteria above. Do you need a $30,000 Ford F150, or will a $17,000 Nissan Frontier actually get the job done? If you do all this right, you’ll be amazed at what you can end up with. And how cheaply.
David Traver Adolphus is a freelance automotive researcher who recently quit his full time job writing about old cars to pursue his lifelong dream of writing about old AND new cars. He welcomes the inevitable and probably richly deserved kvetching about Airbag and anything else on Twitter as @proscriptus.