The Internet is Killing the Car Buying Dance

by Barrett

How to buy a car will probably become crystal clear when hell freezes over.  Still, the Internet can help melt away some of the confusion.

How to buy a car will probably become crystal clear when hell freezes over. Still, the Internet can help melt away some of the confusion.

I really dislike buying a car.
That archaic routine wasting time at a car dealership…

Alas, few automobiles last forever.
A few weeks back, I finally faced the reality that I needed to replace my old Toyota RAV4.

No matter how prepared I feel going into the car-buying battle,
I know the odds are stacked against me to get the best deal.

It’s all quite excruciating.

Doing the Dance
Have you ever done the ‘dance?’
You know… that special tango you get to do with car salesmen when you’re trying to ‘negotiate’ a new set of wheels.
If so, you know what I’m talking about…

I do the dance every few years.
These sales guys are at it every single day.
What chance does an average Joe really have?

Sure, there must be a few of you out there who could go toe-to-toe
with Cal Worthington. Not me.
(maybe in the next life)

There must be a better way…

Technology has Changed the Rules
Fortunately, there’s some good news to report.
I’ve discovered the magic of today’s tech can even out the odds a bit.

Technology has had a significant impact on how the car-buying game now works. And if you pay attention to this new tech-adjusted landscape, you just might be able to use it to your advantage.

Find Your Car Online
It’s a no brainer that short of driving a car, the Internet can provide everything else you need to know about a particular model.

After some comparative research between the Honda CR-V and
a newer Toyota RAV4, I decided to re-up with Toyota.

Next, it seemed obvious to continue using my computer to locate specific cars with the bells and whistles I wanted…like a V6 engine.
(Mmmmm… V6)

Not surprisingly, I found that area dealerships all listed their cars online, complete with pricing.
(none of that ridiculous “call us the for the price” mumbo jumbo)

I also perused helpful websites like:

After I found what I was looking for, I picked up the phone to see if those vehicles were still available. (Don’t assume the listings are always updated daily.)

Only after that would I commit to taking a trip down to the nearby Thunderdome.

Two Men Enter. One Man Leaves.
Upon arrival, the old-school process inevitably takes over…

  • Test drive
  • Negotiate
  • Wait
  • Negotiate
  • Wait some more
  • Try to escape
  • Maybe do the deal

No More Wheeling and Dealing?
An annoying problem I found was none of the salesmen seemed particularly interested in dealing very much on the price.
(And I was shopping at the end of the month… at the end of the year!)

Maybe this simply pointed to my limited negotiation skills.

But apparently, there’s a huge disruptive force at play…
It’s called… The Web!

Our amazing Internet has been around for some time now, right?
Hasn’t everyone been shopping there for years to compare car prices?
Apparently not.

I’m told this newer shopping practice has only recently turned car pricing on its head.

Today, folks have finally seen the light and are comparing car prices online first before showing up. So cars dealers have been forced to price their inventories competitively online or get passed over with a simple mouse click.

But that shift supposedly takes the punch out of your expected price negotiations later on.

Whenever I wanted to haggle, I was quickly informed that the online price had already been discounted to its rock-bottom, uber-competitive price.
This happened to me over and over again.

While this really felt like just another negotiating angle, I eventually collected some corroborating data along the way to validate the trend.

More than once, I observed the car’s sticker price on the windshield was higher than the online price.

It seems absolutely absurd to list two different prices in today’s technically enhanced shopping society, but apparently there are still enough unsuspecting souls out there who walk into the deal by first looking at the sticker price on the car.

Authority Auto
I also spent some time talking with the folks at Authority Auto.
They’re a car-buying consulting agency with a business model to do all the negotiating for you.

Even though they take their own cut, it’s an attractive choice, since you’re still saving money on the final deal. Plus, you feel like you’ve got your own battalion on your side to force the best deal possible.

I really liked these guys. It felt like such a breath of fresh air to talk to someone out there who’s on your side!

Though I didn’t formally engage Authority Auto in my car search, (mostly due to timing considerations) they were extremely helpful providing some background on the cyber-affected pricing trend I had discovered.

They confirmed this ‘movement’ as something quite real.

So maybe the price is really the price…

Buy the CARFAX Report before You Show Up
Buying your car at the right price is only half the challenge.
You’ve also got to do your best to make sure the car is in great shape…
And when you’re shopping in the ‘pre-owned’ market, you can never be too sure…

Everyone knows you can get a CARFAX vehicle history report, which documents the reported maintenance and repair history of a car based on its VIN number.
The dealer will usually give it to you during the negotiation.

But here’s a tip you may not have considered:

-Have the CARFAX in hand before you show up.
($49.00 will buy you 5 online CARFAX reports.)

If your car looks fabulous online, isn’t it worth ten bucks to know that it hasn’t been in any accidents before you go down to drive it?

Case in point…

I spent the better part of one afternoon doing the dealer dance around a car I thought I liked.

The deal eventually fell apart…. due in no small part to the fact they started the negotiation from the sticker price, and I began with the online price….
(Imagine that!)

But before all that happened, I noticed a slight body irregularity near the fender before my test drive.

When I got home, I ran the CARFAX report. (No, they didn’t give it to me.)
And…yup… it had been in an accident.

Had I done the CARFAX ahead of time, I would never have considered the car, and I could have saved the whole afternoon!

No Dancing with Amy
I should also mention that I was originally given the damaged car’s disputed online price by a nice salesperson on the phone named Amy.
(The car was ‘newly available’… so it wasn’t actually listed online yet.)

Amy was quite helpful. Her pleasant style went a long way towards getting me to commit to an appointment to visit her dealership.

But when I walked in to see Amy, she was nowhere to be found. I was quickly escorted to someone else’s desk. When I relayed my conversation with Amy, the salesman barely gave a look of recognition. When a colleague walked over with the car’s paperwork, he did mention Amy briefly by name, but I swore I saw a slight smirk flicker over his face.

What was going on?!

I eventually discovered the truth.
There was no Amy…

Car Dealer Call Centers
Amy existed… but only at a call center in some other part of the country.
Yep, auto dealers have resorted to call centers to get you in the door.

And if you don’t show up, they keep calling you until you want to change your phone number!

Every dealership I called wasn’t the actual dealer.
It was the call center.

Consider yourself warned.
Don’t judge the dealership by that first call…

Finish the Dance the Old-Fashioned Way
Finally I found “the car.”
I think it winked at me when I first found it online.
It had everything I was looking for, and the test drive was great.

Not quite…

The last factor you can’t forget about is taking a good look under the hood.
And no cyber voodoo can do that for you.

I’m fortunate enough to have a great mechanic
who’s worked on my cars for years.
I’m not buying anything he hasn’t looked at and blessed.

So as part of the dance, I told the salesman he would need to get the car to my mechanic for a once-over.

He countered by inviting my mechanic to schlep up to the dealership.

When I insisted, he said that my mechanic might damage the car if he put it on the lift.

I countered again by saying I would pay for any damages.
(just calling his bluff)

With a straight face he said, “What’s your mechanic going to find that mine didn’t?”

That was the last straw.

Sensing my determination, he pivoted away from the problem.

We did the rest of the deal, including the part where he explained to me how the Web had killed the ability for people like me to haggle over price.
(Yeah, I’ve heard.)

So when he extended his hand to seal the deal, I sat there unhappily and said the car still needed its appointment with my mechanic.

I guess when you’re really willing to walk away, they know it.

My Car has its Date with the Doctor
In case you’re getting stressed wondering if my deal fell through… don’t.
The salesman succumbed to my superior negotiating tactics.
But he did deliver the RAV4 to my mechanic for its physical.

And yes, the doctor loved it.
(though my mechanic did uncover a couple small problems,
which the dealer agreed to remedy)

Price is important.
But inside is where it counts in the long run…

So I bought the car.
And so far, so good…!

If you’re in need of some new wheels, I wish you good luck with your upcoming dance.
Just don’t forget to bring the power of your Internet research to the party.
And always make sure your mechanic gets the last word…