Personal. Buy a Car, Not a Con

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1 Personal Buy a Car, Not a Con MyGenFCU.org 1

2 The Salesman Smile For many, shopping for a vehicle ranks up there as one of the more stressful situations in life. The intimidation factor is prevalent everywhere in the process: the pushy salesman, the uncertainty of a used vehicle s condition, deciphering a stack of neverending fine print. Car dealers are aware of this perception and do everything they can to get customers through the door. Advertising plays a big part in that equation. Advertisements promise low interest rates, huge trade-in deals and more. These ads may seem tempting, but there are many factors to consider before determining whether a car or car purchase is ideal for you. Financing Always remember, you re not limited to the financing options advertised by a dealer. Before you consider a dealer s financing, get preapproved for an auto loan with A low rate may be contingent upon a shortened loan period, which will raise the monthly payment amount significantly. your credit union or bank. Many financial institutions have a streamlined process that allows car buyers to be approved online or over the phone. The greatest advantage of this is a great financing rate without the many caveats car dealers attach to their financing terms. Additionally, getting preapproved helps buyers negotiate with a dealer because they can go in knowing what set price they can afford. If a car buyer is determined to take advantage of whatever low-interest financing offer a dealership is advertising, he or she should first make a simple phone call and ask the following questions: Will I be charged a higher price for the car to qualify for the low-rate financing? Often the price is actually lower if paying cash or using financing from a credit union or bank. Does the financing require a large down payment? To qualify for financing, a large down payment as high as percent is sometimes required. Are there limits on the length of the loan? A low rate may be contingent upon a shortened loan period, perhaps months, which will raise the monthly payment amount significantly. Is a balloon payment due at the end of the loan? The low rate is often obtained by moving a large portion of the automobile s price, sometimes as large as several thousand dollars, to the final payment. This sort of trap keeps car buyers in a never-ending, refinancing spiral. 2

3 Warranty Woes Despite all precautions, it s still possible for owners to wind up on the short end of the stick when trying to use their vehicle warranties or service contracts. Here are some steps to help resolve any issues: Try to work it out with the dealer. Talk with the salesperson or, if necessary, the owner of the dealership. Many problems can be resolved at this level. If the car warranty is backed by the manufacturer, contact the manufacturer s local representative. The local or zone representative is authorized to adjust and decide about warranty service and repairs to satisfy customers. Contact the Better Business Bureau, state attorney general or Department of Motor Vehicles. Also, if the vehicle was bought from a franchised dealer, consider seeking mediation through the Automotive Consumer Action Program (AUTOCAP). As a last option, consider small claims court. A claims court clerk can give details on filing a suit and what the dollar limit is for each state. The Magnuson- Moss Warranty Act may also be helpful. This federal law allows one to sue based on breach of warranty or a service contract. Is the financing for a limited time only? Some merchants limit special deals to a few days or require that you take delivery by a certain date. Does the low rate apply to all cars in stock or a certain model? The old practice of bait and switch is still in full effect today. Usually, a dealership will have one or two cars in its lot that actually qualify for a low rate. If a dealer tries to push a more expensive model, turn the tables on him and walk away. Dealers will do almost anything to keep customers on the lot, including extending the rate offer to a car of the buyer s choice. Haggle-Free Pricing For many, haggling for a good price is as enjoyable as an IRS audit or a root canal. Car buyers can bypass the hassle with two words: fleet pricing. Most dealerships have a fleet department whose staff are authorized to sell vehicles at deeply discounted prices to businesses that are interested in purchasing fleets of vehicles. Although this department is meant to serve commercial buyers, many dealerships allow their fleet departments to work with private buyers and extend the same low price on single vehicles. Call or visit a dealership and ask to speak with their fleet department manager. For further convenience, check with your financial institution as they may have a ready-made list of dealerships that have agreed to extend fleet pricing to their customers or members. True Value Pricing Dealers often use special promotions, such as high trade-in allowances or invoice pricing, to create the illusion of value. Consider these questions to see through those deceptive practices: 3

4 Does the trade-in allowance apply to all cars, regardless of condition? There may be deductions for high mileage, dents or rust. Does the trade-in allowance raise the cost of the new car? Negotiate the price of your car purchase before mentioning you have a trade in or the dealer may negate the trade-in allowance by proportionally increasing the new car s price. Is the promotional price better than a regular price offered at other dealerships? Promotions often disguise an unchanged price that can be found, or beat, at other dealerships. Any dealer can add $5,000 to a car price and then tout a special $5,000 off promotion. Promotions often disguise an unchanged price that can be found, or beat, at other dealerships. Does the dealer s invoice reflect the actual amount that the dealer pays the manufacturer? Several consumer or automotive publications publish information about what the dealer pays for a vehicle, including: Edmunds ( Nada Guides ( and Kelly Blue Book ( Does the dealer s invoice include the cost of optional features? This includes items such as rust proofing or water proofing that have been added to the car. Can you take advantage of all special offers simultaneously? Although several special offers may be listed in their promotions, often, many cannot be combined. Car Inspection Before buying a car, especially a used car, there are some universal inspection items that must be investigated: Test drive the car on various road conditions. Before going to look at the vehicle, preplan a driving route that will allow you to test the vehicle on hills, highways and in stop-and-go traffic. If used, ask for the car s maintenance/accident record. At dealerships, professional car reporting services like CARFAX are a requirement before making an offer. When purchasing directly from an owner, this may not be an option; consider contacting the owner s mechanic for information. 4

5 If this is not possible, check trusted databases that gather vehicle history information from state and local authorities, salvage yards and insurance companies. The Department of Justice s National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) at is an online system that offers accurate information about a vehicle s title, odometer data and certain damage history. Reports may cost up to $4, but can save you hundreds in the long run. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) at maintains a free car history database that includes flood damage and other information, accessible with a vehicle identification number (VIN). If used, have the car inspected by an independent mechanic. If possible, have a separate mechanic inspect and test drive the car. An inspection is a good idea even if the car has been certified and inspected by the dealer and is being sold with a warranty. For the inspection, look for facilities that display certifications like an Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) seal. Because there are no standard operating procedures for pre-purchase inspections, ask what the inspection includes, how long it takes and how much it will cost. Get this information in writing. If the dealer won t allow the car off the lot, find a mobile inspection service that will go to the dealer. If that s not an option, ask the dealer to have the car inspected at a designated facility. If an offer to buy the car is made, remember to deduct the inspection s estimated repair costs from the final purchasing price. Be wary if the dealer refuses any type of inspection. If used, ask to see the Buyer s Guide. The Federal Trade Commission s Used Car Rule requires dealers to post a Buyer s Guide in every used car they offer for sale with the exception of motorcycles and most recreational vehicles. The Buyers Guide must tell you: whether the vehicle is being sold as is or with a warranty; what percentage of the repair costs a dealer will pay under the warranty; to get all promises in writing as spoken promises are difficult to enforce; to keep the Buyer s Guide for reference after the sale; the major mechanical and electrical systems on the car, including some of the major problems you should look out for; and to have the car inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy. The original Buyer s Guide reflects any negotiated changes in warranty coverage and becomes part of the sales contract, overriding any contrary provisions therein. Research the general frequency of repair and maintenance costs. Look up the model of car you are thinking of buying in auto-related consumer magazines. Websites like Edmunds.com or Kelly Blue Book ( give valuable ratings and ownership cost estimates for every type of vehicle in production. In addition, the Department of Transportation s Vehicle Safety Hotline ( ) and website (www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov) give information on recalls. 5

6 Service Contracts These are the money makers for dealerships. Just when everything was ready to be signed, the price was agreed to and the financing was set, the hard sell for service contracts begins. These are not without value, but the cost versus benefit ratio depends upon many factors. To decide if a service contract is necessary, consider the following things that could be applicable: The service contract duplicates warranty coverage or offers protection that begins after the warranty runs out. Does the service contract extend beyond the time the car buyer expects to own the car? If so, is the service contract transferable or is a shorter contract available? The vehicle is likely to need repairs and their potential costs. The value of a service contract can be determined by comparing it to the cost of repairs. Are these repairs likely to exceed the price of the contract? The service contract covers all parts and systems. Check claims carefully. Bumper to bumper coverage may not mean what it seems. A deductible is required. If so, what are the amount and terms? The contract covers incidental expenses. Consider expenses like towing and rental car charges while the car is being serviced. Repairs and routine maintenance have to be done at the dealer. Does the contract require that the dealer is used exclusively for certain maintenance services, such as oil changes? There s a cancelation and refund policy for the service contract. Perhaps the car buyer plans to sell in the future and will no longer need the warranty. The dealer or company offering the service contract is reputable. Read the contract carefully to determine who is legally responsible for fulfilling the terms of the contract as dealers often sell third-party service contracts. Get on Down the Road There s probably no better feeling for car buyers than the first time they drive off with their new car purchase. By doing some homework and asking some tough questions, the stress associated with buying a car is reduced and car owners can make their purchase free of regrets. P.O. BOX SAN ANTONIO, TX

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