1. Conduct target-price reconnaissance
As basic as it sounds, many Servicemembers haven’t checked the value of the vehicles they are considering buying, says Sheryl Bilbrey, CEO of the San Diego Better Business Bureau. Use Edmunds.com’s True Market Value® (TMV®) pricing for new, used and certified pre-owned cars. It’s also smart to check local classified listings to accurately gauge the asking price of cars. Knowing the numbers behind the deal will make you a good negotiator.
2. Plan for the total cost of a car
In his car-buying class, Robert “Camo” Gleisberg uses the acronym GRIM to educate buyers. There’s more to a car’s cost than just its purchase price, he says:
G is for gas costs. Buy a fuel-efficient car.
R is for registration. “We’re not talking peanuts here,” Gleisberg says. Registration costs can exceed $300 for a new car.
I is for insurance. Choose your car wisely or insurance could be more than the monthly car payment.
M is for maintenance. Gleisberg tells his classes to set aside extra money for routine service and repairs.
3. Negotiate with your feet
Craig Hughes, a financial counselor based at the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, CA, gives young military car buyers this advice: “Be prepared to do an about-face if you don’t like what you’re hearing.” Car salesmen create a sense of urgency, telling a buyer that someone else will steal his dream car. But it will probably still be there next week. Or you’ll be able to find a better deal elsewhere.
4. Get good intel
Bilbrey says it only takes seconds to check a dealership’s rating on a Better Business Bureau website. This “pre-information” lets you know if you are dealing with an F-rated business or one that has earned an A. If it gets a top grade, you still have to make your best deal, of course. But at least you know that other shoppers have successfully navigated the buying process.
5. Flank the enemy
Most shoppers test-drive a car and if they like it, they plunge into negotiations. Instead, Gleisberg recommends that you leave the car lot after a test-drive. Then you can contact local dealerships’ Internet department managers for price quotes.
6. Know the rules of engagement
All the experts stressed one important fact: When you sign the sales contract, you are legally obligated to make all the car payments. Unlike many other large purchases, there is no “cooling-off period” when you buy a car. It’s not a bad idea to sleep on your purchase decision before you sign the paperwork.