I've been in and out of auto dealerships over the course of the last year or so for personal shopping and for work. Unfortunately most of my visits were every bit as bad as we've grown to expect. Last week, however, I had an experience at Gebhardt VW in Boulder that stands out among the rest. I've written a little about it and how you can buy a car painlessly too.
My Painless Experience
I had taken our beloved BMW X3, a 2004 model with 156k miles on it, into Gebhardt BMW for a windshield replacement and an oil service. Other repairs that we had opted to defer on during previous visits caught up with us; it was time to decide whether to invest several thousand dollars into our X3 or consider something new and under warranty.
VW had been running a national advertisement for a lease special on the Tiguan S, the base model of their small SUV. On Thursday morning I dropped by Gebhardt VW on my way to work and asked Jerry Bases, General Sales Manager, to set me up with a test drive. I let him know that my BMW was in the shop down the street and would be interested in having it appraised as a potential trade-in.
Within a few minutes Geoff Gabriel, Sales Representative, had a Tiguan SE pulled around front and had given me an overview of the features, particularly those that were different from the advertised lease special (leatherette and heated seats). During a 15 minute spin around the block I had a chance to talk to my wife by phone and agree that she'd come in later in the day to test drive as well.
Geoff, Jerry, and I agreed that Geoff would call me later in the day with specific numbers: the appraised value of my BMW and the lease payments including all fees and taxes based on the SE that I drove. I was able to head off to work in less than 45 minutes from when I had arrived.
Geoff called me after lunch with exactly the information I needed so we set a 4pm appointment for my wife and I to finalize the details. We took another test drive, agreed that we wanted to upgrade from the S to the SE, and made our final color selection. The paperwork took less than an hour from start to finish. DONE.
I didn't have to bring my BMW to the VW store to have it appraised - they had handled that for me. I didn't even have to return the BMW service loaner that I drove up to the VW store in - they handled that for me too. All I had to do was sign over the title to my trade-in and they took care of the details. So nice.
Be Ready to Buy
This is probably the most important advice I can give to somebody before they start shopping. The better you understand your wants and needs the better dealership experience you'll have. We had determined that we wanted to lease rather than buy and that our payments needed to be under $250/month. We also knew that we didn't need lots of options, just a solid list of standard features. Knowing that you will pull the trigger on the right deal is incredibly empowering.
Show That You Understand the Process
Read the fine print on the lease special so you're well informed. Show the salesperson that you're sensitive to the fact that he works on commission - ask for his card as soon as you meet him and ask for him if your transaction takes more than one trip. Let him know that you plan to give him perfect scores on the customer satisfaction survey if you're taken care of (and mean it - those scores are incredibly important to a dealership). If you treat him with respect you'll likely have that reflected back to you.
Handling Your Trade-In
If you own it, find the title. If you are financing it, call the bank to get your 10 day payoff so you know what you owe. Finally, figure out how much money you want for it. Don't get too hung up on guide book values and what you "should" get. Guides are just guides.
Tell Your Salesperson What You Want
I let Geoff know that I intended to use my trade-in to cover the out-of-pocket expenses so I wouldn't have to spend any cash. I wanted 12k or 15k miles/year and didn't want to entertain any vehicles outside of my $250/month budget. Most importantly, I let him know that I'd be a buyer if he could deliver on my needs.
Don't Stress Out
I've sold cars and bought cars. More often than not people who get stressed about the process do it to themselves. Most are obsessed with getting the deal they "should" get rather than a deal they're happy with. Don't get me wrong - I understand that buying a car is a big decision but it's just one of many that you make. It's only as a stressful as you allow it to be.
More than anything, don't forget to enjoy what you came for - the excitement of having new wheels in your driveway!