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Boy, do we stink. At buying cars, that is. Even though women influence more than 85 percent of auto purchases, we still fear the deed. And financing? Oy. What about trade-ins? Ack! How can someone who approaches bargain shopping a Cole Haan bag with the focus and tenacity of a ninja be reduced to tears in the car dealer lot? This is how: Car shopping has been a “man’s” world for too long—dealers can be openly hostile to women (see my tough sister broken by salesmen scoffing at her budget, or my other sister dragging our brother along to the dealer as a “shield”). Car buying can also be labor intensive—there’s researching makes, models, MSRPs and more. (Like we need more labor!)
Let me break it down for you in five easy steps, because no woman should ever again be reduced to a mass of insecurity and anxiety at the dealership or have to worry about her wallet getting wormed:
Avoid men. That’s right. But how? Do your haggling online where Dealer Dan doesn’t know your gender, and where you feel confident knowing there doesn’t need to be a face-off until after you agree on a price, hit “print” and carry that paper (with a record of your agreed price) to the lot. Go to sites like Edmunds.com or directly to AutoTrader.com where dealers list their wares. Nearly all listings include email contact information. Of course, if you’re buying a used car, before you’re ready to agree to the price, make sure you run the vehicle identification number (VIN) through a site like CarMax.com so you can make sure there has been no big accident damage repair and/or flood or fire damage. You’ll want to test drive the car or truck and will therefore have to meet the dealer, but with an agreed-upon price on hand, at least you can decide whether to buy and drive or walk away.
Go “vintage.” Yes, new cars are pretty and shiny and smell good. Is that worth $10,000-plus to you? Keep those thousands of dollars in your pocket and go for a certified pre-owned (CPO) car. A CPO can have as few as a couple hundred miles to thousands, but it will also have updated warrantees and manufacturer backing, and will have been put back into shiny new condition. It’s amazing, but the same amount of money can get you a brand-new Mazda 3 or a three-year-old CPO BMW. I love Mazdas, but for the same money, I’ll take the Bimmer.
Separate the deals. There are three potential negotiations that can take place when getting a car: the price of the car, financing and the trade-in. Negotiate each separately. Don’t let a dealer bundle all three or say that because you got a deal on the financing, you shouldn’t get a deal on the car. Take each deal one at a time. Now, you may not be able to talk a dealer down on all three, but two out of three ain’t bad.
Consider what matters to you. It’s no secret that you’ll make more money selling your old car privately than if you trade it in at the dealer. For example, you could get $7,000 for your 2004 Subaru Outback if you sell it to your neighbor, but the dealer may only give you $5,500 for it. So why trade it with the dealer? Because private sales can take time and can be sticky. Ask yourself what the difference is worth to you.
Finance with fervor. If you have great credit, meaning a credit score at or above 760 (find out yours at MyFico.com —even though it will cost you to get your scores, it’s worth it), you will qualify for the best rates listed. Head to Bankrate.com for the auto rates at your location, and then use the site’s free search to find who’s offering what in your area. Some auto dealers can be honest and give you that “0% financing” that their ads tout, but many tack on a percentage or more for their own benefit. If you don’t like what the dealer offers, you can go online or to a community bank or credit union, get approved and have the funds on hand in 24 hours.
So, throw out a She-Ra “Hooo!” and get out there, ladies! Keep more of your money in your bank account, and most of all, enjoy your ride.
Got questions for our resident "wheel woman" and financial expert Carmen Wong Ulrich? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.