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How I bought a car Fri, Oct 31, 2014
My 2004 Toyota Camry hit 200,000 miles recently, and I didn't feel like dealing with the potential problems that could occur with a car of that "experience level", so I was in the market for a new car.  Obviously buying a new car is a unique process.  You can't go to a car store and simply try out the various product offerings from different car companies.  You have to do research to figure out what you want.  Or alternatively you could simply drive to the nearest car dealership and talk to a salesperson whose sole objective is to charge you as much as he/she possibly and legally can while making you believe you didn't just get robbed. 

So naturally I did my research.  I figured out what I wanted, which happened to be a combination of all-wheel drive and good gas mileage.  There's really only one choice for those things, and that's a Subaru.  I decided on the mid-sized Legacy, and chose the trim level and color I wanted.  I got some price quotes from places like Cars.com and Edmunds so I would know what I could expect to pay.  Then I priced out my trade-in at Kelly Blue Book and Edmunds.  I even downloaded an app on my phone that calculated a monthly payment for a car loan given a purchase price, trade-in value, tax rate, down payment, APR, and loan term. 

The next step was visiting dealerships, which is arguably the most unpleasant part of the car-buying process.  Seriously.  I already went through the selection process and the options pricing and whatnot.  The only thing missing from these websites is a "Buy It Now" button.  I'll drive to a dealership; I don't care.  Just don't make me deal with salespeople.  Anyway, the few dealerships I went to did the same sort of spiel: 
  1. Here are the options we have in stock.
  2. We can order whatever options you want, but it'll take 6-8 weeks.
  3. Here's the MSRP and here's what we want to charge you.
  4. Here's a somewhat crappy offer on your trade-in.
  5. Your monthly payments will be [X], though we won't tell you the APR or loan term up front.
I realized quickly that salespeople are sociopaths who manipulate buyers with a few tried and true techniques: 
  • "We're barely making any money on this deal."
  • "Let me go in the back to talk to my sales manager."
  • "No other dealership will give you this price."
  • "This offer is only valid right now."
  • "All other dealerships are terrible except ours."
I was astute enough to recognize when these tactics were being used on me, but I wasn't powerful enough to avoid getting sucked in.  I drove away from one dealership feeling a little bad that I didn't buy anything, because it was a good offer and I liked the sales guy.  But then I felt stupid that I felt anything at all; it was a potential financial transaction, not a hug. 

I finally happened upon what amounted to a volume dealer that paid their salespeople a salary and had a very simple pricing formula:  Invoice plus 2%.  After lowering my expectations a little by suggesting they might not be able to get me a good deal on my trade-in, they got me a good deal, and I bought from them with no hassling or stupid salesmanship. 

Bottom line:  Buy cars from volume dealers like Bill Kolb. #business


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