Monday, March 18, 2013

How to Buy a Car

Our van was starting to have a strange burning smell coming from the engine. It also had about 83,000 miles on it and I figured that we were approaching the time of four-figure maintenance. From the beginning we wanted something smaller, but it wasn't available. Since we are coming into a little bit of money I thought that this would be a good time to look into a Mazda 5.

I planned on getting one used. Carmax had the color we wanted, but it was a fleet rental (danger!). It had 40k on it and they were asking about $16k for it. As a lark on Friday I started looking for new cars and found that the MSRP was $21,400. I filled out a few web forms to see what kind of deals we could get.

I was first contacted by a gal in Goldsboro at Frema Motors. She got some information about our existing van so she could give me a proposed trade-in value. While she was working on all of that I got a phone call from a dealer at Capital of Cary. He gave me the old "The MSRP price is $21,400 and the invoice is $20,400, so we're probably talking around $21,000." Shortly thereafter I got an email from Frema with a price of $17,271. Needless to say, that got my attention.

I explained that before we did anything for sure I wanted to test drive one and see how all the features work. We also took our van to Carmax to get it appraised there since we got more than I expected for our Camry. I also emailed my contact at Capital of Cary to let him know what she bid. He did the traditional, "Wow, how can they do that? We need to put our heads together here..." He came back with an offer of $16,979. I had promised the gal from Frema that I wouldn't take a local offer if there wasn't a significant difference (her exact words were, "don't show someone there my offer and take theirs for $50"), but I considered $300 significant. We test-drove what we thought would be our car that evening, but I wanted to wait until they gave us a number for taking our van. That evening I emailed my contact at Frema to let her know that she was underbid.

The next morning I received a call from Goldsboro before I heard from the folks at Capital. The general manager there told me that he would beat the offer I had by $500. At that point I stopped haggling and agreed to the deal. They delivered the car to our house as well, which was nice. We signed the paperwork at our dining room table and then I took the van to Carmax to get our check for $6000.

In the end, I got a new car for $500 more than what I would have paid for one used at Carmax with 40k miles on it. We got the color we wanted (the dark red in the link above) with gray interior. I'm kind of partial to red and gray, after all. All in all, I could not have been happier with my experience. The moral of the story is that you want to have two dealerships courting you. It is definitely a buyer's market.