Today is Part 6 of my series on buying a car. You can follow the entire series here:
- Part 1: Setting a budget and a timeline
- Part 2: Should you pay cash or get a loan?
- Part 3: Picking a car that fits your needs
- Part 4: Negotiating with the dealers
- Part 5: Test drive like a pro
- Part 6: Sealing the deal
Welcome to the final installment of my series on buying a car. By now you should have the perfect car pretty much picked out and you should be ready to make a deal. Because you used my email negotiation techniques, you’ve already got a great price in hand, but there’s still some room to get it even lower. Beyond that, there are a few other details to handle before everything is complete and you’re driving away in your new car. Today we’ll go over those last points so you can make your final decision as smooth and successful as possible.
Ask the dealer to fix any defects
Before you sign any papers, ask the dealer to fix anything that you’re not comfortable driving away with. This could be as simple as a tire rebalance or changing the oil, or it could be bigger like replacing brake pads or fixing a dent. If there’s something wrong with the car, you need to ask the dealer to handle it. Either they’ll do it willingly (this was my experience), or they’ll balk at the request and you can either look elsewhere or use those defects as part of your final negotiation.
But I can’t stress this enough: if they say they’re going to fix something, make them do it before you sign anything. Once you’ve signed the papers, they really have very little incentive to get anything done. As an example from my own experience, we had a couple of things we wanted fixed and the dealer promised they would be done. They offered to sell us the car with a 5-day money back guarantee, just to make sure no one swooped in before the repairs were made. We declined, and it ended up being another 8 days before everything was done. A lot of good that money back guarantee would have done! Save yourself the trouble and don’t buy the car until it’s in the condition you want.
One last chance to negotiate
If there’s one part of our car buying process that I would like to do over, it’s this. I was so focused on making sure we actually got the price we had negotiated via email that I completely ignored the ability to negotiate even further at the point of sale. This was a mistake that I think cost me hundreds of dollars at least, and it’s one that hopefully you can learn from to save yourself money.
When you’re really ready to make your final decision and purchase a specific car, you actually have the dealer right where you want them. They can feel the sale in their grasp, and the prospect of losing that sale (and the associated commission) is much more painful than the thought of selling for a little bit less. You can use that to your advantage to really squeeze their absolute best offer out of them.
Is there anything at all wrong with the car? Maybe a scratch or a small dent? No matter how small, bring it up as something you’re concerned about. When you did your research into this specific vehicle’s reliability, were there any areas where it might have been even slightly deficient? Is there anything about the car that isn’t perfect for your situation? Maybe there’s a particular feature it’s missing, or it’s not the right color, or it doesn’t get the best gas mileage. Again, no matter how much you actually care about these things you can bring them up as reasons you’re hesitant to make the purchase.
Based on what I’ve read, the absolute best move you can make in these final moments is to tell the dealer that you simply need a little more time to consider the vehicle. Maybe there’s another car with a different dealer that you’re considering, or maybe you just haven’t fully made up your mind. Whatever your reason, tell the dealer that the price just isn’t exactly right, and that unless they can lower it you’d like to take some time to think it over, and that you’ll be back in touch with them if you’d like to make the purchase. This will either get a better offer out of them or it won’t, in which case you can thank them and begin getting up to walk out the door. If they let you get out the door without making a better offer, you know you’ve got the best price they can give you.
The absolute worst-case scenario here is that you make it all the way out the door and have to turn right back around and say you’ve changed your mind and would like to go ahead with the purchase. It might be a little embarrassing, but I think it’s absolutely worth it to make sure you’ve gotten the best price possible. I did not follow this advice and it’s my one source of regret from the entire process.
Avoid the extras
Once you’ve agreed on the price you’ll have to sign some documents and then you’ll be handed over to the “business manager” who will finalize the deal with you. This is where they’ll try to sell you all the extras, such as an extended warranties, floor mats, and that sealant that will supposedly keep the car looking brand new for the next 10 decades. If you hadn’t decided ahead of time that there was something specific you wanted, you’re probably better off saying no to everything they offer. Keep in mind that you can get almost anything they offer at a later date and at a lower cost if you truly want it, even an extended warranty.
Registering the car
The dealer will handle the process of registering the car with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. If you’re trading in your old car or are otherwise getting rid of it, you’ll have the option of either transferring your existing plates or getting new ones. Take a look at when your current registration expires before making your decision. If it’s expiring soon, it may be worth the extra cost to get new plates to save you the cost of transferring now and then the additional cost of renewing your registration shortly after. As an example, I paid $25 to transfer my plates only to find out a month later that my registration was set to expire and I needed to pay $50 to renew. If I had been smart, I would have paid $50 up front for new plates and saved myself $25. Not a huge deal, but it would have been nice to think of that ahead of time.
Keep in mind that if you transfer your registration, you will no longer be able to drive your old car. This is a non-issue if your trading it in, but if not this could matter as a car you can’t put on the road might be difficult to sell.
Update your auto insurance
Once you’ve actually made the purchase, the dealer will ask for your insurance information and will send all of the details about the new car to your insurance company. But you still need to actually call the insurer and update your policy. This is one of the very first things you should do after making your purchase and it should only take a few minutes.
You should consider how you might want your coverage to change now that you have a new vehicle. For example, we didn’t have comprehensive or collision coverage on my old car because its value was so low that the cost of the insurance just didn’t make sense. But we absolutely wanted these coverages for our new car, so we had to inform the insurance company of the update. Take some time to think over any changes you might want to make beforehand. This is actually a great opportunity to consider how your auto insurance fits into your overall insurance plan and make any needed adjustments to ensure your family’s financial security.
Getting the title to the car
The title is the document proving that you own the car. This is another thing that the dealer should handle for you as part of your negotiated price. Each situation probably differs, but it took us about three weeks before we received the title in the mail.
Enjoy the new car!
Congratulations! You’ve now navigated the entire car-buying experience like a champ and you get to drive home the perfect car purchased at the perfect price. If you’re like me and haven’t yet bought a house (and maybe even if you have), this is very likely the biggest single purchase you’ve ever made in your life. Take a moment to enjoy your ability to pay for something like this, and take pride in knowing that you handled the process well. With any luck you won’t have to do it again for a long time.
Photo courtesy of AIGA/NY