Almost everyone owns a vehicle, and the stakes are higher than ever. You not only have your long-term credit rating at risk, in a car purchase, but you have maintenance, payments, and fuel costs as well. Used car prices have soared and the cost of maintenance, parts and service have also followed this upward trend. As much as the auto industry wants us to have a love affair with our vehicles, at the end of the day, a love affair only works when everything is working, properly, and not costing us. People need vehicles to be reliable, uncomplicated and functional, like a loving partner.
I’m on the front lines, as a small independent auto dealer, for seventeen years, in the same city. There’s a big difference in the buying experience for my customers versus the big dealership experience. I listen closely to my customers, and try to learn from them, many times, changing how I do business, based on customer needs. This doesn’t happen with big dealerships, who have their habits set in stone. Customer animosity very much exists in the car business and, on occasion, I am on the receiving end of this angst. The majority of the time it stems from customers’ past experiences, at the big dealerships.
Buying a car in real life, is not like it is depicted in TV commercials. Listening and being helpful to customers during the very stressful time of car buying is what customers need. Unfortunately, the same auto industry complaints I heard twenty-five years ago, still exist, and are getting worse. I used to think people were unfairly biased against the car business, until I spent enough years in this business to see how big dealerships, and the auto manufacturers treat people. I’ve learned, through the years, exactly why this business is “buyer beware,” and I’ve learned, first hand, why the car business can’t be trusted. It’s why bad airbags, lying emissions software, and bad starters, happen. Building a good, reliable vehicle for the customer, should be a given, but it’s not. As a buyer, you have to make many important decisions during the purchase process, and it’s hard to find a professional at the dealership, who has your best interest in mind, to help you with these big buying decisions.
The following are the top ten reasons you should seek out an independent, licensed dealer for your next used vehicle purchase. I give you these reasons to go with a small dealer, as I’d love for you, as a used vehicle buyer, to have a better experience, overall. It’s the first step in changing the customer experience in the car business.
1. You will save money buying a used car from a small dealer. Spending more, upfront, on a used vehicle, never means you are getting a better used vehicle. It just means you are paying too much from the start. Big dealerships try to go by the book, Kelley Blue Book retail, to be specific, and these prices are often one to four thousand dollars higher than the pricing you will find on a vehicle being offered by a small dealer. An independent, licensed, insured, small dealer can offer the same vehicle that a large franchise dealer offers, at a much lower price, because they don’t have the huge payroll and facility overhead.
2. You can ignore the local advertising by big dealerships, and you can click on craigslist, Facebook, eBay and auto-trader to find a great selection of vehicles from small independent dealers. Advertising is huge for the car business. Millions of dollars each week are funneled into ads that give you no hard information about cars, and for what? While a commercial about the most important things you need to know about the brand, and the vehicle, would be helpful, local automotive advertising still tries to entertain us with family, children, dogs, crazy managers, or sentimental themes.
3. You can buy a good used vehicle, without being pressured to buy a half dozen aftermarket products. It’s hard to trust a business that keeps trying to sell you more and more, when you only wanted to buy one thing, a car. Selling you a vehicle is just step one, in the big dealership. Today’s savvy customer has caught on, and they don’t like it. The sales process is too long, at the big dealers, say my customers. Big dealerships are trained in the various selling methods, and schooled in how to sell to you everything. Most of the people who buy cars from me bring this up as the thing they hate the most about shopping at a big dealership.
4. You can avoid high-priced service department rip-offs. Recently, a customer told me the story about a $3000 service bill at a Honda dealership. She was upset just talking about it, and couldn’t be clear about what they actually did for the $3000. A single, working mother of two, she was taken by the big dealership, and their over-the-top-service-selling. A story I hear often, because people don’t think this will happen to them at their “trusted” local dealership. That is, until they have to suffer the “gotcha.” What this customer needed, in a dealer, was help, advice, and the cheapest fix possible. She needed fair estimating and pricing, and she didn’t get it. Needless to say, she won’t be buying a car from them, ever, after this service experience. Service departments have changed, and are obviously trained to not share service information. The dealerships are far from going in the right direction with their service department trust issues. Customers can find cheaper service almost anywhere besides the big dealership. New studies find that most people cannot even afford a $600 repair, much less a $3000 repair. I know mechanics that charge $25-30 an hour as opposed to the $100 an hour the big guys charge. Many times, a reputable, small dealer in your area can help you with inexpensive service. You need only ask.
5. You won’t pay full retail, or have a salesperson devaluing your trade-in. A small broker, like myself, would rather have you sell your own car, or help you sell your car, because it’s likely not a vehicle they would keep in stock. I can sell a customers’ vehicle in less than a week, no matter the condition, and help them make more money, than if they trade it in. How can you trust a business that wants to undervalue one of your biggest assets? You can slow the buying process down. I make this very clear to my friends and family. Selling their used vehicle, not trading it in, is the way to hold on to their money, and it can be fast and easy.
6. You can still get “Certified Pre-owned” vehicles. Certified pre-owned means it has been inspected, and thankfully, people are beginning to question the exorbitant over-pricing that goes along with this label. It was supposedly created to help you buy used vehicles with confidence, but now it is recognized as a way to inflate the price, by thousands, on a used vehicle. It encourages you to let down your guard about the vehicle, as well. Not a great thing to do during the purchase of a vehicle. It’s likely that a one owner car, in good condition, more certifiable than a three owner, off lease or rental, “certified pre-owned” vehicle at the big dealer, right? Common sense still very much applies to the buying process. Certified pre-owned means something different at every dealership. Shouldn’t a dealer automatically inspect a vehicle, before they sell it? Grocery stores inspect your food, and they don’t certify and charge more for it. They just assume you want good food and if they don’t provide it, you will shop somewhere else.
7. You won’t pay Doc Fees. How can you trust a dealer that adds $400 to $800 to your newly negotiated deal? This fee is almost never disclosed upfront. A dealer who cares about their customers would never try to charge their customer a fee for doing their documents.
8. You can negotiate your deal. Most people know negotiating is a good thing, and we chuckle at any other sales approach. Buying a car is not like buying chicken parmesan. Most adults are not insulted if a nice salesperson waits on them, and can negotiate a good deal. You should be insulted if a big used car chain tells you to pay retail, and they have a “no haggle” pricing policy. That’s an insult to all intelligence, and most buyers won’t go for it. I chuckle every time I hear the commercial.
9. You get to talk with the dealership owner, or the person who made the decision to stock the vehicle you are looking at buying, and they will explain to you exactly why this is a great used vehicle for you. With a big dealership, you will seldom talk with the owner, or the vehicle buyer. At a big dealership, many times you will encounter a less than professional employee, who is going to try to sell you whatever they can. What is the most common complaint? Sales staff that lacks professionalism. They are overly friendly, when you are buying, or completely rude, if you are not buying, right now. They treat men and women like numbers because that is the system they work under. The kindest, most helpful salesperson doesn’t get awards. The salesperson who posts the most sales, and holds the highest gross profit, is the employee who gets awards at the dealership. You probably won’t see a kind, professional female face at most dealerships, like you do in some commercials, because most women can’t work the hours required by the owners, and take care of a family, too. In a small dealership, the same person who put the thought and time into buying this particular vehicle, is also the person who is selling it. They know something about the vehicle, and they bought it for reasons they trust, and can explain that to you, the buyer, during the sales process.
10. You can put Consumers Reports to work for you when buying a pre-owned vehicle, and this is a tool that won’t let you down. This is the most important piece of advice any automotive professional can give you. Hundreds of owners weigh in on their vehicles for Consumers Reports. You can put a good amount of trust in the information you get from Consumers Reports, and even I, as a seasoned professional, rely on their wisdom.
Real automotive professionals want you to love your used vehicle. We feel proud when you choose a vehicle we hand-picked as a great pre-owned vehicle, and a good deal. When you buy a used vehicle from me, I only want to hear from you in one instance. When you are ready to add another great pre-owned vehicle to your family inventory!