The only thing drivers despise more than rising fuel costs? Shrewd car dealers.
They are among the country's least-trusted business providers. The 2007 Better Business Bureau/Gallup Trust in Business Index reported that only 16% of survey respondents had a "great deal of trust" or "quite a lot of trust" in auto dealers; 17% indicated as much for real estate brokers and 21% for cellphone and wireless providers.
What's behind this suspicion? Consumers have complained to the Better Business Bureau that some dealers inflate charges, pressure buyers into purchasing features and options they don't need and slip in additional costs.
But you don't have to walk into a dealership expecting to be taken for a ride. Arm yourself with a few rules of engagement and you may walk out with a lot of car for less than others pay.
"The slow-thinking and slow-buying market is always the most informed," says David Stivers, an independent auto industry consultant. "Salesmen prefer the spontaneous buyer; that's the more lucrative person. They saw an ad and decided they had to have it. They left out the door without any information."
Negotiating with and waiting for dealers to approve a price or paperwork often results in wasted time. Such deliberations are often stall tactics designed to wear you down.
Before beginning discussions, ask how long it generally takes to process a sale and if the price is negotiable. You also want to know if the salesperson is empowered to negotiate or if the manager must be involved.
"The average amount of engaged time should be one-and-a-half to two hours," says Mark Rikess, CEO of the Rikess Group, an automotive dealership consultancy. "But the average amount of time people are engaged is three to four hours."
Some dealers will attempt to request a credit report without your written consent simply for the purpose of negotiating. Auto experts advise against allowing salespeople access to consumer credit information; armed with this data, dealers may use that against you in negotiations by charging you a higher interest rate based credit scores that are less than perfect.
Once the dealer agrees to a price you are comfortable with, don't be afraid to ask for it in writing. This will prevent the dealer from hooking you with a lower, verbal quote and then changing it when you return to close the deal. And use the written quote to comparison shop. If another dealer won't counter with a lower quote, then don't waste time haggling.
When it comes time to close the deal, make sure you are not paying for options you didn't ask for or for things which you are not required to pay for. Dealers aren't supposed to charge you for cleaning and washing, or "prepping" your car for delivery, for example. Some do anyway. Another big-ticket item dealers may slide into the contract: an alarm system. If you didn't ask for it, don't pay for it.
This should come as no surprise: Some crafty dealers are all too happy to charge you more than what their service is worth . For example, to etch the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on your vehicle, a dealer may charge several hundred dollars when the practice often costs much less. Before signing, scour the final transaction papers to make sure you comfortable with how much you are being charged for ancillary items and services.
Of course you can study up and still not get your desired prices. In that case, as with all negotiations, you need to "be prepared to get up and leave," says Rikess. "Don't consider it rude if you are not getting what you want as a consumer. Don't even hesitate to just walk away and leave."