Remember the famous scene from the original Star Wars? Obi Wan and Luke run into an Imperial checkpoint heading into Mos Eisely spaceport. Using his Jedi powers of suggestion, Obi Wan whispers to the imperial stormtrooper, “You don’t need to see his identification… These aren’t the droids you’re looking for… he can go about his business.”
No fuss, no muss.
Buying a new car at a fair price is not unlike dealing with an Imperial checkpoint. Here are some Jedi mind tricks that will help you pass through the gantlet unscathed:
* Never shop when you’re desperate for wheels –
Going car shopping when you really need a car — ASAP — is a great way to leave the dealership with the wrong car that you paid way too much for.
A typical scenario goes like this: The transmission in your 12-year-old car (that’s worth maybe $4,500) fails and you’re looking at a $3,000 repair bill for a new transmission. You don’t want to put the money in the old car — but you’ve gotta have a car.
Often, you’re already at the dealership — with your old car. And the new car salesman is right there, ready to help.
Your mindset is all about getting back on the road, so you don’t have to walk or bum a ride or keep on paying for an expensive rental car you can’t afford. You’re also sick of your old car and just want it to go away. The salesman is eager to help.
Before you know it, you’ve bought a new car that’s maybe not exactly what you wanted — and probably paid more for it than you should have.
How to avoid? Stay calm. Do not even consider shopping for a new car until you’ve dealt with your current car (broken down or not), decided exactly which new car you want, which options you want — and whether you can afford it.
Anticipate the need to replace your current car. Ideally, sell or trade it in before something expensive breaks. Once it does break, you’re stuck. If you don’t fix it — if it’s something like a dead transmission — the car is basically worthless. But if you do fix it, it’s probably not going to be worth more than what it was worth before the transmission failed.
* Act nonchalant (and noncommittal) –
You’re just browsing. That car’s ok. Meh. No big deal. What else have you got? Pretend you are Mr. Spock. Show no emotion. Pretend you are shopping for a toaster (which in a way, you are; cars are just expensive appliances). The point — the mission — is to never convey to the salesman (or seller, if it’s a private sale) that you really like the thing. This shifts the strategic advantage to the seller. He will know that you are probably not thinking clearly and are likely willing to overlook a lot of things — including very possibly the price — in order to make that car yours.
The smart policy is to feign indifference. The car’s ok. But you’re not all that attached to it — and don’t mind buying a different car on another day, if it means getting a better deal. Maybe from someone else.
If your will is weak — or you need moral support — bring a trusted friend to help keep you in line.
* Let the salesman talk –
Keep your mouth shut. Let the salesman talk. You may actually know more about the car than he does — but don’t reveal this.
Let him think he knows more.
When you do speak, be sure your questions and comments are informed and intelligent. You don’t have to be a “car guy” to be able do that. But you do have to spend a little time researching the make/model vehicle you’re looking at (along with competitor models) so that you know enough about it — and them — to not sound like a mark when you start talking with the salesman.
If you’re totally clueless about cars, bringing along a knowledgeable friend/spouse can be an invaluable lifeline. If you don’t have any such car-savvy friends/family members, consider a buying service. These handle the negotiation process for you — and while there is a fee involved, you’ll know what it is up front and it’ll probably be lower than what you could have achieved on your own through “haggling” with a sales shark. Some of these are entirely online. You won’t have to deal with anyone until it’s time to actually do the deal.
* Never reveal what you can afford to spend each month –
Salesmen often try to focus on the monthly payment — because it seems more manageable than the price of the car itself. For example, by extending a loan from four years to five or even six years, the monthly payment can be lowered — which may make the car seem more affordable — but you might actually be paying more overall. Especially when interest is factored into the equation.
Keep in mind, too, that once you’re locked into a monthly payment for “x” years, you’ll be less able to absorb other financial hits (such as the need to buy a new washing machine or pay an unexpected vet bill).
Always negotiate the purchase price first — and the monthly payment will take care of itself.
* Say nothing about your trade-in plans –
A common mistake some buyers make is to arrive at the dealer with their old car — and get sucked into a discussion about its trade-in value before negotiating the price of the new car. It’s an old car salesman trick to make the buyer feel he has the edge by giving him what seems like a sweet deal on his trade … while making up the difference on the price of the new car.
If you plan to trade, it’s smart to avoid any discussion of what your plans are until after you’ve settled with the dealership on the sales price of the car you’re buying.
Then bring up your trade.
Politely tell them — if they ask — that you’re not interested in discussing your trade-in right now.
Don’t arrive at the dealership in an expensive car — yours or someone else’s. The salesman will make all kinds of assumptions about you — and what you can afford to pay — based on that.
Good luck, Young Jedi!