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Why Does It Take So Long To Buy A Car?

Illustration for article titled Why Does It Take So Long To Buy A Car?

You read the magazines, you read the online car reviews, you compare prices on the car configurators. You know what you want before you step into the showroom. So why does it take hours to buy a new car?


This question came up today when we discussed how Google Cars could turn the car-buying game on its head. Reader F1_nothing_else_matters chimed in with some advice on how to get a good deal, saying he's been working in car sales for no less than 17 years. You can read his whole discussion right here.

When he pointed out that you should never come into a dealership right before closing time, however, reader LoganSix wondered why for chissakes it takes so long to sell a car anyway.

"what would you say if your boss asked you to work 3 hours past close"

Well, I'm salaried, so I would have to go along with it.

However, why in the hell does it take a dealership 4 hours to sell me a car when I know exactly what car I wanted when I walked in? Talk about wasting time


F1_nothing_else_matters replied, explaining just what goes on in a dealership that takes so much goddamn time.

Most of the larger transactions I make with my commercial customers take less than 30 minutes. They're usually 10-20 times higher than a "car deal". Typically if it takes that long it's because someone is being a moron. Here's the price, here's the paperwork. Shake my hand and let's go.

It's the process of this - We didn't make much on the vehicle. What we'll do next is send the customer through the meat grinder. Turn them over to the "aftermarket guy" hopefully he'll sell them some bullshit product. Then while he's working his deal the finance department is busy shopping your rate so they can either make a couple of points on the interest and then squeeze a warranty upsell into that $450-$495 payment you reluctantly agreed on that is actually $425 a month at a lower term than what you agreed to. This way it looks like a great value when they show you that for just a little more you can have all these products that you really don't need. It does take time to finish paperwork, there's a lot of data to be entered into the loan application and at times you have to call the lender to work them for a lower rate. Most banks have what they call a rate matrix based off of where your FICO score falls. Based on your score the dealership can actually do what they call a "spot delivery" where they don't even send the info to the bank until the next day. If you're below about a 675 FICO they may have issues doing this. If you're paying cash, the process should take no longer than 45 minutes.

Where I work, there are no aftermarket guys, the salespeople do the transaction from start to finish. We don't have to ask our boss for anything regarding the price. We know how much margin we need and if we can't get it we move on. We do have a business manager, but he does much more than sell crap, and we use him for just about everything. There's an easy way to do business and most dealerships prefer the hard way because they're too scared to try anything else.

We welcome anyone else with experience working in a car dealership to chime in as well. For the rest of us, what's the longest you've had to sit and work through buying a car?

Photo Credit: Alden Jewell

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I recently purchased a car, CPO, in excellent condition, and I was in and out of the dealership in less than two hours. There are a few important things you need to do before even setting foot in the door:

1) Know EXACTLY what you want. Have a make and model nailed down, and have a pretty good idea of what options you want. This may require a bit of a compromise. Do you need the nav (with smartphones all included with GPS, why bother? It's one more costly gadget that could break down), or can you go without it? For me, I HAVE to have a sunroof. Because I want it. The color combo is important, but since you're not ordering the car, you need to be willing compromise a bit. Break them down to first, second, and third choice.

2) Look at the Carfax, and more than likely it will tell you how long it's been on the lot. Normally a dealership would want to dump out after a car has been sitting for 60 days. If it's a popular car, your room for haggling is very limited. Most dealerships can sell Honda Accords, and they have at least two to three used ones on hand. They might drop $500 off the asking, but that's about it.

3) Fin cars in the same league as the dealership. Don't try to buy a BMW at a Ford dealership. NO ONE would ever trade in a BMW for a Ford. Not that Ford is bad, but they're two separate clientele. If you do, they'll try to rape you, because they know you don't know any better.

4) Pit the dealers against each other. "Dealer ABC is giving a better price on the same car that has more options and less miles, but the color is not what I wanted. I'm hoping we can talk price. If you can beat the price, I'll come to you." At this point you are engaging in a bit of a psych warfare, and trust me, sales people are VERY good at it, so make sure you don't get your ass kicked. Rule of thumb: Don't sound too eager or anxious to buy. Be reasonable, but don't blow your load like a 15-year-old getting a handjob for the first time.

5) Do your deal over the phone. I'm not saying you should buy a car sight unseen, but have the prices hammered out. Talking prices in a room full of sharks will never amount to victory for most people. Most people are not in sales. It's a conversation between you and the person selling you the car. Keep the conversation two way. Once the price is firm, and you're happy with it, set up an appointment and pay a visit. But make it clear you are not buying until you have a chance to check out the car thoroughly and take it for a test drive. If they refuse, the deal is off. Walk away. If they respect you (after spending all the time on the phone with you to work out the deal), they would want to meet you and you'll want to meet your car.

Car Dealerships are in it to make money, just like every business. Aside from the used cars lots, most sales people are pretty decent people. Yes, they have their bullshit sales pitch, strategies and games. Everyone who works in sales do. But most of them realize you're making a purchasing decision, and if you were not interested, you wouldn't have walked into the showroom. I know it's hard to believe, but most people in car sales are building a career, so aside from sales records, they also need their reputation. They are not out to get you, but they won't say no if you walk into their traps.