I’ve been meaning to get back to this series since Obadiah’s death, but just haven’t had it in me. But, I know a lot of people seem to have found this helpful and have been looking forward to the next part. I’m going to try and get through Part 2 of it today.

Today, I’m going to try and cover Step 2 - The First Ten Minutes on the Lot.

Many folks do not understand how crucial the first ten minutes are for them. That is because they do not understand that the whole purpose of going to a car lot is to get the vehicle you want at the price you want. That is the only point of going to a car lot - not to browse, not to check things out, not to get information from a salesman, not to kick the tires. Your only reason for setting foot on that lot should be to get the vehicle you want at the price you want.

So, if you do not know for sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, which vehicle you want - do not set foot on a car lot. If you are unsure, even slightly so, of the price you are going to pay for that vehicle - do not set foot on a car lot. Notice, I did not say the price you are willing to pay. Too many people think in that realm - and then end up paying that price plus a lot more. This is the price you are going to pay. Not because you couldn’t or wouldn’t pay a dollar more, but because you have purposed in your heart or, if married, with your spouse, that you will pay this price or you will not buy.

This is a price that the dealer will not ever find out - not during the sale process, not when you leave, not three years later. This is a price that you only know. And it is not determined by magic or wishful thinking. It will be determined by tons and tons of research.

I’m going to tell you a story of a gentleman I know who was determined to pay a certain price for a car - a Mitsubishi Eclipse RS. He did his research for months. Then, one weekend, he and a friend drove to virtually ever Mitsubishi dealer in the state of Florida with a cashier’s check in hand made out for the amount he was willing to pay. Nearly ever dealer that carried the model and features he was looking for laughed at his check. Most told him to come back when he was “serious”. Some flat out kicked him off the lot and told him never to come back. But, one dealer finally looked at the check, looked at him in the eye, and said, “If I sell you this car right here and you give me this check, you’ll be happy? There’s no games?”. He nodded yes, and the salesman wrote up the sale and he was in his new car within the hour. He had spent the whole day and driven hundreds and hundreds of miles.

You may not have to go to this extreme. First, you may never find a dealer like he found that was willing to move that one vehicle at that one price. Second, I told you it would take lots of your time and energy, but most of us can’t drive the entire state to look for a car - unless you live in Rhode Island. Third, having a pre-made cashier’s check can actually cause you to pay more in some cases (I’ll explain), but it isn’t a bad idea overall. And last, you are not going to learn to negotiate and this will be your only tactic each time you buy a car. It might be fun when you are single, but handling this deal professionally is a great boost to your future money-handling skills. Keep in mind, most dealers are very lax about repairing cars bought at other dealerships. There is nothing wrong with developing a relationship with your dealer from the start. Remember, they are not the enemy - our own lack of knowledge and experience is the enemy. These articles will help you win that battle.

So, if you are stepping on to a car lot without full knowledge of your future vehicle, the price you are going to pay, and the full understanding of the process, and a cleared slate of time for the rest of the day - you have already given up a huge advantage to the dealer. Nearly every person I ever met coming on to a car lot was unprepared. In the first ten minutes, this becomes horribly evident. Most people have an “idea” of what they are “willing” to pay - wrong! Most people have had their “eye on” a particular model - wrong! Most people think they can take a test drive and scoot out the door in a few hours - wrong! And nearly everyone has no understanding of the real process of a car deal. They might know the technical steps, but they misunderstand the motivation of not only the dealer, but themselves. This is a giant blunder that rarely improves each time you buy a car. Many people go through life making the same blunder every five years - and some even think they are “good negotiators”.

You’ll hear this from me every so often: The Deal Sheet Never Lies. It never does. I’ve heard many people talk about what a great deal they got on their cell phones, while I’m looking over the deal sheet thinking how devastating it would be if this sheet were to slip into their hands. Their faces would turn white as the phone dropped onto the floor and shattered.

So, I’ll get into research at some future point, but let’s assume that you’ve followed my advice so far. For the sake of your pocketbook, let’s hope you have. You know the car you are going to buy. Down to the little letters after the model name. You are going to buy a 2006 Ford Fusion I4 SEL - not an I4 SE, no matter how great the deal is on the SE. You know the exact price you are going to pay for it - not what you are willing to pay, not what payments you are willing to pay, but the total price you are going to pay - including all fees and taxes. Please folks, don’t let a dealer tell you the tag transfer fee - you should know it. You have all day and then some to hang out at this particular dealership - not to jump around from dealer to dealer - that’s like beating a dead horse. And you are fully aware of the process you will go through - either by reading these articles or some other source.

A brief word about time: You must purpose that if you can’t get your car today, then you won’t get your car today - you will wait until your next day off. Time is on the dealer’s side - you need to get that advantage back. Most high gross sales, meaning sales that bring the dealer a great deal of profit (way more than usual), are sales that are either due to financial bunglings of the buyer, or the buyer’s pressure for time. It is far more likely for a buyer to give away the keys to the kingdom (uh, that’s your wallet), due to a sense of time pressure, a lack of patience, a desire to just be “done with it”, than it is by the dealer pulling some trickery. Repeat to yourself: “I am full of calm and patience. Each minute that passes brings me ever closer to my vehicle and my price.” Do not leave under any circumstance. If you begin to starve to death, order a pizza right to the dealership. Have one family member go off and grab some food. Or go on another test drive and grab some fast food, even if the salesman is with you (he’ll probably be hungry too). Take your time - slow down - enjoy the process.

Some people always say to me: “Lawrence, that is ridiculous. We shouldn’t have to go through all this to buy a car”. I fully agree (and you don’t - another secret I’ll reveal later). But this is the system that you must go through, especially if you want to buy a new car and aren’t interested in starting your own dealership with Ford. So, we can work on changing the system later - which I’ll likely discuss in the last segment, but for now, learn to master the system. It isn’t difficult, but it isn’t as easy as falling off a log, either.

Okay, we are back to our first ten minutes on the lot. You are now qualified to be on the lot, right? Let’s hope.

There are basically three possible scenarios that can happen in the first ten minutes. Let’s take them in reverse order of what is most likely.

The least likely event will be that you begin to wonder the car lot and nobody addresses you or stops to ask you how they can help. Sadly, most everyone thinks this is a good thing. Not for a qualified car buyer such as you. You need to meet and get to know a salesman so you can begin the process. There is no need to wonder the lot since you know what you are going to buy. Even if it is a used car, because you won’t be on the lot if they don’t have your car. You will have called during your research phase and asked if they had a dark green or black 1998 or 1999 Ford Taurus SEL. If they said “no”, you left them your name and number to call when one came in. If they said, “we never know what we’ll be getting, why don’t you stop by and look”, you left them your name and number to call when one came in.

So browsing the lot is a waste of your time. It also demonstrates a less-than-lively sales force, although it could be you did not take my advice and decided to go on a busy day - like Saturday. You will endure much more waiting by not heeding what I said earlier about Saturdays.

The next possible event is that you are not addressed by a salesman, so you wonder right up to the sales desk or receptionist and ask to speak to one. Hopefully, this will not happen to you either. You really don’t want to be introduced to a sales manager at this point. Again, a less-prepared person will think, “Wow… the sales manager himself is going to show me the vehicle - I’ve already jumped passed the lunkhead salesmen and I’m rolling with the big cheese - plus, he said to me that since he is the sales manager, he could get me a great deal today since he just saw the numbers for the month this morning and they didn’t look great”. I can assure you that you have stumbled into a hornet’s nest. First, the sales manager will only toy with you like a shark brushing up against his prey. Then, after sizing you up, he will hand you over to the greenest guy on the floor - something that you don’t want. He will work you from both sides until you are battered, beaten, and more-than-bruised, in which he will finally “rescue” you with a “lowball” that you won’t refuse - and the game will be up.

The most likely event - thankfully - is where a salesman will approach you within a minute. To ensure this happens, stay in your car for a few moments before turning off the ignition and getting out. When you get out of your car, stand by it. Keep talking with your family, or if alone, just stand there. You will be accosted shortly at almost any self-respecting dealership. If not, trust me when I say they are watching to see where you go - to size you up. Is he going to the used cars? Is he headed to the maintenance bay? Is he looking at that new Mustang convertible? You think these don’t say things about you? They most certainly do. So just wait - it is good practice. If after five minutes, no one comes up to you, simply drive off and go run some errands and then come back. Do not venture into the showroom. Do not, do not, do not. You love the heat (or the cold, or the rain). You are Mr. Endurance. The comfort of a chair is for those who need a cushion from the blow they are about to get. You need no such comforts. At no time do you act tough or “manly”, but you never act beat, tired, exhausted, hopeful, or inquisitive. You are there to buy a car - you have a purpose. Act like it.

Now, as the salesman approaches, you wait there, extend your hand, shake warmly and look him in the eye. Do not look at the cars around. Notice his name. Your goal is to now spend 30 to 45 seconds getting to know him. Let’s call him Tim. You say, “Hi, Tim… are you busy?” He is going to laugh and say either “always” or “not right now”. You are then going to make small talk. “Great… I’m here to buy a car today, so if you are willing, I’d like you to be my salesperson. I imagine you like selling cars probably more than I like buying them, so it should be more fun for you, right?”. He’ll likely laugh and think you are a character and a good sport. Keep it up… “I was going to spend the day watching the Laker’s game, but I figured I’d better take care of this business before too long… you watch much sports here? You guys probably have a big screen in the back”. Basically, keep it very friendly. You are going to be stuck with this guy for a long time, so spend a few minutes casually - you’ll build on all this later.

Some salesmen may cut straight to the chase and ask if there is a particular car you came to see. Just reply “yes” and keep making small talk. Try to last at least a minute or two. Then, you be the one to cut the conversation and say something like “Well, we’d better take a quick look at the car before someone else buys it while we’re talking”. Always seem friendly and calm at all times. Don’t act disinterested. First, it likely won’t work, but you have to keep the salesman and eventually, the dealership, on the hook the whole time. Acting “above it all” or “disinterested” may incline them to think you aren’t serious. Also, don’t act desperate either. I suppose this should go without saying. However, it is okay to show emotion a little - you are human. Just don’t look so excited about the car or use words like “love” or “wow”. Remember, if you have purposed to be there to buy a car, it really doesn’t matter whether it is a car for you or if you are just a broker for someone else (like your alter-ego), so keep it friendly and professional.

Here are some major key tips of things to do or not do in the first ten minutes. Much of the reason for these will become apparent later in these articles.

1. Do not discuss money in any way shape or form. Make no comments or opinions about it. Certainly do not bring it up, and if the salesman brings it up (which a good salesman won’t), just nod or keep talking. The salesman could bring it up a number of ways - by reading aloud the sticker price, by asking if you had a certain payment in mind, by asking when the last time you bought a new car was (trying to find out if you are a good “up” - to see if you are credit worthy), asking if you heard their radio ad, etc. By the way, the proper response to the last question is “I’m sure I have, but I always turn those things down to make calls on my phone during the commercials”. Again, not showing disinterest, just a busy life.

2. Go ahead and let him show you the car. It is part of his job and you are spending quality time together. Of course, you already know about the entire car, but appear interested, and maybe even seem surprised at a feature or two. Do not let on that you probably know more about the car than he does. Never let on that you have done your research. Your research is just that - your research. You needn’t quote him ratings from Consumer’s Report.

3. Ask a few questions. Even though you know everything, it will seem weird to him if you don’t ask at least a few questions. However, do not ask a question that you do not know the answer to - and do not correct him if he says something that is wrong. Ask him if he has sold this model before - were they happy with it? Ask him what he thinks of the car? This is a great time to watch him steer you elsewhere - such as, “I really like the Fusion, but I have to say, that the new Ford 500 is really awesome. Have you driven one yet?”. Or he more than likely, if he is any good, will try to steer you to a used car early, or at least plant the thought to see your reaction, because they make much more money on a used car - often 4 to 5 times the gross of a new car. So, he might say, “Well, I like the new Fusion, all right, but for the same price, you could get a 3-4 year old Mustang GT. Do you like the Mustang?”. Well, unless you are going to appear to be a total nerd, go ahead and agree. “I’d love to see a Mustang at a fair price today if we get the time, but unfortunately, for reasons of practicality (gas, family, work, etc)., I’ll have to stick with this Fusion.” Keep it very open and flexible at this stage. Don’t appear to be too focused on the one model you came to buy.

4. Ask him to verbally walk you through the process of buying a car at his dealership. Of course, you’ll know the process - although they may introduce some quirky step - but it begins preparing the salesman and is a subtle way to communicate to him that you are determining whether you have enough time to do this today. Of course, you do - and much, much more - but, you are making an investment in this salesman. The more time he spends with you, the more time the dealership spends on you, the more they will likely come to terms with you. They see it completely the opposite - so it is a working plan. Ask any questions that you have. Tell the salesman a story about how you once had to wait 2-3 hours in the finance department and see what he says. It doesn’t matter what he says - you are just chatting. The salesman is going to sugar coat the whole process, making it appear painless and quick. Don’t worry about that. Just say, “well, that sounds pretty good”, and move on.

5. Get ready for the test drive. I’ll speak more about this in the next article, but do not attempt to refuse the test drive. The salesman may spring this on you early - especially if he is a bit green, or it may just get to the point that there is nothing left to talk about. Just be prepared. Do not tell him that you have already driven this model. If it is a used car, you may think it may be worthwhile to test drive the car. The odds are greatly against you discovering anything unusual about the car during a test drive.

6. If you have a trade, again ignoring my advice to sell it on your own, offer him your keys. You will have a spare set, of course, set aside just for the Used Car Manager. Do not give him your whole key chain. If you can start the subject first, all the better. “Hey, I’d like to give this car a drive, but I was wondering if your Used Car Manager could take a look at my old clunker while we go out for a drive, just to see what kind of price I could get on it”. Of course, this is exactly what they want to do, but you are being Mr. Friendly - as you will always be - so you are just helping the process along and keeping things smooth.

Throughout this whole time, you want to appear relaxed, forward-looking, and happy - but not anxious, nervous, or overly excited. You will later display a much more laid-back attitude, so don’t appear too laid back now, or they won’t know the difference. You will also later appear to be concerned, so don’t appear too concerned now. You don’t want to be frantic later just so they can tell you’ve changed moods.

Well, that’s about it for the first ten minutes. You’ve met your salesman for the day, gotten to know him a little, have let him talk about your new car a bit, and prepared yourself for the test drive. You are relaxed and a nice person. He is starting to feel pretty good about his prospects of making a sale, maybe even a fairly profitable sale. He is glad that you haven’t been a jerk so far. Jerks usually reveal themselves in the first ten minutes - they can’t help it. He is getting the keys to the car and giving the front desk your driver’s license. You are on your way to buying this car at your own price. You have taken the first step toward a long day. You haven’t been a jerk, you are qualified to be on the lot, you are prepared and confident. You are already far more likely to succeed than over half the people that salesman has dealt with this week. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Technorati : buying cars, car sales, saving money

Article Series - Save Money at Car Dealerships

  1. How to Save Money at a Car Dealership - From an Ex-Car Salesman (Part 1)
  2. How to Save Money at a Car Dealership - From an Ex-Car Salesman (Part 2)
  3. How to Save Money at a Car Dealership - From an Ex-Car Salesman (Part 2.5)

Posted in: Saving Money