About a month ago, when we decided it was time to buy a new car, I started at Edmunds.com and calculated the “True Market Value” of the car we wanted – a 2008 Altima with an automatic V6 engine and no options. It came to $23,211. That wasn’t too bad.
Then I kind of put car-buying on the back burner until J.D. at Get Rich Slowly linked to a Metafilter thread on determining a reasonable offer for a new car. One of the commenters noted that USAA has a car negotiation service (similar to AAA and Costco). Since I’m a USAA member, I immediately logged in and submitted my information.
I’ve never used AAA or Costco’s program, so I don’t know how different they are from the USAA program. But what happened with USAA was that after I gave my consent to send my name, phone number and email address to participating dealerships, I immediately received a notice from USAA that the closest dealership’s price was $100 over invoice, or $22,350. I was asked if I wanted the system to search for a dealership with a lower price, so I clicked the yes button and received a notice that a dealership further away would sell the car to me for $500 under invoice, or $21,750. (The price included a $1,250 manufacturer rebate – I’ll discuss the rebate more in Part Two, about financing.)
Later that day, I received emails from both dealerships asking for more information about what car I wanted to buy. That was a little frustrating since USAA must have sent them all of that information – really, all I should have had to provide was the color of the car I wanted. But in any event, the first thing I did was confirm with the second dealership that their USAA member price was $500 under invoice and it was. I then asked the first dealership if they would match it and they said they would. Great!
Or maybe not. We wanted a V6 with no options and both dealerships insisted that they couldn’t locate such a car. In fact, I can’t count the number of times we were told that there were only two cars in all of the western United States in the color we wanted (“precision grey”) with the minimum options of floor mats and splashguard (at an additional $238). Nissan apparently simply doesn’t make V6s without the floor mats and splashguard (as if they couldn’t just take the mats out!). I find it incredibly deceptive for Nissan to call these “options” when they’re apparently really “features,” but that’s a story for another time. We weren’t in a huge rush to get a new car, so we told the dealerships to let us know when they found a V6 in precision grey with no more than mats and a splashguard and we’d come in.
Over the next three weeks or so, a few days would pass and then I’d get an email asking if I was still interested, and I’d send the same response: “here’s what I want, if you can get it, let me know.” Eventually, it became apparent that the first dealership actually really wanted our business and the second dealership didn’t care that much (I’m assuming because they wouldn’t have made much money off of us – it was also the beginning/middle of March at this point, so they may not have been worried about their quota yet).
Finally, I received an email from the first dealership saying they had found the car we wanted and could we come in? Since the dealership was near our house, Marc and I met at home and cleaned out the Honda Accord we’d be trading in. That was when I received an email from the salesman saying that he wanted to be sure we knew that the car wasn’t actually at the dealership, it was three hours way. Say what?!
Needless to say, we didn’t go in that day. The next week, we were told by a different salesman that he would have the car on the lot, so we made arrangements to go in. I exchanged multiple phone calls and emails with him to make sure that the car was indeed in his possession, and off we went. (The salesman insisted that the practice of not having the car on the lot was routine and it was “highly unusual” for them to bring the car in first. Are there really hundreds, maybe thousands, of people who willingly spend half a day waiting for their new car to be brought in?!) In any event, I can’t tell you how nice it was to be able to go in knowing what the cost of the car would be and there wouldn’t have to be any haggling or pressure to buy options we didn’t want.