I recently got into the market for a new car. It was time to trade in my wife’s 2002 Jaguar X-Type. But, for what? Getting from the requirements to completing the purchase was a harrowing experience. The short story is we ended up with an Infiniti G37X. You can skip down to the bottom of this post for the lessons learned.
Here’s the long version. It took us roughly 45 days to go from the beginning of the process to the end. It was painful. We’ve purchased 3 houses and I can tell you that buying a car was a much worse process. Here’s why.
It wasn’t too hard to figure out the requirements. This was probably the easiest part of the process. We wanted All Wheel Drive, Built In Navigation, Heated Seats, 4 Doors (not a coupe), Automatic Transmission, Seating for 5 (ideally 7), and a set budget. We wanted either a new car or a certified preowned.
Wow! There were too many options to choose from. Do you look at Edmunds? Car & Driver? Road & Track? Can you trust JD Power or customer reviews? Searches on Google don’t exactly help you out either. There’s too much noise out there on the web. Even if you start at sites that are supposed to help you compare, contrast, and choose cars that meet your requirements you’ll get different answers. Cars.com, AutoBuyTel.com, and the like all create muddy water. There’s no consistency in how you compare vehicles. They all seem to be basing their GUI off of different data. There’s really no data integrity or consistent repeatable model for evaluating cars. That said, using a hybrid of tools and sources we had a short list of vehicles to check out: Acura MDX, Acural RL, BMW 528xi, Ford Fusion, Cadillac CTS, Infniti FX35, Infiniti G37x, and Volvo XC90.
Try, Trial, and Error
OK, so you’ve got a short list based on primarily unemotional information. Pictures, spec sheets, reviews, and charts are only part of the equation. You have to actually touch the car, hear the engine, and of course experience the ride. You’d think this would be easy, however finding a dealer that’s has the car you want to test drive on the lot can be tougher than you’d imagine. There’s a noticeable gap between the inventory information contained on a dealer’s site and what’s actually there when you show up. On more than 1 occasion we showed up at the dealer only to find out they didn’t have the car we wanted. For example, we showed up at a Ford dealership to test drive the AWD version of the Fusion, but they didn’t have any on the lot. After test driving every car on the list we had it narrowed down to 4: Acura MDX, BMW 528xi, Infiniti FX35, and Infiniti G37x.
The Money Game
The cost of a car is really made up of several things: Base Price, Less Trade In, Less Incentives, Less Negotiating Room, Plus Tax, Plus Title, Plus Other Fees…and of course the financing options. I listed out all the items, but how each dealer approaches them is completely inconsistent. There’s even inconsistencies by car model from the same dealer. Trying to figure out the net-cost is quite difficult. Shouldn’t it be easier? Sites like Cars.com list the MSRP, Dealer Invoice Price, and even sometimes the average cost people are paying. A site like KBB.com even gives you an idea for what to expect for your trade-in. Armed with all that information it should be really easy to guess how much you should be paying. It’s not that easy though. For example, the amount of money I was being offered for my trade-in varied as much as 25%. The money game also generally involves 4 players: the salesman, finance guy, technician, and a more senior salesman. After figuring out the “out the door” price for each vehicle we decided on the Infiniti G37x.
Cool, you’ve picked the car. We even picked from a variety of G37x’s on the lot. That meant we could choose color and features. That’s very cool, but we were lucky. Not every dealership was as well stocked. For example the Acura dealership only had 3 options to pick from for the MDX. At this point in the experience things should go fast, right? Wrong. This is where things come to a screeching halt. The dealer has no incentive to move things along, because you’ve already agreed to buy the car. From the time we agreed on the specific car, net cost, and finance options it took nearly 3 hours to actually drive off the lot. The dealership had to get a bunch of paperwork put together and clean the car we wanted. I don’t mind the cleaning the car part, but given all the paperwork we’d already filled out it the “final” paperwork should have gone much faster. The salesman passes you off to to the finance guy. The finance guy has you sign some papers and then passes you off to the guy who will actually handle the “final” paperwork. This guy is also the guy that will also try to up-sell you on an extended warranty, clear shield protectant, and many other wonderful things. Rather than have all the paperwork ready to go, he had to print each form individually while we were there. Crazy.
The Grand Finale
The dealership didn’t have the second key FOB on hand. Another salesman apparently had it on him and he was not working on the day we purchased the car. This means we need to swing by and pick it up. We’ll also need to stop by to pick up the license plates.
Apologies for the length, but given how long this post is, you can only imagine how long the process was in real time After going through this process here’s my take-aways on how to make the experience better:
- Data Consistency: There’s just too many holes in the data. Everyone seems to be using a different source. This applies to even the dealer. The inventory being reported on the dealer’s website needs to represent what’s on the lot. It would also be fantastic if independent sites like Edmunds were leveraging the same data for their reviews and comparisons.
- Stop Killing The Trees: The amount of repetition in paperwork was staggering. I still can’t get over the number of times we provided our name, address, social security number, and date of birth. From the minute I walk through the door they should be collecting data, dumping it into a consumer profile, and leveraging it to accelerate the whole buying process.
- Transparency: I can’t believe I just typed that word. But, it’s true. Despite all the payment calculators, information on financing, advertising, and “free” honest information it’s impossible to figure out how much you’re going to pay. I should be able to have a damn good idea of how much the final cost is going to be. The haggling on price is one of the most time consuming parts of the process.
Shouldn’t it be easier? Why isn’t it?