By on February 1, 2018

cars dealer dealership, Image: HappyAlex/Bigstock

In 2017, car dealers across the country experienced something they hadn’t experienced in a decade — a year without sales growth. The decline was ever so slight, thanks largely to a couple of bad hombres named Irma and Harvey, but it was a bit of a challenge for dealers who were used to consistent improvement year-over-year since the Great Recession. As such, dealers and automakers are more concerned than ever about consumer shopping behavior, because all of the predictions for 2018 indicate a continued decline for new car sales in the U.S.

Dealers are no longer content simply to throw their inventory up on a third-party listing site, hoping to win your click. They’ve paid millions of dollars to collect unstructured data, track your online behavior, and enter your name into customer relationship management systems.

Today, I’m going to walk you through the way that the industry thinks you shop for cars, and you can tell me if they’re right.

Everybody from Google to J.D. Power has their own ideas about what the journey looks like, but today you’re gonna get the Bark way, which is a bit of a combination of theory and observed reality.

Step One: Perception

Chances are that you are probably not in the market to buy a car today. After all, according to Google, the average American only buys a car every 6 years or so, and only about 5 percent of people buy a new car each year. Yet car dealers and OEMs are advertising to you on a daily basis, through both traditional media and digital media. If you visit sites like The Truth About Cars on a daily basis, you probably see more advertisements for cars than the average man thanks to contextual retargeting online, but even the general population can’t avoid the constant television and radio blitz, not to mention billboards.

Why? It’s simple. Car dealers and OEMs want you to help you build a positive perception of their brands in your mind, because they know that someday you will be in the market for a car, even if you aren’t right now. This is largely done through traditional media platforms like TV and radio. Have you ever noticed how many car commercials don’t mention the price of the car? Or how many billboards just have a picture of the owner’s face and the name of the dealer? Dealers know that once you’re in the market for a car, you’re going to use digital media to research, as nearly 90 percent of Americans do, according to J.D. Power. They just want to get themselves as many impressions of their brand in your head before you begin that search so that when you see their name pop up in a Google search or a CarGurus search results page that you think to yourself, “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of that dealership. I could see myself going there.”

While this part of a dealer’s advertising budget is shrinking somewhat in comparison to its digital spend, it still accounts for anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of their overall spend, depending on the dealer. And it’s typically money well spent. When a dealer tells me that he’s canceling his traditional media buy, I get worried.

NIssan Nalley Atlanta dealer - Image: Nissan

Step Two: The Stimulus

Very few people do what I (and maybe you) do — wake up one day and decide to buy a car. No, for most shoppers, there’s something that happens in their lives that necessitates a car purchase. It could be a new addition to the family (hello, CUV!). Maybe you’ve got a kid turning 16 or heading off to college, or maybe all the kids are gone (hello, Corvette!). Perhaps you moved from a cold climate to a warm climate, or vice versa. A new job with more income, yes? Or you’ve finally gotten tired of that noise your old car makes and you want something new and shiny.

Sometimes it’s an instantaneous event that requires a car purchase in the immediate future, and sometimes it happens over the course of several months. Regardless of what it is, there’s generally an external factor that puts you in the market for a car. Car dealers are getting better and better at watching your behavior online and predicting when you’re going to be in the market. They buy huge amounts of unstructured data from vendors, who then create a profile for you and determine how likely you are to buy a car in the next few months. They analyze your search keywords, many times across devices, and then they serve advertisements to you based on them.

This is perhaps the fuzziest part for dealers and OEMs right now, since they can’t predict things like a car accident or a broken transmission — not yet, anyway. But they are getting better at it. Some dealers are working on mining their customers’ service history to predict when that customer will be in the market, and they’ll send email or direct mail offers specifically to customers based on it. Pretty soon, a search for “what should I eat when I’m pregnant” will probably result in an email from a CUV-selling dealer.

Rallye Mitsubishi Gatineau – Image: Mitsubishi Canada

Step Three: Deliberation

Okay, so now you’ve had your life-changing moment and you have decided that maybe you’d like a small CUV (like everybody else on the damn planet). So you think that maybe you’d like a Ford Escape. No, wait, a Toyota RAV4. Maybe a Honda CR-V. Nah, you’re an Audi Q3 girl. Or you’re a BMW X3 guy. How about that Lexus NX? Or any one of over 30 different models in that segment? How the hell does anybody decide what they want to buy?

It’s something dealers and OEMs are trying to figure out. They want to know why people choose what they do, and what resources they use to make their decisions. Google tells us that over 80 percent of people consider online consumer reviews to be as valuable as a recommendation from a friend. Considering what I know about how dealers game that system (Hi Orlando Kia West!), this can be problematic. Reputation management vendors sell products that range from pretty ethical to straight up buying reviews that are outsourced to India.

Dealers and OEMs are also trying to weigh the value of what’s known as “micro-influencers,” or people on social media who have about 10k or more followers. There are still plenty of these folks being invited to “social waves” on car launches, where an OEM can be guaranteed 500 positive words about their product in exchange for a plane ticket, a hotel stay, and a couple of free meals. And then there are the exorbitant press trips to exotic locales that automakers give journalists in exchange for an SEO boost.

With most car reviews being positive nowadays, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to cars simply by reading some reviews online. So dealers and OEMs have to figure out what sources are the most credible in the eyes of consumers and funnel their resources there, which is much harder than it sounds.

They used to be able to measure the effectiveness of advertising through emails and phone calls to the dealership. Unfortunately, while site traffic at websites like Cars.com and Autotrader are up, the leads being generated by these sites is way, way down. Less than ten percent of customers who shop online are likely to email a dealer — they normally just show up. Why?

Because the last time they bought a car, they were deluged with emails and phone calls from all of the dealers that they contacted, and they said to themselves, “never again.” Better just to go to the OEM or dealer website and look to see if the car is available and then just head to the store.

Mountain Chevrolet GM dealer Glenwood Springs, Colorado - Image: GM

Step Four: The Decision

Of course, the number of stores that the customer visits is trending down, too — regardless of the study, all sources seem to say that customers are visiting an average less than 2 dealers before buying. The test drive is still a critical part of the process for customers, and often the results are less satisfactory than they’d hoped — the seats aren’t comfortable, the blind spots are too big, the color looks different in person — so they have to head back to the deliberation stage and pick a different car.

As such, when customers get to the decision stage, their consideration set tends to widen before it narrows. It’s not uncommon for customers to switch models or brands at this point, or even switch the type of vehicle they’re looking for. Customer relationship management tools at dealerships are full of customers who came in on a minivan, only to walk out with a pony car.

This doesn’t even include the bizarre behaviors exhibited by some dealers which cause a customer to leave before buying. Pressure tactics, bait and switch, and rate increases in the finance office are just some of the reasons that cause a potential buyer to change his mind about finishing a deal. If the customer lives in an area with only one Mazda dealer or one Kia dealer, that could even cause a change in the make and model that he or she ends up ultimately purchasing.

That’s why dealers often use a tactic called “geofencing,” where they will serve mobile ads to customers who are standing on the lots of their competitors. They know that you are probably going pull out your smartphone to do one last check to make sure that you’re getting a good deal before you sign on the dotted line, and they want one last shot at you before you finalize the deal. Geofencing is incredibly specific in its targets, and vendors have the ability to draw the area however the customer wants it.

But once you buy, that’s one more piece of information that the dealer and the OEM have on you — they’re already working on selling you that next car, based on your age, income, and buying habits. Soon enough, you’ll be receiving ads again.

That’s Bark’s high-level look at the car buying process. Does it mirror what you do, or do you have your own methodology? Either way, dealers and OEMs are going to continue to spend an incredible amount of time and money to figure it out.

[Images: Nissan, Mitsubishi Canada, General Motors]

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89 Comments on “Bark’s Bites: The Car Buyer’s Path...”


  • avatar
    stingray65

    I think a very large portion of new car buyers are those that have had a recent expensive repair on their current car or fear one will come very soon. If a dealer or manufacturer can keep track of when current owners (or owners of competing vehicle brands) will likely need a cambelt change, or replace pricey performance rubber and/or brakes, or some other expensive repair, they might be very receptive to making a trade. The dealer can pay wholesale to repair the car, while the retail customer of course pays the full-freight price, so great opportunity for making a profit on not only the new car, but also the trade-in. I don’t know if it is commonly done, but I would certainly have my service department contact the sales department every time a car came in for service that was going to cost the customer over $500 to $1000 to repair, so they could be shown how they could have totally new wheels for only $599 per month.

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      Smart dealers do have their service department refer customers to the sales department. Smart salesmen hang out in the service department. If they convince the service customer to trade in, the dealer ends up with 2 sales in the long run when they fix and resell the trade in.

      • 0 avatar
        Felix Hoenikker

        The local Honda dealer does this to me every time I go there for service. It get’s old fast. I just say that I’m waiting for a $25k BEV that sits as high as a CUV for my wife . There are no such things at the Honda store or anywhere else for that matter.

      • 0 avatar
        Rob Cupples

        My local Honda dealer keeps a whiteboard next to the service department listing trade-ins they are looking for. After a few visits I came to think they just looked at the appointment book in the morning and then decided what went on the board that day. Clever.

    • 0 avatar
      e30gator

      This was me with my ’12 Buick Enclave. It had been in for service non-stop since I purchased it as a CPO vehicle. Thousands of dollars in repairs covered by the CPO warranty. There was obviously NO WAY I was going to keep it out of warranty. Of course, there was also no way I would ever throw good money at another GM vehicle after my experience with the Enclave, so the dealership’s efforts would have been futile.

    • 0 avatar
      pinkslip

      Dealership sales departments almost always pay full retail prices to the service department. Sometimes the Sales Managers can get the Service Managers to discount a few things, but that is the exception to the rule. The Service department is often the number one profit center for a dealership (sometime it is number two behind F&I).

      And savvy dealerships do mine the service department, as this article pointed out. They have sales reps camp out in the service drive, and they send mailers to service customers saying crap like “We’re low on pre-owned inventory and need YOUR car. Come in today for your free purchase offer. No obligation to buy a car from us!”… Then, you go in for an appraisal, they offer you auction pricing (or less), but offer much more if you replace your old car with a new one in stock.

      • 0 avatar
        brn

        pinkslip, why would dealers do this when it all comes from the same bottom line? Because they want to shift expenses. If they can demonstrate how much they have into the car, they can demonstrate how good of a deal you’re getting. The dealership sees this as a way of tricking a buyer of a used car into creating profit for the service department. They don’t see that this can actually deter a buyer (can get the same car elsewhere for less). I’ve seen sales departments get fed up with this and get their cars serviced at a neighborhood garage, rather than their own dealership. It’s a great way to create an internal feud.

        • 0 avatar
          MBella

          This happened at a dealer I worked for. The internal shop rate was $99 while the Midas across the street was $70. The owner was so stupid, he probably liked the money he was making.

        • 0 avatar
          pinkslip

          Dealers do this because they would otherwise be giving away the profit from charging full rate to a customer for the sake of servicing a car in the sales dept. This would lead to the sales department’s cars getting sidelined, slowing the whole operation. Plus, sales isn’t a profit center anymore; the sales department is a means of funneling customers through the dealerships actual profit centers- F&I and Service.

  • avatar
    dwford

    The sad truth for the dealers and OEMs is that most customers have ingrained preferences and prejudices for and against certain brands before they even start the search process. You can see it here on TTAC in the comments. Based on nothing more than someone else’s story or bad experience, or something they read somewhere, people will decide ” I’ll never buy a _______, they’re junk.” There are very few customers who start the search process with a totally open mind, and then take the time to empirically research different makes and models.

    If anything, the internet has made customers more ignorant. They half-heartedly research a few cars, cherry pick information they think will help them negotiate, and still end up entering the dealership blind and dumb. It always amazed me that people would come into my dealership and ask “What types of vehicles does Hyundai sell?” Gee, do you want me to tell you about the $16k Accent or the $50k Genesis?

    What no car shopper realizes about all the car sites (cars.com et al) is that no matter what info they put into their request for information, it either gets garbled or never passed on to the dealer. They are all a giant waste of time. Email the dealers directly about a specific car on that dealer’s lot. You’l have better luck.

    Part of the reason for the hard sell at the dealership is because they KNOW that if you leave, there’s a 95% chance you’re never coming back, no matter what you say. You’ll get sold by the next dealer who used a slightly different word track on you, or you’ll just be tired and surrender to the next guy’s sales pitch.

    • 0 avatar
      pinkslip

      “Based on nothing more than someone else’s story or bad experience, or something they read somewhere, people will decide ‘I’ll never buy a _______, they’re junk.’”

      It takes 10 years to change public perception of a brand. That is why Hyundai had to offer such a long powertrain warranty. Now, they are about 15 years into reshaping their image in the US, and sales (and their lineup) are improving as more Americans are open to the idea of driving a Korean car. People remember bad reviews/opinions more than good ones. It’s natural risk-aversion thinking.

      “You’ll get sold by the next dealer who used a slightly different word track on you, or you’ll just be tired and surrender to the next guy’s sales pitch.”

      Or some people just need to be told the same thing by more than one (seemingly untrustworthy) individual/source.

    • 0 avatar
      jalop1991

      I’ll never buy a Honda, they’re junk.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      “Part of the reason for the hard sell at the dealership is because they KNOW that if you leave, there’s a 95% chance you’re never coming back, no matter what you say.”
      The “hard sell” is exactly why I will walk off a lot. I’ll come back if that does not occur.

      “You’ll get sold by the next dealer who used a slightly different word track on you”
      Nope! The “next dealer” will get my business if they have what I want and don’t play games.

      “or you’ll just be tired and surrender to the next guy’s sales pitch.”

      I don’t buy based on sales pitch.

      Dealers will loose my interest even before I go to the lot if they don’t list prices on-line and/or they don’t list vehicle options on-line and/or they don’t bother to post a photo or two of the vehicle.
      I’ll walk of the lot if I get a “hard sell” or anything that sets off my BS meter.

      • 0 avatar
        brn

        Lou_BC, not everyone is like us. The more pressure you put on me, the more likely I am to walk away. For far too many people, they’re more likely to cave.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          @brn – true and that is why salesmen will play games with customers. If “hard sell” works 70% of the time then there is no insentive to change sales practices.

          • 0 avatar
            Flipper35

            My wife and I walked out on dealers on a few occasions. On one occasion as we were walking out, my wife had already made it out the door and he yelled one last attempt “What can I do to get you to buy a car”. I told him he lost that chance 30 seconds ago.

            Another would not tell us a price and after the third time we asked and he answered that we could work out a deal to keep payments low (we already told him we were paying cash) I told him we were done there and I would never shop there again. We have bought 2 cars since then and they are both the brand he sold. Too bad because the car we test drove was one we really liked.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Every nonenthusiast I know has very little knowledge about vehicles and most of their online research is for things like financing and trade-in value.

    They generally make their purchase decision 3 ways:

    1. Brand loyalty. They’ll only buy from one manufacturer (whether out of convenience, family history, control familiarity or fear of other brand’s quality/image) so they just show up to the VW/Subaru/Ford/BMW/Toyota dealer ever 5 years or so and buy whatever the brand offers in the segment they are interested in.

    2. They rent a vehicle that they like and decide to buy one.

    3. They see a vehicle on the road that they like and decide to check it out.

    • 0 avatar
      Dapip33

      My first encounter with this is with a good college friends. His parents always purchased their cars from the same dealership and literally from the same sales person. For 30 years (I think about 12 new car purchases). They only switched after their sales person retired and being older wanted “4WD” and something reliable. They started buying Subarus, because this being New England, every third car is a Subbie.

  • avatar
    davewg

    I am rapidly approaching the point where I will need to buy a car. My lease ends in about two months, and I’m turning it in.

    I’ve bought for our family 9 vehicles in the last, oh 25 years.For the most part the buying experience hasn’t been bad. Almost every purchase was negotiated over the phone (or email), so going to the dealership to complete the transaction was mostly smooth. I like to think we’ve gotten decent deals for each of the 9 vehicles.

    I fully expect to handle my negotiations over email this time. I refuse to sit down with a salesman and be “four-squared”. This happened to us a few years ago and I was so turned off it was part of what drove me to push for an entirely different brand/model that equally met our needs.

    It helps that I have no trade. I will not discuss price until I’ve decided I’m going to buy your vehicle.

    What sucks about the process? Having to go to a dealership to see cars and go for test drives. Yes, I went to the auto show, but not ever model I was considering was there, or was a different trim. The worst part of buying a car is going to the dealership and dealing with their shenanigans. Let me look the car over, let me take a test drive, and if I’m interested I’ll be in touch.

    I’m hoping if I go in with the message of “I’m buying a car in the next 6-8 weeks, but I’m interested in a half dozen different vehicles. I’m here to assess your model that I’m interested in and will not be buying today” gets them to back off.

    • 0 avatar
      Cactuar

      You’ll be greeted by a salesman who just spent two hours on YouTube watching these videos (yes they are real titles):

      Automotive sales training – overcoming the Top 5 Objections

      Car Sales Training: How to Handle the Objection: “I Need To Think About It.”

      Overcome Objections (5 Simple Steps) Persuasion Sales Skills – MichaelBernoff.com

      Word Track For “I’m Just Looking”

      “I want to think about it.” “I want to think it over.” Crap! | Sales Training

      • 0 avatar
        davewg

        Sad, but true.

        Shields up…

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        Given the system they seem to have to work in, I can hardly blame the salesman for trying anything to keep you from leaving the showroom.

        Then again, I essentially asked two salesmen to sell me a car last fall and they both completely fumbled it so I’m simultaneously sympathetic and disgusted.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I love it when they try the usual closes on me. Last time a guy tried to get me to take the car home for the weekend to “try it out with the family,” I said, “oh, yeah…the puppy dog close.”

        Then there was the guy who drew a line right down the middle of a sheet of paper during negotiations. I laughed and said, “don’t tell me…it’s Ben Franklin time, right?”

        Annoys the hell out of them.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      davewg, I’ve had some luck visiting car dealerships late morning mid week and asking to test drive specific models. I tell them I’m just starting to look at cars and comparing different models. My just looking doesn’t take them away from making a sale and everything is more relaxed on their slow days.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Yes! I go into a Honda store and ask about a CR-Z manual. Nope, don’t have one. “Okay, any other Honda you may be interested in?” Yes, an Accord coupe, manual. “Nope. We have an LX coupe automatic, and an EX-L coupe automatic”, okay, what the hell, I’ll drive the LX (since I didn’t want a loaded car) to see how I like the seats, visibility, ergonomics, features, ride, handling, etc. Okay, I like the car, but will not buy an automatic.

      So, I get this song-and-dance about how the CVT is so much better, to which I say I know it is more *efficient*, but that doesn’t make it “better” for someone who wants a manual. Then for 30-45 minutes, she shows me the only new manual vehicle they have, a base model HR-V, which I refused to drive. I don’t want a 2WD utility vehicle, I want a Honda car.

      “Okay, we have a used Mustang V-6 manual, a BMW and a Corvette.” Yes, and none of those are Honda cars. If I wanted to look at random used cars, I wouldn’t have specifically chosen a Honda store, and even if I did, I wouldn’t have walked by the used office and right into the new showroom.

      I made it clear from the beginning that I was not in a position to buy that day, to which she replied “you’d be surprised how many times I’ve heard that, only to have the customer drive off in a new car later that day”. Okay, so you’re telling me you’re high-pressure and that you want to force me into a decision/situation I don’t want. Fine. That just makes me even more determined not to buy today, or from you, ever.

      It doesn’t have to be that way. I worked at a dealer way-back-when, and we were a one-price store, where the manager preached the virtues of good customer service behind closed doors just as he did out in public.

      Another sales person was hired the day I was, she was fired for promising a customer that we would paint the car a different color if they bought it today. The manager said, um, no, and why would you promise that and tell us nothing when you brought them in (to do the paperwork)? (They brought it up inside, manager told them that no, we wouldn’t be painting the car, they got mad and left.) “To make the sale” she said. Wrong answer. Go lie to people somewhere else, I’m sure the Kia dealer down the street could use you.

      • 0 avatar
        pinkslip

        Well, to be fair, tons of people do say “I just started looking” only to end up driving home in a new car that day. It is often a counter-productive defense mechanism. But the salesperson isn’t supposed to point that out to the customer.

        She would have been high-pressure whether she was at a one-price store or not. Your experience illustrates her trying to get you to buy anything (desperate and stupid), not pressuring you to commit to a certain price or grinding out a negotiation.

        Why were you there for another 30-45 minutes listening to her sell you on CUVs and used Mustangs? You drove an Accord coupe and you had an unhelpful sales person, so you were done with that dealer for the day- just leave. I’m not defending terrible sales people, but it seems plenty of customers create these lousy situations for themselves.

        • 0 avatar
          Tele Vision

          It does happen, though rarely. To wit: My friend’s Dad went to buy his wife a new Accord sedan and came home with a piece of paper that stated he’d receive something called an ‘NSX’ in six months. He was a rich and hilarious dude, though. He adored his ’84 Accord.

      • 0 avatar
        Flipper35

        Try gong to a Mopar dealership for an oil change (still free, so I don’t mind).

        They tell me that car is getting old, trade it in. When I ask what they have for a new, mid-sized sedan with a Pentastar they tell me they have Jeeps. Yeah, sure.

        Fortunately the sales person had left me alone by the time I asked my daughter if she could have any car on the lot what would she get. She said she wanted a fast road car, not an off road vehicle. She thought the 300 was an old man car, the Challenger was too pudgy, the used CLA looked like a Honda to her but the used Jag was nice. She then saw a Hellcat Charger and thought that was the cat’s pajamas. She liked the way it looked over the regular and the fact it had 707hp was a bonus. She would be happy with a regular SRT as well.

        I said get a good job.

  • avatar
    theBrandler

    Yeah I guess I’m totally not normal in buying a car. It starts with “what’s fun, what’s reliable, and what’s affordable.” There’s literally no overlap there. I also know all the cars I’d be interested in, which is usually less than 5. Right now I want a Focus ST really really badly. Drove one, absolutely loved it. Sorry Ford, no amount of advertisement or anything short of a massive pay raise will make me buy a $22k car.

    Did I mention I’m completely disgusted with the price of new and used cars? It’s appalling. I want a new fun car, but my paid off used car works just fine and that makes it damn hard to justify.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Car dealers hate me. I know what I want, I have financing in place, and I know more about the vehicle than they do. Oh, and I make it clear that I’m not shopping for a payment, I’m shopping for a car. I get right into dealer hold back, dealer prep, dealer invoice, and make it clear that they’re not my only option. I get a kick out of it when they say “If you don’t see what you want, we can find it”. It’s 2018, Sherlock, I can find it too. I once found a sweet deal in Arizona and had the car shipped to NYS, and still did better than buying local. Patience is essential.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Yup.

      1st visit for me is always my Credit Union to assess what I can borrow and at what rate. I do my own calculations on monthly payment and see what I’m comfortable with.

      I always focus on “OUT THE DOOR” price as well – and I refuse to finance the taxes and license plate fees. (But here in New Mexico tax is on 3% on car purchases).

    • 0 avatar
      MoparRocker74

      Its as if you printed your process right out of my brain. That’s how Ive done it for many years now, to the T.

  • avatar
    ajla

    One thing dealers can do once I’m on the lot that makes me much more likely to buy something is let me take the test drive alone.

    Yes, you might get some GTI or Camaro joyriders but being babysat and having to ask like Oliver Twist if I want to deviate from the usual “around the block” test drive route does not endear me to the idea of spending $40K+.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      This. I do not want to play Get To Know You with a salesperson on a test drive.

      There’s about a 10-mile test drive loop I like in our area that combines narrow 30-mph curves, a variety of pavement types, and a stint of 75mph interstate. Great for getting a feel of the car. A tag-along salesman is an unnecessary distraction.

      • 0 avatar
        Sub-600

        When I test drove my Charger R/T the salesman came with me. He was about retirement age and pretty easy going. I went up on the interstate and got on it pretty good, I was thinking I’m pushing my luck with this guy when he says “C’mon open it up, we’re not on vacation you know”. You can’t judge a book by it’s cover.

    • 0 avatar
      krohde

      Yes. So much this. I love CarMax in general, especially for non-enthusiast friends/family, but their test drive loop sucks and they are rigid about not deviating from it. 24 Hour test drives are fantastic and I love dealers that are totally fine with them.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        And have you ever tried to Sunday shop at a Carmax? If so, you’ll be greeted with a rude voice announcing that they’re in the process of calling the authorities on you.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    “Because the last time they bought a car, they were deluged with emails and phone calls from all of the dealers that they contacted, and they said to themselves, ‘never again.\'”

    Heh.

    As I’ve mentioned in a few other threads I’m currently evaluating a few options for getting something with more people and stuff space than my LS460.

    As part of that process I’ve gotten a few “online offers” from the usual sites on the LS, to see whether they match up with what I expect its value should be. This is just research for number-crunching purposes and I wouldn’t actually try to sell the LS until I have a better idea of what I’ll buy as a replacement. Right now I’m still at a stage where I’m considering everything from 2016 Pilots to 2008 Land Cruisers to new Pacifica Hybrids.

    The dealer that was listed on the worst of those offers, which was not remotely competitive with either the other offers or the car’s estimated value on sites like KBB/Edmunds, has tried to call me once or twice every single day for the last week and a half. I just ignore the calls, but the sheer volume of calls has eliminated any prospect that I might work with that dealer, even if the offer were to be dramatically improved.

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      Pretty much every dealer’s internet department uses CRM software that starts a 90 day contact cycle for every potential customer that contacts the dealership. It’s a mix of real emails, automated emails and phone calls. The internet people are usually forced to make these contacts whether the situation warrants it or not, because their ignorant bosses (who usually have NO car sales experience) have been told by the people who sold them the CRM that that is what to do.

      Solution: create a burner email for car shopping, and just block the dealer phone number on your phone.

    • 0 avatar
      HuskyHawk

      In the current world, do sales people realize that calling anyone is more or less perceived as a hostile act?

      Email me. Text me. Fine. But I am not picking the phone for, nor am I am every interested in talking to any salesperson selling anything. When I decide what I want to buy, I’ll come to you. I’d prefer dealers that didn’t even employ sales people. Just give me the keys and scan my license so I can try the car.

  • avatar
    George B

    Bark misses the step of seeing cars on the street and in parking lots. Buying a car generally starts with seeing one and liking it. No mention of Edmunds and Kelly Blue Book either. I can’t imagine buying a car without going to edmunds.com and kbb.com first. I don’t see the value in loud dealer ads on television. Annoy the potential customer for years to make them want to visit the dealership for more abuse? Salesmen are useless and annoying too. Once I decide to shop, I can pull information for local dealers and their inventory from their websites. Also useful to visit a dealership on Sunday to see the cars without the salesmen.

  • avatar
    xflowgolf

    In regards to Irma and Harvey, would not those act as as a stimulus? (although one with a lag) Nobody is out shopping for a car in a storm, but the resulting flooding triggered one of those external life events that likely sent hundreds of thousands of people new car shopping.

  • avatar
    volvo

    Perception – I see a car on the street (parking lot) that really appeals to me.

    Stimulus – New car offers something I don’t currently have but would like. Those are backup camera, adaptive cruise, lane deviation, blind spot warnings and parking proximity warnings.

    Deliberation – Long term brand reliability (10-20 year window). Currently offered model had at least 3 years since last major drive train change. What I can find about reliability of the current model. Expected total cost of ownership.

    Decision – Apply the above when I need to replace a vehicle.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I know this is a trigger word, but I imagine this whole byzantine process is a big part of why people are so big on autonomous cars. Compare going through all this, plus a fraught step for many- getting financing, negotiating the trade, yadda yadda- vs pressing a button on a phone and having a clean (and if you pay a premium, empty) vehicle show up and take you where you want to go at any time of day or night. I like cars and still hate the process of buying them; for people who only have a car because they need one to live their lives this whole song and dance is torture.

    • 0 avatar
      MoparRocker74

      Part of me thinks youre onto something. You could wipe out 75% of the entire auto industry with one common autonomous box on wheels that is either rideshared or leased…eliminates all the bottom feeder filth in terms of ignorant, lazy and uninterested drivers AND the boring uninspired dreck they choose to own: all people mover grade minivans, CUVs, and midsize/compact sedans could be eliminated in favor of electric pods.

      THEN, on the other side sportscars, muscle cars, performance sedans, hot hatches, 4x4s, true sports utilities, and pickups could be de-regulated and evolve as specialty vehicles for enthusiasts who actually ARE gearheads and/or at least have some ‘skin in the game’ when it comes to our purchases. Skipping past useless commuter and soccer mom crap in such vehicles (parking assist, built in car seat anchors, etc) would free up a LOT of baggage…

  • avatar
    thegamper

    I think most of the people who frequent and comment on a site like this are not a typical shoppers. They are constantly shopping because they are constantly reading information, reviews, comparisons, etc.

    So when I decide to buy, if its a lease vehicle as soon as I near the end of the term, hit miles I will start the search. For a purchase car, around 100k miles I will start searching.

    I know exactly what I want. I typically am looking for a car with stand out styling, good spec sheet and ideally a slow seller. So I typically will have a handful of cars from the more aspirational but realistic to…”I can live with that”.

    Then I start looking for deals. I will take months to find the right deal, visit several dealerships in person. Test drive them all.

    In the end, a handful of choices remain and its typically down to the one dealer who makes me a deal I cannot refuse.

    • 0 avatar
      stingray65

      Gamper – you are absolutely correct – car nuts who just enjoy reading and keeping up on cars are always up-to-date and know what cars are good and bad for different situations, so actually buying just becomes a task of finding the right car at the right price. As I believe Bark has mentioned previously, however, we experts get asked all the time for recommendations from our non-expert friends and family, but they usually ignore the advice and end up buying what the “nice man at the dealer” said was a good deal.

  • avatar
    HuskyHawk

    I don’t know. This is certainly true:
    “Because the last time they bought a car, they were deluged with emails and phone calls from all of the dealers that they contacted, and they said to themselves, “never again.” ”

    But visiting two stores? Last car I went to 20+. Next car will be fewer, but far more than two.

    Here is what is becoming key as I get older. How do I fit in the car? Armrests hit me in the right spot? Can I put my elbow on the window sill at a comfortable height and reach the steering wheel (if not…that car is off my list). Acura RDX…passenger seat height won’t change and it is too low. Next. I’m not putting up with any of that anymore. That is before I even drive it. If it has lazy 1982 Buick steering like the Grand Cherokee does on the highway, I move on.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Agree with you 100%, HH.

      In trying to make people fit into niches, they’ve taken the personalization too far and flood you with irrelevant data—especially AFTER you’ve made your purchase!

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Not everyone fits into those dealers’ niches. Just because someone is looking at a specific vehicle doesn’t mean they plan to buy one. Don’t inundate me with ads for a single brand or model, I want to see EVERY brand and EVERY model. Don’t inundate me with ads for something I’ve already bought, it only makes me angry and less likely to visit them again.

    Advertising was much easier to deal with when it wasn’t “personalized.”

    • 0 avatar
      IBx1

      I flew from Houston to Missouri to buy my Abarth and they still send me mail suggesting I come up for maintenance visits. Sure, let me make a round trip for an oil change that lets me drive a few hundred miles around home before I have to go back up again for the next one.

      • 0 avatar
        brettc

        How do you like the Abarth? Thinking of getting one since they’re so cheap.

        • 0 avatar
          IBx1

          It’s literally a dream come true; just this morning I put my 10,000th mile on it since buying it. In fact, I love caning it so much that I haven’t been able to get more than 26mpg on my commute.

          It’s a 2013 Cabrio I bought in July with 18,700 miles and I flew as far as I did because I got an excellent price with everything I wanted on the car. Cloth seats, manual HVAC, white paint with black stripes/mirrors, and base audio (since I ripped that out and put a real system in). Got it for stupid cheap out the door and got a new-car-coverage warranty through the dealer, then I did simple reliability mods to eliminate boost leaks and preserve the turbo.

          Turbosmart wastegate actuator and a front-mount intercooler kit to cut down connection points and replace the factory hose clamps, by the way.

  • avatar
    ScarecrowRepair

    Here are my two most recent car buying adventures.

    Bought a house on a dirt road in snow country, needed four wheel drive and ground clearance. Pickup seemed more useful than a SUV or Jeep, and friends and looking around all convinced me that the price difference between full size and mis-size was not worth it; get the full size. Decided on a Tundra because my Toyota car at the time had 280K miles (died at 473K) and I knew I would kick myself if a non-Toyota didn’t last at least 200K.

    Sent email to two Toyota dealers. Both said sure, come on down. First one wasted my time with full MSRP, then another 15 minutes “talking to his boss”. Ugh, lair and not even subtle.

    Second dealer gave me $3000 off and it was signed and mine in 15 minutes.

    Second car — the Toyota car finally died at 473K and I drove the truck while researching. Boss had a Mazda3 stick, said it was excellent, gave me a ride or two, and various online reviews (including Consumer Reports), made it seem like the best choice. Got several estimates of likely prices. Researched all the options. Found there were only two such beasties within 300 miles, sent email to each. First one sounded reasonable over a dozen emails back and forth, second one didn’t seem to care.

    Got a pre-auth loan from my credit union. Friend went down with me (to drive the truck back) and the damned dealer turned into a blathering idiot, half an hour late, changed prices, said the prices were only good with their loan, etc. I was ready to walk out, but my friend pointed out the total 5 year price was only $300 more, and it was end of the model year, so if I walked, I’d have to start the research all over again and probably spend more on truck gas than saved on the car, so I went ahead and signed. Later write a detailed nasty letter to the dealer chain owner, no idea if it did any good.

    My boss said later her dealer had been upstanding and polite, no lies, easy to talk with, fair prices. I probably should have gone down there, but it was 60 miles further away, and they would have had to get the exact model I wanted, probably adding dealer-to-dealer markup into the bargain.

    I don’t think either buy fits into any common scheme of things.

  • avatar

    Pretty accurate until I found “my guy” at the local VW store. I just tell him what I want, he sends me a killer price (which I compare online, always as good, sometimes better than what I can find) and my wife or I waltz in to pick up our transportation appliance.

    Which then frees me up to do stupid shit like buy used Porsches, BMWs, Range Rovers and Audis for shenanigans.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    1 – The Hook
    I pay attention to styling and an engine whose soundtrack can’t stay off my mind.

    2 – The Thunderdome
    All the cars that I’ve noticed and put on my short list duke it out in my mind for the final decision. The champion becomes the obsession and newcomers must challenge them.

    3 – The Green Light
    When my conditions line up to where I can get the car, usually dependent on selling a current one, I go out to buy. Only had to go shopping due to a collision once when my wife’s car was wrecked.

    4 – The Search
    I find a few examples of the car I want and prioritize by price, mileage, features I want/don’t want. Always had good luck with craigslist, but also skim cars.com and autotrader.com.

    5 – The Sale
    If it’s a dealer, I call the dealer and tell them flat out they have a chance to sell me a car today, and that I’d like to talk numbers without taking food off their plates. I make it clear that there is nothing on their lot that would even remotely interest me besides what I have my laser focus on, like when I flew 1,000 miles away to buy my Abarth from a Toyota dealer and drive it home.

    If it’s a private seller, I weed out the ones who won’t respond to my communications. This always confused me; if I’m selling something and somebody tells me they want to give me their money for it, I wouldn’t ignore them. I’ll take a sharp look, a 15 min test drive, make a fair offer, and generally wrap the deal up in an hour.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    Life is too short to be visiting more than two dealers on average.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    In 1903 Henry was thinking…..why do they do it this way? I love how each new research wonk believes if he can just figure out “why”, the keys to the Kingdom are his. The real key is training and retention so you do not blow your chance when you finally get one. Anything else is bullsh$t like those pre-print “mass mailers”.

  • avatar
    brettc

    I’ll be seriously looking this summer since I only have about 7000 miles left on my TDI before the buyback money drops into the next tier down.

    The local dealer that sold me my car in 2012 has had 2 (yes two) different sales people email/call me about my wife’s 2014 Jetta SE, which isn’t anything special. They seem to think it’s time for her to dump her 4 year old paid for car that has less than 40K on it. I disagree with them. As a result of that, along with VW’s general fnckery with the whole TDI scandal, I’m looking at non-VW cars.

    I’m a weirdo that currently drives a diesel wagon, so right now I’m considering a Fiat 500 Abarth, Chevy Volt and Ford C-Max, any of which will be used.

    I’m not looking super forward to buying something from a used car lot, but I’m definitely not keeping my car long term since there’s no point when VW is giving me close to what I paid new for my car new, 6 years later. I’ve dealt with some greasy sales guys in the past, and I’m hoping my experiences this year don’t require me to take a 2 hour shower after the purchase occurs.

    I spend a lot of time on Cargurus looking, and we now have a CarMax in our city that could be handy for hopefully low pressure test drives assuming they get one of the cars I’m looking for in stock.

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    Oh how I hated my search beginning at Cars.com.

    Every dealer said they have stock (left over model year Prius V two), and then call me 15 mins later and every day telling me they don’t, but can get me the new model year for $2000 more. In the end I have to lie and tell every one of them that “I just bought one 200 miles away yesterday, they had it in stock” so they will stop calling me.

    I ended up with better luck in auto trader tracking down which dealer has it in stock, then look up the dealer’s own website. Yes I have to drive from San Jose to Sacramento for a white/beige left over Prius V two, but it is $5000 off MSRP. I’m sure the dealer is happy it is gone, after sitting on the lot for 6 months.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Nice piece.

  • avatar
    VatizzleMcDilderjazz

    I’m particular about the car I want – I don’t usually shop for non-performance based makes and models and that narrows my search considerably. Combined with preferring certain brands over others and certain types of cars over others and having rather narrow search parameters, I’m usually not at a strong negotiating position starting out if a seller happens to have something I’m looking for available.

    Like most others, though, the process is the same, you wait, you gather the info, you get all your ducks in a row prior to showing up. Haggling is limited due to the low supply and relatively high demand, but you do what you can. I don’t like spending more than a few hours there, so I bail early if they decide to give me the runaround, but if they are willing to put up a reasonable offer under favorable financing terms (better than the nice ones I can secure typically through independent means) then I drive away happy. Works pretty well for me and there isn’t much of a hassle involved. Many times, time is more valuable than money.

    That being said I’ve had to hard stop some dealers from calling me once a month just to see what I’m up to. Those obviously never get a return visit.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    I find that radio advertising by a certain local Kia dealer is so offensive that I removed all the local radio stations – and he was on all of them – from my car radio presets.
    The only way I would even slow down when I drove by the place is to toss a Molotov cocktail into the building. The problem is that while I consider this a public service, the local constabulary would not. So I don’t drive by there unless absolutely necessary.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    I would love to see a story, and comments, on car buying services. Not Costco, but the small businesses set up for this purpose. Cars are expensive enough now that it might be worth it when I buy the Jeep Rubicon pickup or Ranger Raptor that will be my next vehicle.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    “If you visit sites like The Truth About Cars on a daily basis, you probably see more advertisements for cars than the average man”

    ?????

    I record OTA TV, but I never see commercials. (Haven’t for 20 years.)

    I subscribe to Netflix (no commercials), and Hulu–the ad-free version.

    I browse the web with ad blockers in place.

    What’s this about seeing advertisements?

    Anyone who uses the web without an ad blocker is insane.

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      I’m setup the same way as you. People watching ads on purpose baffles me as well. I was watching cable on my dentist’s ceiling yesterday and couldn’t believe the friggin’ ads.

      If you want a laugh, search for “chevy mahk” on Youtube for some parodies of the terrible Chevy ads.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    I’m always looking at various trucks and motorcycles on-line. I have to laugh to myself after I’ve surfed a dealer site or manufacturer site and for a few months (or until I surf a different brand), I keep getting dealer specific adds pop up on web pages.
    I tend to find it annoying as opposed to reinforcing buying behavior.

    “Car dealers and OEMs want you to help you build a positive perception of their brands in your mind, because they know that someday you will be in the market for a car, even if you aren’t right now.”

    There is that aspect of advertising but it is much more primitive and emotionally simplistic. We are hard-wired to be wary and distrustful of the unfamiliar whether that be people, places or objects. Advertising especially with new products makes the product and dealer “feel” familiar.

  • avatar
    ernest

    Last three new car purchases we’ve made took less than an hour from the time we showed up until the time we left with a temp in the window. The internet has really changed how we shop and bargain for cars. Now out of the three purchases, only one dealership has truly impressed with an efficient, friendly service department. Ironically, it’s been the car that’s needed nothing other than oil changes. Make appt, wait 30 minutes with a latte in a nice service area, car comes out done, cleaned, and vacuumed. Be a tough sell to talk us into something that doesn’t come from this Toyota dealership.

    My Charger goes to Jiffy Lube after the first oil change experience… ’nuff said.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Strangely, what you say for your Toyota is what I would say for my ToasterJeep. It all depends on the dealership.

      • 0 avatar
        ernest

        Agreed. Where we live, it’d be a cold day in hell before I’d own another VW. It’s not the cars… there are three dealers locally, none of them worth the powder to blow them up with. Daughter lives out of area, and swears by (not at) her local Dodge Ram dealer.

  • avatar

    For many folks, the question is “least crappy car for the money”. We go on and on about manuals vs autoboxes, Super vs turbo charge….IRS v beam axle….what kind of shocks…

    Payment-buyx X. Done. Rogue, CR-V or the toyota version. Do I save money with a Kia ?

    Everyone buys a CUV or SUV because that same payment gets you more space-it broke the rule of Space = $

    Once you get up to BMW money, then people get all crazy about branding. BMW spends a lot of money on art to impress the wannabes. Everyone wants that buyer because $5k in additional kit (including the art) gets $25k more.

    Least crappy car for the money…look at the numbers.

  • avatar
    davewg

    Not a bad idea. I’ll have to give that a shot.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    Only one dealer for most brands around here, so I just go to each that has any vehicles that interest me and drive what I can. The good ones make the short list and possibly a second, longer test drive, if necessary.

    Obviously, as an enthusiast, I’m aware of all their offerings going in. So I just check the manufacturer’s site and determine the appropriate trim level and options desired for each vehicle before visiting any dealer. I immediately tell them that I’m interested in X model in X trim with X options and would like a test drive, and they’ve always quickly set me up with the closest available model. After, I either try another model from them or tell them that I have more test driving to do elsewhere before choosing anything. Grab a brochure and ask what kind of discounts are available as you’re heading out. No need to waste much time talking any numbers or anything on a vehicle you might not even seriously consider.

    I’d prefer to buy as locally as possible, so if the dealer is reasonable they get the business. But there are two other cities each within a few hours of here so a couple e-mails keeps them honest.

    The last vehicle I was involved in purchasing – a brown 2016 Mazda3 GS manual hatchback – came from out of town. The salesman at the local dealer wanted to play games over ordering one in (we were in no rush so would have waited), while the other had the exact trim and color in stock and immediately offered an adequate discount on it. Done.

    Worth the drive. One last highway trip in the old MX-6.

  • avatar
    Dapip33

    I’m a brand loyalist to an underdog brand in the States….Mazda. So I start at Mazda and play the five Mazda dealers withing an hours driving distance off each for price. Then I consider the Mazda-ish equivalents and do research on those. And yet since 2009 I have owned nothing buy manual Mazdas.

  • avatar

    Salesmen are there to sell and I rarely ever need “sold” on a vehicle or motorcycle I buy. My wish would be the removal of the dealership model. I just want to buy a product.

  • avatar
    Erikstrawn

    I prefer to buy by surfing Craigslist and chatting friends and finding a relatively new car with a reliable reputation. Screw dealerships. If the pool’s full of sharks, I find somewhere else to swim.

  • avatar
    baconator

    I dunno, my “path to the sale” involves reading Bring a Trailer every single day and occasionally having a moment of emotional weakness and financial strength at the same time.

    My rational decisions are reserved for cars that we buy for our business, which is usually pretty straightforwardly driven by TCO, which is largely driven by depreciation and financing cost.

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