By on November 22, 2019


TTAC Commentator ect writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I don’t know if this is strictly within your purview or not, but here goes. I am a dual citizen (U.S. and Canada) currently living in Canada. I will be retiring and moving back to the U.S. within the next (hopefully) few months. My current car (Mercedes B250) is 5 years old, is a model that isn’t/wasn’t sold in the U.S., and has exclusively metric instrumentation, so I plan to sell it in Canada and buy new in the U.S.

The last time I bought a new car in the U.S. was in 1995, and I gather that the world has changed since then. In particular, I understand there are internet-based resources that available to vehicle buyers that help arm them for the “dealer engagement” process. From reading TTAC, I also understand that one pioneer in this area (TrueCar) has gone over to the Dark Side. So, I’m left to wonder what sources I should be consulting for information on how to avoid getting totally shafted.

I also see that companies and groups like Costco and AARP have vehicle buying programs for their members, and wonder how useful these programs actually are.

I’d appreciate your thoughts on the subject, and of course any that the B&B have to offer.

Sajeev answers:

I’ll give it a shot, but consume a big grain of salt since my full time job is in that “Dark Side” of the car business: read the following knowing it’s only my personal opinion and not those of any of my taskmasters.

TrueCar and other Third Party Lead Sources (TPLS) make life easier, just don’t expect the best price with their help. Overall new car margins aren’t what they used to be in 1995, so “getting totally shafted” is somewhat tough if you understand personal finance basics with modest market research from almost any resource on the Internet. More on the second part later.

After hundreds of conversations (and countless online nuggets of customer feedback), I understand everyone’s application of time value of money is different: some are thrilled to push a few buttons and get a lower-than-MSRP price from a friendly voice/email, while others must get in the weeds for the biggest discounts.

But hey, don’t take my word for it.

That said, dealers must be all things to all online shoppers: TPLS’ are great, and they are one reason why larger dealer groups are getting into the online buying game (here, here, and here for reference). A TPLS vs. Native Dealer Website dichotomy could percolate to most automotive retailers nationwide: a future Piston Slap where yours truly pontificates the merits of TPLS vs. A Future Foretold by Carvana isn’t as stupid as it sounds. (Probably.)

Here’s the deal: less effort equals more cost for a new car. (Used cars are a far tougher nut to crack.) And let’s not forget Google is a TPLS worth your consideration, as I just used it for the following:

  1. How to negotiate with dealerships.
  2. The latest customer incentives, either at the manufacturer or on 3PL sites.
  3. Find your credit score and loan rates from popular banks.
  4. Searching on Google Maps for all applicable dealers in your area. (or within a 3-5 city area, depending on how serious you wanna get!)
  5. Contacting Internet sales departments within each store in #4.

Not all Internet sales departments are created equal, not all dealer inventories are the same, so the prices can will vary. But I reckon a few hours doing your homework on Google and crafting a templated letter to each Internet Sales Department might be worth your while. Or maybe a bit more time reading each dealer’s reviews and finding a salesperson you’d want to work with, then email them directly!

But if that’s a waste of your time, I know plenty of people who love TPLS and nobody’s gonna argue with their happiness.

Bring it home for us, Best and Brightest!

[Image: TrueCar]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 


Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

25 Comments on “Piston Slap: Get the Lead Out With Third-party Lead Sources?...”

  • avatar

    I concur with Sajeev’s sage advice but I will point out even if those services were accurate, dealers would not be making a dime on a new sale thus the industry adjusts and you are not getting the “deal” you think you are. Short of having access to mfg or dealer holdback information the only way to really know what a “deal” would be is to pull Black Book or Manheim data as I have for many a year here and compare the 1MYs with whatever is being sold retail.

    If I were to buy new again I would personally investigate the Costco program, because on something popular you don’t have much leverage out of the gate anyway. Case in point was Subaru, I could only get bro a few hundred off because essentially the attitude was “we don’t need your money because these sell themselves” and they were right. Costco’s program I believe would have given a greater discount as I found out later.

    • 0 avatar

      I tried to use the Costco program when buying a new pickup truck. Not good as the price the dealer uses for Costco is “Supplier” pricing. That price was thousands higher than what I got just walking in the dealership door.

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks for the information. I used to be eligible for GM, Chrysler, and I think Honda supplier pricing but I never used it during that five year period. I’m intrigued to hear it basically sucks in the case of trucks. I seem to recall a co-worker saving money on a Wrangler using it but I can’t remember the specifics.

        • 0 avatar

          IIRC Costco will let you check a price with no obligation to buy. If you’re already a member you might as well have them run the numbers.

          If you’re not a member – I wouldn’t join just for that. :-) Being able to pick up meat, cheese, and fancy crackers for your holiday party is a good reason, or picking up enough name brand vitamins to last a year for less than $20, or big tasty rotisserie chickens as part of your meal planning or…

          • 0 avatar

            Costco is where its at, no doubt.

          • 0 avatar

            or Premium for my Focus ST for $0.40 less per gallon than everywhere else.

          • 0 avatar

            Here Costco is more like 70 cents cheaper for Top Tier 93 octane than anyone else. None of the majors put premium prices on their sign and then they charge 90 cents a gallon more than for regular. Costco regular is maybe 12 cents cheaper than national brands.

    • 0 avatar

      Costco can be hit or miss, I used them years ago and I doubt I could have done better on price w/o a whole lot of work.

    • 0 avatar

      I used Costco once, in 2007. Wife wanted a new car TODAY, I had a hangover and was not up for hours of haggling. Thankyou Costco. Saved us a few thousand off list on a Honda Element. We also looked at the CRV, the new gen had just come out and Costco couldn’t get a discount on those. So YMMV depending on how popular the vehicle is.

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    I have purchased my last two new cars through buyers programs and helped my niece purchase one as well. The one I used designates partner dealerships and once you choose the vehicle type and options it sends out leads. The salespeople then usually contact you and start a dialogue. If you like the price you got, you can print out the price go straight to the dealer and buy the car.

    Or you can do what I did when the designated dealership is too far away – you can take the paper into your local dealer and see if they will match. The one time I did it, the local dealer actually beat the price because it turns out the buyers’ clubs take a cut from the dealer.

    I think the deal with my club is a negotiated base price and all options “at cost.”

    I know with my buyers’ club, there is no obligation to purchase. You can use its website to build and find cars and then get an actual price. Based on that, you have a decent baseline for your purchase. Plus, I seem to recall that the club goes to the fleet purchase manager so there was less pressure there and the dealerships seemed concerned that if I have a bad experience and complained they might get cut from the program or suffer some other issues. Whatever the case, they were extremely easy to deal with.

  • avatar

    Some basic tips have not changed no matter the era:

    -Bring outside financing with you, even if you don’t use it.

    -Go over all paperwork with a fine toothed comb. Ask questions about anything you don’t understand. Push back on things that don’t seem right.

    -Don’t get married to a particular car. Always be willing to have a backup choice, even if it’s the same model at another dealer.

    -Always be ready and able to walk away at a moment’s notice. That is the only power you have in the negotiation. It’s better to rent a car for an extra week than to get desperate and buy something quickly.

    • 0 avatar

      jack4x, I take your point. When I shopped for the last new car I bought before we moved to the US,(a 1989 Ford Ranger for my wife), I had access through the company I worked for to dealer pricing (we leased executive cars – including mine – from a company that supplied us with this data). At the first dealer I visited, I was eventually told that “there are dealers out there who will sell you this vehicle at the price you want to pay, but we won’t”. As it turned out, they were right.

      In Canada, every new car I’ve ever bought was a special order, because I’m willing to be very particular about what I want and have been willing and able to wait for it. And it didn’t seem at all unusual to the dealers I bought from. I gather from what I read on TTAC that, in the US, this is not customary.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s not customary to special order, but it is certainly possible. I did it with my truck last year.

        A good dealer will be happy to take your special order and give you a good price, because its an easy sale that they don’t need to keep in inventory. The exception would only be if you’re trying to buy something rare or limited production where the dealer may not have an allocation.

  • avatar

    I used the service through my credit union in 2004 and got a great price via email. I think this was due to the dealer’s online sales dept though. When I tried again in 2012 I only got replies from dealers who wanted me to come in. And now the credit union service is TrueCar. So, not sure I would use it again.

  • avatar

    Put some fine line tape on the speedometer of your B250 at the metric equivalent of 30, 40, 55 and 70 mph (or whatever speeds you choose). Drive it across the border and look at new cars again in a couple of years.

    (You don’t really know what your ‘retired’ life is going to look like until you live it for awhile. Don’t lock yourself into a vehicle choice right up front.)

    [Ask me in two years and I will likely recommend that you consider used cars before new – but the landscape may change.]

    • 0 avatar

      We’re all different. My preference is to buy new and keep the car for several (8-9) years. When we first moved to the US, I didn’t see the point of going through hoops to move a 6-year old vehicle across the border, and I don’t see the point of doing it this time, either.

      A good friend and former colleague did the opposite. He moved from the US to Canada with a heavily-optioned 1-year old Town & Country. All he had to do was replace the instrument panel and add daytime running lights. There was a bunch of paperwork, but he understandably didn’t want to take the depreciation hit only to replace the car new in Canada. To my mind, it’s a different calculus when the car is already 6 years old.

      And yes, I know what I want to drive at this point in my life. Ideally, I’d like what I presently have, but well-equipped tallish hatchbacks are not a thing in the US, it seems. At the present time, my leading options are the Q3, Tiguan and Sportage SX. Others may emerge, of course – I’m very analytical and prone to overthinking things. At the end of the day, I want a car that is small(ish) but both well-made and well-appointed, is a hatchback/wagon, and handles well. In this last regard, the laws of physics favour smaller cars over larger ones…

  • avatar

    They’re not very common, but the B250 (specifically the B250e) was sold here in the US. I used to see a blue one pretty regularly (I live in the DFW area) on my daily commute.

  • avatar

    Just driving the B series across the border and driving it for a couple of years won’t work. Technically in most states it is illegal to drive a car with out of state plates if you reside in the state.

    Also, the Canadian plates will expire at some point which could result in getting pulled over.

    Further, the car will need to be insured in the state of residence as it is unlikely that Canadian insurance will work for an extended period, especially after they learn you have moved to the US.

    Finally, not officially importing the car will make it very difficult later to do so, such as to get a title in a US state. It is possible that the B series meets US requirements, but if not you will be stuck with a car you can’t title, insure, or sell. US Customs will not appreciate your returning to the border down the road and trying to import the car then, particularly if you don’t have proof that the car meets US requirements and the gauges have been converted to MPH (and the mileage).

    I would sell the car before you leave and simply buy something new or used in the US. It’s not worth the hassle and the car is not a collectible or rare vehicle to deal with the importing issues.

    My mother imported a car made in Canada and she had to have the dealer change out the speedo and set the odometer to miles (the gas gauge is still in liters) plus have a letter from the car company stating it met US requirements. As it was a NAFTA car, it cost nothing to import – when I heard Customs say zero charge, you are all set – I grabbed my mother and said let’s go before they change their mind!

    • 0 avatar


      Thanks. I was assuming the car meets U.S. requirements and can be titled and insured in the U.S. If so, I wouldn’t buy a new car just because kph vs. mph (would change out the gauges or whatever). But I’m not familiar with the whole importing thing – wasn’t intentionally advocating anything illegal.

      When I worked on bills of material for some US-produced vehicles, the only difference between US-spec and Canada-spec was often just two part numbers – the instrument cluster and the engine block heater. (So I guess I always assumed that it would be no big deal to move a vehicle from one country to the other – but I see that this might not be true.)

      My son’s 2006 Chevrolet Malibu uses the analog speedometer with one set of numbers to display either kph or mph. There is a light on the dash which reads either “mph” or “kph” and the needle just moves based on the selected range. (It works well except that the indicator light is yellow… to me, yellow or orange or red indicator light on the dash says something isn’t quite right.)

      I had never considered that the odometer only reads one way… always more to learn.

  • avatar

    Just offer 25% off MSRP and be prepared to duck. If the best you can get from any dealer is 12% off, ask if they’ll eat the doc fee and delivery too.

    Taking on the dealer by the horns shouldn’t be scary. If they use a taser on you or rubber bullets, it only hurts for a little while and I’m sure they prefer dealing with you directly than a third party.

  • avatar

    I never understood why it’s so hard for people to say no. Even times when I really wanted a car sitting on the lot that was perfect, I was able to say no and a couple of times just left when they didn’t want to even come close to a decent price.

  • avatar

    This is the first time I’ve ever seen an article where writer misuses the concept of time value of money AND provides a link wherein the reader can see that the writer doesn’t understand.

    Time value of money refers to the notion that a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow.

    The value of your time what one considers when pondering how much effort to put into chasing the last bit of discount available.

  • avatar

    I’ve never been to a dealer that haggles and have no experience with the negotiation process. My primary tactic is always walking because I don’t need the car I looked at.

    Must be a state thing. We have several large chains that don’t haggle and they’re all within a pretty easy drive.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • la834: I don’t get why 2400w heat guns (or toasters, or dishwashers, etc.) aren’t readily available in...
  • 28-Cars-Later: I’m not sure what you mean, the 260 is unrelated to Our Lord of Eternal Torque.
  • Lightspeed: Eleven years ago I bought a then 10-year old Lexus. For giggles when I was shopping, I looked at a couple...
  • theflyersfan: @redapple – in 13 months, 14 service visits. Most were multiple days, and one wiper repair was...
  • Carlson Fan: “The 260 may have been a little better than the granddaddy to the Most Blessed 3800 IF it was...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber