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Watch Your Speed

Well, I finally came off the sidelines last month and replaced my ‘97 Accord with a new compact SUV. And having not been a buyer since 2002, the experience made me wonder if trimming transaction times should really be the goal.

Now, I was able to purchase my vehicle at a no-haggle price through my company’s car-buying program. All I had to do was select the car and color and I’d be fast-tracked through the buying process. But as it turned out, speed wasn’t what I needed. What I needed was a good salesperson.

Here are my observations:

Price Advisor: I don’t doubt J.D. Power’s claim that 80% of car shoppers visit third-party websites to obtain information, because that’s where I spent the last five years trying to convince myself to take on a car payment. I did pop onto OEM sites to check out different trim packages, but I didn’t visit a dealership site until about two weeks before I pulled the trigger.

TrueCar was my go-to site for pricing, while Kelley Blue Book is where I went to see how much my trade-in might fetch.

My vehicle search narrowed considerably in June 2013, when the fleet editors tested the vehicle I ended up buying. I drove it for three days and spent the next two years running price checks on TrueCar. Then, in late April, my beater failed three smog tests, sending me back online to finalize my vehicle selection. I even added Edmunds to the mix to search certified pre-owned vehicles. But my searches always seemed to circle back to that compact SUV I tested.

Making a Connection: What finally pushed me over the edge on the SUV was when my son asked innocently, “Daddy, when are we going camping?” I immediately signed up for my company’s car-buying program, checked my credit and waited for the program documentation to arrive.

I learned I could buy the vehicle at well below MSRP. Just as I was checking TrueCar to see what that might be, my phone rang. It was a salesperson at the local dealership. He wanted my business, but his eagerness caused me to retreat to Google to check out the store’s Google rating. It had a 4.8-star rating, so I agreed to an appointment.

The Showroom: The salesman seemed determined to put me on the road in record time. But his haste caused me to become suspicious, especially when he was already starting on the credit app without disclosing the purchase price. He apologized, then flipped to the price explanation in my program documents and said, “That’s what this is,” as he pointed to the price on his screen.

“We can slow things down if you want,” he added.

I gave him the OK to proceed and we finished the credit app. But as he walked my deal to finance, I quickly checked his price on TrueCar. It matched.

Into the Box: I waited 20 minutes to see the F&I manager, but my mind needed a breather. The producer first explained his process before asking me to confirm the information displayed on his computer screen. He then pulled out a very crowded, four-column menu. He said as much before flipping it over to jot down a three-product package consisting of a service contract, appearance protection and a vehicle-recovery system.

He started with the service contract before moving to the appearance protection product and the vehicle-recovery system, which he immediately crossed out. “I didn’t feel a pulse on that one,” he said.

I was impressed by his ability to read me. Heck, I hadn’t even vocalized my reaction to the impact those products had on my monthly payment before he showed me a new payment with the term stretched. Before I could respond, he dropped my rate a full point and rolled back my term. The rate was too good to say “No.”

Truth is, I entered his office knowing I wanted a service contract for the life of my loan. And the big milk stain my son left on the backseat of my wife’s car made appearance protection a no-brainer. Shoot, I would have said “Yes” to road hazard protection if it was presented, but I’m guessing we had already maxed out the lender’s callback.

The in-store experience took three hours, but it didn’t feel like it. I needed all that time to come to terms with my decision. Luckily, I had a good salesperson who answered my questions while making sure I wasn’t going to wait another five years to pull the trigger — something those third-party sites couldn’t do. But what they did do was confirm that I did, in fact, get a great deal.


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