What It Was Like To Buy a Used Car

This was our third time buying a used car, so I feel as if I am really getting the hang of this now. The first time was when I was pregnant with the twins and we KNEW we HAD to buy a minivan, but I was so nervous: how could we know we were getting a GOOD used car rather than a lemon? and what if we got cheated because we didn’t know how to haggle?? All of our previous cars had been handmedowns from my parents, who take meticulous care of their cars. My friend Melissa was the nudge I needed: she said something like, “Look, you just have to go into it knowing you’re going to get a little screwed on the deal. But what’s the alternative? Going to school to be an auto mechanic, just so you can evaluate each car? Then going through the process to become a car salesperson, so you know how to haggle with one? No. You need a minivan, so go buy one and lose a little money and hope for the best.”

The second used car we bought was one for Paul’s commute. We were looking for something older but with relatively low mileage and relatively long expected future use. I hate his car. It has a sun roof, which I knew he’d accidentally leave open in the rain, and he has indeed done so. Also, we have owned four of this same make/model, and this is the only one I have a hard time getting into: the roof is LOWER. I am between 5’8 and 5’9″, and I feel SQUISHED. I am shorter than the average U.S. man; I should not have a hard time getting my height into a car. Also, I can’t figure out how to turn on the radio, let alone select a station; there’s some complicated computer-screen display. But it is a success because he likes it and he is the only one who has to drive it.

This time we were buying a car to replace our dear old 1999 sedan, which has over 230,000 miles on it. It was Paul’s commuting car before we replaced it. We’ve kept it on as a car for Rob and William to use, because if they were to smash it up, it would be no big deal to lose it. But nearly a year ago, our trusted mechanic told me that it was time to say our long goodbyes: he doubted the car would last another year. This is the same mechanic who has kept it running for so long and has resisted previous hesitant suggestions that it might be time to let it go, so I accepted that it really was Time.

Here is the first thing you need to know about buying a used car, if your circumstances match ours: it takes four hours, and there is no good reason for it to take that long. You just have to go into it expecting to lose that time. We bring fully-charged phones, a back-up battery, snacks, and books.

I start by going online to the dealership’s site, and making a list of cars I’m interested in. When we were shopping for the minivan, I found two minivans on the site, and only one was actually available, and we bought it. When we were shopping for Paul’s commuting car, I found five cars on the site, and only one was actually available but they also had two others not on the site. When we were shopping for this car, I found six cars on the site, and three were available, and they didn’t offer any others. So I don’t know if I’d recommend the pre-shopping or not. Maybe you should just show up.

The second step is to find a salesperson, but worry not: a salesperson will absolutely find YOU. Sometimes before you are all the way out of your car.

The third step is to say what you want (in this most recent case, “a car of this make/model but before the 2012 redesign”), and maybe shove your careful list of color/mileage/stock# toward the salesperson. The salesperson then goes to search for availability/keys, while you stand awkwardly in the middle of the sales floor wondering if you should move or if you’re okay where you are.

The fourth step may or may not be to give some information about yourself and show your license. This didn’t happen on occasions 1 and 3 for us, but did on occasion 2.

The fifth step is the test drives. Especially when they ask no information from you, it is a little surprising to be handed the key to a car and have them say “See you back here in 10-15 minutes, okay?” Sometimes the prep for this step takes awhile: they have to put a temporary license plate on the car, and they have to find the key, and they have to make sure the car has gas in it. Our most recent experience was pretty great: she got all three keys at once, and while we were testing each car she got the next car all set to go—even left it running with the a/c on so it would be nice inside. Last time, we got a newbie and he had to walk through the lot with us trying with mixed success to find each car.

Fifth step, sub-category: It can be a little difficult to do a test drive. I mean, what are you looking for? It drives, yes? Good. This most recent time, when we drove the first car Paul said it drove a little rough/loud, and I said I didn’t notice anything. But then when we drove the second car, it was much quieter and there was less vibration, so then I saw what he meant. You can also be like, “Ug/yay, I hate/love the sunroof,” and/or “Wait, what is that stain?,” and/or “I have no idea how to work these buttons,” and/or “These seats are extremely slippery, and this headrest is worn down to the fluff,” or WHATEVER.

Sixth step is choosing one—or leaving, if you don’t find anything. But all three times we HAVE found something.

Wait, the real first step is financing, if you are not going to be paying by check or by paper bag full of cash. When we need financing, we get a loan ahead of time online (we used the same site we’d used for our mortgage); the lender sends us a blank check to use to pay for the car. We have seen fellow customers getting financing through the dealership, and it seems to involve a very long additional session.

The seventh step is sitting down at the salesperson’s desk. This is the start of the unbelievably long process. Why does it take so long? Maybe one among us is a car salesperson or related to a car salesperson and can tell us. Because from the customer point of view, it seems like a lot of waiting. The salesperson takes some information: whose name will the car be in? Okay, let’s see your license. What’s your address? phone number? How will you be paying? How will the car be used—commuting? scooting about town? Sign here that you understand this. Sign here that you understand that. Sign here that you understand privacy. There is some small-talk about children, and about a recent day when things were so crazy here. Meanwhile we are “just waiting for the…” paperwork/inspection/cleaning/title/keys, and for the options guy to be available.

There is apparently no way to avoid the eighth step, which is “seeing the options guy.” In our experience he is always the slickest, highest-pressurey, salespersonyish person of all. He will try to sell you a three-year parts/repairs plan for $3400: it covers parts and repairs! I mean, not all repairs. And not all parts. But lots of them! It’s such a good deal, even though it costs a third of what you’re paying for the car. He has a booklet with a semi-transparent overlay that shows you how great this plan is. When you say no, he will ask if he can ask why. You’ll tell him it’s because these are such great cars: you’ve bought two of them before at this very dealership, and neither one gave you any trouble for YEARS. He will then say, listen, you’ve bought cars here, you’re valued customers, he just wants to see you happy: he can give it to you for $2900. He’ll underline it AND circle it. You will say no again, and he will say he is not trying to make a profit here, he just cares about you and your car. He doesn’t want to see you stuck with the costs. Look at the costs! He will show you a chart of a car with arrows pointing to the expensive places. You will say no again. He will sigh. Listen. He can offer it to you at HIS cost, $2300. He’s not making any money here. Listen, as a former mechanic, he can tell you: car repairs are expensive. He would hate to see you stuck with that. He’s not trying to sell you anything unreasonable—he’s not going to suggest the theft insurance, not in our nice city! and you don’t need the nick-and-ding insurance, not for a used car. But he can see you’re smart consumers and you know even one visit to a mechanic can cost what three years of insurance cost, amirite? …Still no? Are you sure? Okay. Sign here, and please write out longhand that you are declining all the available safeguards at your own risk. He’ll shake his head, feeling sorry for your future expenses. He’ll print out the final paperwork. And then, he will turn to your husband: “I know you’re the one who really makes the decisions” (he’ll say it like it’s a winking joke, but it will not fly)—and he’ll show him a paper with $1900 written on it; he’ll slide it furtively, as if he is really not supposed to be doing this but he LIKES you(r husband), even after only a few minutes’ acquaintance. This is after YOU have signed something saying no to $2300, which he said was “his cost.” Oh, so he is going to take a personal $400 loss so that you can have this plan? Your husband is not going for it, and you are not pleased with these shenanigans. Sign here and here.

Finally, finally, you are released from the grips of the options guy and sent back to your salesperson and the ninth step. She has you sign a few more things. She offers you water. She leaves to find the spare key. She leaves with your credit card. She leaves to get a manager’s signature. She offers you water. She leaves with your credit card signature. She leaves to check on the progress of the cleaning. She leaves to find out how the final inspection is going. She leaves with your check. She leaves to find a piece of paperwork she needs. She leaves to check again on the inspection; are you sure she can’t bring you a water? or a ginger ale? You catch Pokémon and read your book in five-minute segments between her visits.

Tenth step: What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long?

Now things finally look promising; maybe we are at the eleventh step? Papers and copies of papers are being put in a folder. You are being handed a business card and a form that explains that if you refer anyone to this dealership you will get $100 per referral—she hopes you’ll refer to her, ha ha! And then: THE KEY! It’s THE KEY! The car is yours and you can LEAVE! …Oh, but call and make an appointment to come back for the inspection, because they didn’t actually do that yet because they were so backed up.

52 thoughts on “What It Was Like To Buy a Used Car

  1. Jill

    Seriously WHY does it take so long? My husband is military so we use a slightly different car buying process wherein we can use the USAA site to find the very specific car model+ options + mileage my husband has in mind and then we take that (usually ridiculously low) price and call that dealership and then go to pick up the car for which we already have a price. We show up knowing the car we want is there and with financing and after a test drive it is still HOURS until we can drive it off the lot.
    The last time we bought a car it was for my husband and he was the only one interested in it so he did all of it. ALL. So I got to miss out on the half a day of sitting around it took at the dealership and stay home with kids instead. Uh, hooray?

  2. Kristin H

    This was *exactly* our experience buying our husband’s truck, right down to the small children chit chat!

    I do have one thing to add. I own an oil analysis laboratory with my brother. Oil analysis is one way to have at least a little bit of an idea what you’re getting into before you buy the car. If you can get a sample of the oil (we sell hand-held pumps for this, or you can have them take your sample when they change the oil), we test the oil and see if there are any problems with the engine. It doesn’t find every possible problem – electrical problems, for example, are out of our range – but it at least gives you an idea of what shape the engine is in, beyond what you can actually see visibly.

    1. Mika

      This is fascinating to me! “I’m going to have to ask you to pee in a cup now, 2014 Honda CRV.”

  3. Chrissy

    You just exactly described my recent minivan buying experience! That warranty guy! UGH. I went with my checkbook in hand to buy a used minivan. Picked it out on the website after weeks of searching. Didn’t need to be convinced to buy it, I knew what I wanted before I even got there. So I thought it would be a pretty quick deal, but NO! I had to wait on the warranty guy, who proceeded to tell me how delicate and precarious the car I bought was because it has a computer. Don’t I know how expensive computers are to repair? Its a computer! Be terrified!! He wanted $2300 for a warranty that would only go an additional $30K. Um no. After several tries, he asked me if I wanted to go home and ask my husband about it, at which point it became a HELL NO. Also, he mentioned during the Computer Warning Speech that I shouldn’t use jumper cables on the car because it could surge power into the computer and cost me thousands! Thousands!!! But I wasn’t irritated enough at that point in the convo to question that statement. Then a month later I ran the battery down in a remote mountain campsite. As I was readying the jumper cables, I remembered that little snippet of his speech, and I got worried, so my sister drove me down the mountain to call the dealership. I got the service dept, explained what the guy had said, and mentioned it was during the hard sell about the warranty. The lady on the phone, very apologetically, told me the guy was just trying to get a sale and that I should use the jumper cables like normal.

    1. Chrissy

      That should say 30K miles, not $30K. Why am I proofreading my comment after I submit it instead of before? I don’t know.

    2. Corinne

      At my last car-buying experience I called my husband and asked him about the warranty (he said no, of course, which was what I was saying) just to get the guy to STOP. I probably shouldn’t have reinforced his bad behavior.

      1. Chrissy

        The funny thing is, I WAS thinking that maybe my husband would want to buy it, and I was thinking of going home to talk to him about it and then maybe call back, but once the guy said that there was no way I was doing it. So even if it was a great deal (it wasn’t) I would have refused out of spite. :)

        1. Shelly

          I took my husband with me to buy my car specifically so that he could shut.that.shit.down. And he did. With a quickness. I didn’t even have to deal with it. I got to smile prettily and nod.

  4. Anna

    Here’s what it’s like to buy a car from a guy on Craigslist who lists his cars in the “for sale by owner” section but who is in fact a dealer operating out of his driveway. The husband and I did not agree that this was the best course of action- I figured that even if a dealership was a hassle, you have some recourse if something goes wrong. He figured that if you buy the car from the person who owned it, they know its history and will be up front about it. With the Guy we got neither, I guess? He bought leased cars at auction and sold them. The car has been just fine. It’s awkward doing a deal at someone’s dining room table while the wife and kids play upstairs, and I think he tried to squeeze another $100 out of us- like, he counted the cash and said we were short $100. But they had counted it at the bank and it was right, so we asked him to count again and it was. ANYWAY, it’s a long, awkward process no matter what. There was a lot of driving back and forth between his house and the nearest DMV to get the plates and such. The important thing is, the car has been fine.

  5. laura

    When the warranty guy tried to do the hard sell on us by explaining how terrible the car expenses were going to be, I said, gosh if the car is so terrible, perhaps we shouldn’t actually buy it and got up. They gave up the sell so quick it was a beautiful thing to behold. I think next time I will actually just tell the person trying to sell me the car that if I have to go talk to the warranty guy I will not buy the car and see if I can get out of it.

    1. Ginny

      I was thinking the whole time I was reading it how great it would be to do this! I don’t think I’d think of it in the moment and I might not be able to carry it off, but I’m delighted it worked for you just the way I was imagining!

      Also if he pulled that shenanigan with my husband, we might both get up to leave out of sheer spontaneous outrage.

    2. Maureen

      I did the exact same thing when we bought our Caliber. I was on the fence about getting a new car anyway, then when the options guy started his spiel, I said “if this car is such a lemon, why would we buy it in the first place?”-I wasn’t joking, I was totally serious. I told my husband we should forget about it, and I did get up to leave. Options guy started backpedaling so fast he almost get whiplash.

      My husband really wanted the car so we got it, but I left the dealership with a bad feeling, like this car is going to break down in a year! Luckily that hasn’t been so, it has been 6 years and knock wood, we haven’t had any problems with it so far.

  6. Joanne

    They do it because you will maybe think, well we’ve spent nine hours sitting at this desk, while the sales person is just “checking with his manager” on one more thing, maybe we should go ahead and buy the brand new $30,000 car! It’s infuriating. My dad hates and despises a sunroof. Why would I want to buy a car with a big hole chopped in it?, he says, ha!

  7. elizabeth

    The roof in Paul’s car is probably actually shorter because of the sun roof. I believe that the mechanism for the sun roof takes up head-space (which is why I don’t like them either).

  8. ButtercupDC

    I bought a *new* car in my first-ever car buying experience, and it took about the same amount of time. My mom (in a moment [among many in my life] where she couldn’t bear to think of her baby doing something on her own) had emailed some dealerships and asked them for prices of the car I wanted (Honda CR-V). I had the price in hand, had thoroughly researched what car I wanted, and the salesman seemed almost shocked when I was like, yeah, ok, I’ll take that gray one. One of my coworkers had sent me an email with tips like, do NOT buy xyz, and I printed it out and referred to it every time I got a hard sell. It gave me the courage to say no–well, I’d really like to help you out by buying that warranty, but the paper says no, buddy.

    Also, the salesman was giving me kind of a hard sell on some stupid clear coat (the kind they use on jets! And it’ll totally improve your life somehow as you sit in traffic!), and I interrupted and said, I don’t want this. Do you have to tell me about it? And he said abashedly yes, and I said proceed, and he made it through his speech, and I said no thank you, and that was that.

    I love when you do “this is what this experience is like” posts, Swistle!

  9. Kerry Clifford

    I have three things to add based on my experience buying a car in a deserted parking lot with help from my brother, who is a “car guy.”

    1) Cars tend to break in predictable ways. If you know the make, year, and mileage, there’s a lot of information on the internet about what kind of problems its likely to have.
    2) Buy a car that costs less than you have to spend, and then take it to a mechanic immediately and spend the rest on repairs. I think a lot of times you can actually take the car to the mechanic before you buy it to get an estimate.
    3)Deserted parking lots are good places for test drives because you’re going to want to do a lot of accelerating and slamming on the breaks…if you’re a car guy.

  10. Hamsters4brains

    I worked at a dealership for six years and the detail department is the bottleneck of the dealership. You can save time if you ask to have the car detailed on a different day. Which they will try to talk you out of because you’ll probably find more things for them to fix at the same time.

    Warranty people sadly have goals/contests for products just like any retail store and their credit cards. Even I, as an employee buying a car, would be sold to :'(

  11. kate

    I wish I had read this before buying my first car recently! Even though the process I went through was a bit different:

    1. look online for garages without horrendously bad reviews
    2. there’s one in your city! it’s an hour away by bus
    3. it has a car that looks ok and is the same make as the only other car you’ve owned, which was handed down to you by your parents, because despite being in your late twenties you are somehow a literal child
    3. talk to your friend about car buying and how terrible it is. she offers to drive you to the garage!
    4. make an appointment
    5. oh god the test drive, how did you ever pass the driving test over here, WHY didn’t you pick a car with an automatic transmission
    6. your friend is an angel and a scholar and offers to start the test drive for you
    7. test drive is a success, in that you don’t stall the car, and the car is extremely… car-like. (you are not a car expert)
    8. because you are not a car expert, pay lots and lots of ££ for the AA to inspect the car and certify that, probably, the car isn’t a lemon, but if it is it’s not their fault and they can’t be held responsible
    9. pay even more ££ for insurance
    10. take the bus to the garage and put a gigantic hole in your checking account
    10. get into the car that is now, somehow, your car, and realise you have to drive it back to your flat
    11. stall the car three times on the journey home and don’t drive it again for two weeks

    PROFIT!

  12. MR

    Gosh this is timely. I literally opened the Kelley Blue Book window and then opened Swistle while I was waiting for it to load.

  13. MomQueenBee

    Yes to all of this, especially the final WHY IS THIS TAKING SO LONG steps. When we bought Earl a few weeks ago we were shocked when they sent us home for a weekend visit with him before we’d even decided we were buying. But I guess it’s like taking Annie away from Miss Hannigan for a few days–“you are not going back to that car orphanage.” We bought him.

  14. LeighTX

    I love this! You have described the process exactly, although if a salesman pulled that “Oh ho ho, [husband] is really the one that makes the decisions so here’s a lower price” business my own husband would have to drag me out of the room before I stapled the salesman’s hand to his desk.

    I hate HATE HATE buying cars, I ALWAYS feel like I’m getting screwed over. We’re going to have to go through the process next summer to buy a car for #2 daughter, and I’m already dreading it.

    1. Mary

      Ha Leigh! I thought I was the only one who threatened to staple the salesman’s hand to his desk for those shenanigans!

  15. Jenny

    We just bought a car on Sunday and it was exactly like this. He didn’t pull the husband shenanigans, though, or I would have left.

    1. Jenny

      (Just to be clear: not because I am an Awesome Person but because I am specifically touchy about car places not respecting me. I do almost all the driving in our house, so I get the car fixed and get the oil changed and have the say on a new car. If folks like that don’t want to make eye contact, they don’t need my beautiful dollars.)

  16. michelleJ

    Just reading this post made me feel uncomfortable. I bet my blood pressure went up. I hated buying my first car back in ’05… said car has 150k miles on it and I am already nervous about having to replace it.

  17. Ernie

    This makes me so grateful that our good family friends own car dealerships. I babysat and potty trained most of their 8 children – starting when I was in 7th grade, so they give me a family discount. The biggest factor: I TRUST THEM!

  18. Squirrel Bait

    We bought a car from a small used car dealership a few months back, and we actually took the car to our own (trusted) mechanic for an inspection before we bought it. It cost like fifty bucks, and our mechanic did it while we went and got lunch. The inspection ended up being a great idea, first for the peace of mind that nothing was horribly wrong, and second because the list of repairs that would need to be done soon/immediately gave us the ability to negotiate the price a bit.

    I was also surprised to see that we got a much better deal on the car we wanted by going to a dealership about an hour away. We live in a blue dot in a red state, so the car that would have sold quickly and expensively here was languishing on a lot in a town an hour away where everybody wants pickup trucks. Putting up with a few trips back and forth when finalizing the deal ended up making a few thousands dollars of difference.

  19. Joyce

    Funny, we’ve just started looking for a new used car. My husband’s 98 Volvo is starting to need more repairs and I’m thinking we might want to sell it while it still runs.
    After a bad experience, my husband always takes used cars for an inspection before he buys them. Anymore, I would never buy a used car without one.
    He also reads online to find out typical problems with years, makes, models.
    Our $3000 Honda Odyssey has been so good to us! Found on Craigslist previously owned by a mechanic.
    I find that there are better deals to be had with for-sale-by-owner vehicles than dealerships. And no up selling!

    1. Maureen

      I agree with the sale by owner point! Years ago, I saw a Subaru Legacy in a Walmart parking lot with a for sale sign. I called, and the owner met me at a parking lot, I drove it-went to get a cashier’s check-and boom-the car was mine. I know I got very lucky, I didn’t even have my husband check the car out. I really loved that car, I live where the roads are icy and slick for months on end, and it had a way of almost correcting itself in a slide. Best $3000 I ever spent!

  20. Corinne

    Oh. My. God.
    I took a blank check to the dealership the first time I bought a car from a lot, and I brought my FOUR MONTH OLD INFANT because how long can this possibly take? An hour, max, right?? I already picked out the car, they are holding it for me, it’s clean and inspected, and I have MONEY IN MY HAND. I ended up being there for over three hours, and nursing my wailing baby in a hot car because there is NOWHERE to nurse in a car dealership and I was not an experienced in-public nurser. Now that I think about it, thank god I was nursing, I would never have brought enough formula to last.
    Also the car salesman wanted to high-five me. More than once. What about this 34 year old new mom makes you think she wants to high-five over a minivan purchase?

  21. Ali

    This is 99% the same as the process to buy a new car. It really ticked me off that we were stuck in some sales guys’ office at the Toyota dealership (paying by the hour for a babysitter at home to watch our kids) going back and forth that NO, we did not want to buy this extra warranty or that extra warranty…the whole freaking reason we bought a Toyota was so that we could drive it forever without needing pricey repairs. Aaaggggghhh. Seriously, one of the things they tried to sell us was a warranty on the electronic key. A key warranty???!!!

    1. kalendi

      Ooh, we actually got the key warranty. Our car is an keyless ignition, but you have to have the fob to start/lock/unlock it. My sister lost her key and had to pay almost 200 to get it replaced. We got the key warranty (very cheap compared to having to pay that kind of money), since my husband is hard on keys!

  22. Lawyerish

    I remember going with my parents to buy used cars on two occasions and wondering why on God’s green earth it took so long for a seemingly straightforward transaction. Just hours of…NOTHING HAPPENING. You walk in there ready and willing to spend a significant sum of money and they drag it out for so long that you just want to bag the entire thing and leave. Why? WHYYYY?

  23. Ruby

    The paragraph about the options guy made me cringe. That “joke” about how your husband makes all the decisions! Ugh!

    Several months ago, my 17-year-old car’s windshield started leaking. Multiple mechanics told me that it couldn’t be permanently fixed. (Or rather, it would cost more than the value of the car to even attempt to fix it.) The car still runs perfectly fine; it’s the windshield that’s the problem. To make things even more frustrating, I will soon be moving to a city where I won’t need a car, but until I leave I need a car for work. Was I going to have to go through the whole used-car-buying process for a car that I’ll only have for a few months?

    Thankfully, I am pleased to say that this story has a happy ending: I found a mechanic who said he could at least try to fix it temporarily, and now I’m two months away from the move and it has shown zero signs of leaking. (AND we had an unusually rainy winter this year.) And as a bonus, he didn’t even charge me for the fix because he wasn’t sure if it would work! I may have found the one honest mechanic in America.

  24. Matti

    I loved this whole post, and have read each comment carefully. Despite having bought six used cars between my husband and myself, I always feel as though I’m doing it “wrong.” Now I can see it’s pretty much just universally and awful experience. Yay! Not just me :)

    Has anyone else heard the ads on podcasts for some kind of car buying process that is supposed to be like buying something out of a vending machine? It’s probably too good to be true, but PLEASE LET’S MOVE IN THAT DIRECTION.

  25. Melanie

    Ok – so I am odd. We only buy new cars, but I love buying them. The last three took under an hour each at the dealership. My husband stays completely out of the process. He only shows up to sign the papers so that his name will be on the title. I get great prices, never finance and never buy a warranty. I am excited because I am going to be buying something new for me within the next year. I have helped friends buy cars. It’s my super power.

  26. Jenny

    This post is fantastic.

    I’ve only ever bought new cars (I’m single and only have one car, so I want to postpone the repair time as long as possible and I run the cars into the ground), but had a similar experience this last time. The first two times I brought my Dad who actually likes to haggle on cars. This time, I told myself that I was 35 years old and could certainly manage to buy a car on my own.

    IT. WAS. AWFUL. I was under the impression that there wouldn’t be much different in what dealers offered for both the car and the trade in value. I went to the place where I bought my first car, they offered my quite a bit less than I thought I could get for my trade in. I went to the second place and they offered a better deal by $2000. The third place was right in line with the second place, but the sales guy seemed to know less about the car than I did and I knew nothing. So on a the 4th day of car shopping, I went back to the second place and said for $500 more, we’d have a deal. And we did, but it took forever. HOURS. I had the guy trying to sell me the extended warranty and he gave me the whole computer speech and the whole “I see you drive your cars forever” speech. But honestly, once I said no, he backed off. Which, of course, made me think I should get it (I didn’t). But I have to say, that I’ve been pleased with the dealership. A year after I bought the car, I hit a deer and had almost $5000 in damage. I don’t have rental insurance when my car is being repaired, but the dealership gave me a loaner for the two weeks that they were repairing the car.

  27. Gigi

    We just bought a new (used) car a month or so ago – our experience was exactly the same. A total nightmare. By the time the last page was signed, I jumped in the car and hauled out of there leaving The Husband to say goodbye to the sales guy. According to The Husband, after I left the sales guy said, “Is everything okay?” No, after four hours of torture everything was NOT okay. And I was hungry. I LOATHE buying cars.

  28. P-Mum

    When we bought our used car, we actually brought it in to a mechanic during the test drive, to have a quick check over. We actually did it with a number of cars we were looking at, at various dealerships, and told the salesperson we would be doing it. Only one had a problem with it, actually did not want us to go. Needless to say, we did not buy from that one!

  29. Cara

    I have never, ever taken a test drive that the sales person didn’t come along. I find the idea that they would hand you the keys and say see you in fifteen shocking, no matter what information you left.

    Also, husband and I have given up waiting. We pick out the car, give them the information they need, and tell them get all the paperwork and. the. car. ready and call us. We leave. When everything is ready, we go back, sign the bajillion forms, hand over the check (we don’t dealer finance either) and trade keys. It’s still about an hour, but at least it’s an hour actually doing things.

    1. Melanie

      Around here, some car places let you have the car for the weekend to test it out. Several of my neighbors have done this. When I bought one of my kids a CRV a few years ago, we had it all day. We called them late in the day and agreed on the price and gave them some information. We drove back an hour or so later and signed everything.

  30. Lydia

    Ugh, the options guy. The first car we bought he was soooo disappointed in us. We said no to all 25 or so things we were offered. If my husband hadn’t been there I might have bought floor mats just to cheer this guy up.

    Our latest car purchase was via Shift. It’s only available in DC and some cities in California, but it’s awesome! They drive the car(s) you find on their website to your very own house, you can test drive it, the price is fair, and if you want to buy it you just sign some stuff, hand over your check, and you’re good to go. Our only hiccup was when the guy couldn’t get the old plates off because the bolts had rusted a bit.

    1. Matti

      This is the type of service I was talking about in my comment! I’m glad to hear from someone who used it that it went well. We need more of this!

  31. susan

    This is exactly why Carmax got our business this time. We just replaced an old minivan with a much newer (but not new) minivan. Did all the research online and walked in, test drove it, did all the paperwork (including trade-in) and drove off the lot in less than 1.5 hours. I might have (almost surely did) leave a few hundred on the table but OMG, the “no hassle” thing was so worth it. I’m self employed and every hour I spend in a dealership costs me money. They do try to sell you an extended warranty but are much less pushy (they probably have rules about this due to the “no hassle” thing.) For the price-point of car we were buying it was the way to go!
    Now, we bought my husband a brand new truck a few years back and did the whole dealership dance — lots of research online; got a friend with access to one of those car-buying resources to help us narrow down the best price; took a whole day off work and visited 3 dealerships; had a hard price in mind and when through the negotiation process with all 3; walked out of the second dealer over a few hundred $ and visited the last dealer; got down to our target price quicker at the last place because the salesman at the 2nd was literally calling to try to get us back; did a deal and then took 2 more hours to wrap it up. That experience was exhausting but worth it because I feel like I negotiated a fabulous deal and the price point was higher.
    Now I am just thrilled we both drive relatively new cars and I don’t have to think about it again for a decade!

  32. Kerri

    We used Carmax too, and I absolutely agree – I’m sure we spent a bit more money than we would have elsewhere, but the ease of the experience made it worth it. We were still there about 4 hours since we test drive a few cars, and we did end up getting the extended warranty since the car we decided on had more miles than we’d originally planned on, but it was a relatively stress-free experience with no pushy salespeople. This was for my husband’s car, and when I get a new (used) one in a year or so (PLEASE current car, hold on until my younger son is in kindergarten and I don’t have to pay for daycare anymore!), I plan on using Carmax as well.

  33. Cameron

    I just have to say you are so funny and I loved every minute of this.

    Also, my dad is a used car salesman (the good kind, not the skeevey kind!) and I would bet real money he ALSO doesn’t know why it takes so dang long. It seems like there is a lot of him taking papers waiting on other guys behind desks, etc. A lot of that is financing paperwork, though.

  34. Alice

    OMG the husband thing.

    When I bought my last car I got into a fight with my salesman’s manager because I was going to walk over $250. I told him my “I’m not spending more than X” price and he kept haggling until he was within $500 of that price. He could. not. handle. that I wouldn’t come up and “meet him halfway” to split the difference at $250. I repeatedly told him I had an offer waiting for me at the dealership up the road for a different car, at $2k under the price I was willing to pay him for this car (which was true!), so I was not willing to pay more than $X for this car right now.

    He finally went, incredulous, “are you SERIOUSLY going to walk away for $250?!” I replied, “Yes, absolutely. Are YOU seriously going to lose a sale for $250?”

    I eventually got him to cave, but not before using the husband thing to my advantage. I don’t remember if I was married yet, but probably at least engaged, and during the $250 argument I finally smiled sweetly and said I was able to write a check on the spot right now for $X, but if he truly couldn’t go that low I would have to go home and discuss it with my husband first and come back another day.

    (I got the car for $X.)

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