Car Shopping? Know Your Profile to Get the Best Deal

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Man looking at car
Nestor Rizhniak /

Spring auto shopping is underway — and as clever, as unique, as savvy as you think you are, you likely fit into one of three car buyer profiles:

  1. Beeliners: These are the buyers who know exactly what they want and make a beeline for the make and model.
  1. Bargain hunters: These are very cost-conscious buyers. They compare as many listed prices on various models as they can find.
  1. Deal makers: Yes, bargain hunters are cost-conscious, but deal makers go beyond those frugal buyers. Deal makers look for low prices and then seek to make deals that take the prices even lower.

This is according to the oft-quoted Rick Wainschel, AutoTrader’s vice president of automotive insights, according to Ward’s Auto. And according to his analysis, getting the best deal means being aware of how you shop for a vehicle.

So, consider: Which one are you? Deciding will help you find the best car at the best price for your shopping style. Here are five expert shopping tips tailored for different types of car shoppers:

1. Compare

This advice is especially important for bargain hunters and deal makers:

Yes, we know you research styles and prices. But what about safety? Do you know there is an array of passive safety features (such as air bags) and active safety features (such as lane-departure warning signals)? Which ones are included on the model you’re eyeing? What about warranties? What service, if any, is included in the purchase price? All of the variables should be considered before you decide on a specific model at a dealership, noted Kelley Blue Book (KBB). Don’t assume you know what is included in the purchase price. Research it.

2. Talk to owners

This is for you, beeliners:

We’ve all spoken to people who are die-hard lovers of a certain brand of car. But the models rolling off assembly lines today might be different from those of yesteryear. New materials, new technology and other tweaks have left some buyers disappointed. Don’t just read expert reviews about cars. Talk to owners of the current model you consider — whether through on social media or friends — to ensure the car you covet is really the one for you, recommended KBB.

3. Consider a preowned car

Good for beeliners, bargain hunters and deal makers:

Even if you’re a die-hard new car buyer, you surely know that used cars are generally a much better bargain. That’s especially true when car manufacturers don’t make major changes to a car between model years. Many times you’ll find that a manufacturer’s changes are so minor, they are rarely outlined. Consider a certified preowned (CPO) car, recommended AutoTrader. You’ll save thousands on a lightly used car with a full warranty (sometimes a warranty might even top that of a new car) and receive extras (satellite radio, enhanced wheels) also without added cost.

4. Remain flexible

This addresses you, especially, deal makers:

It’s a rare auto dealer who doesn’t have perfectly good cars on the lot that just aren’t moving. And dealers need to move those cars — whether they’re new or used — to make way for new stock. Ask to see the car that the dealer has in stock rather than asking for a special order or dealer trade. You’ll likely find dealers are much more willing to bargain on cars they have in stock than those that require them to order or trade, reported AutoTrader.

5. Simplify comparisons

Here’s a tip for you, bargain hunters:

It’s difficult to figure out which car dealer offers a better price because of the various options on models. One way to better understand the prices offered by different dealers is to ask how much the price is over invoice, advised Edmunds.

“In other words, if a salesperson says the car is $23,457, you can ask, ‘How much over invoice is that?’ The answer might be that it’s $500 over invoice,” Edmunds wrote. “Using the ‘amount over’ invoice, you can then assume that, even when the options change, the price will be about the same in relationship to the invoice price of the vehicle. This is a handy way to simplify pricing and make accurate comparisons.”

Sure, it’s great to find a car at a bargain price. But before you commit, consider this caveat from former car salesperson Matt Jones, Edmunds’ Senior Consumer Advice editor: “Make sure you really like the car you’re buying and that it really meets your needs,” he wrote. “It sounds so obvious, but go check how many one- and two-year-old used cars sit on car lots. Most of them are trade-ins from people who just bought the wrong car. Take your time and make the right choice.”

Otherwise, your bargain might not be a bargain, no matter your shopper profile and skills.

What type of car shopper are you and how has that worked out for you? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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