The Driver’s Seat: Truck Buying Sucks!
The Driver’s Seat
I’m going to assume you read last issue’s “The Driver’s Seat” and fully agree with the fact that trucks have gotten too damn expensive. If you didn’t read it, now is the time to hit pause, dig the March/April 2019 issue out of the bathroom magazine rack (you still have one of those, right?), and give it a quick read. Now that we’re on the same page, let’s move on to the second half of my ranting: truck buying sucks!
We spend so much of our time talking about the latest and greatest trucks and SUVs and encouraging our readership to go out and try them that we often forget how unpleasant the buying experience can actually be. For me, the last time I tangoed with the devil in a wool suit was more than a decade ago. Back then, it was a relatively straightforward procedure—or so I thought. Looking back now, I probably got hosed. But I was young(er) and dumb(er) back then.
Fast-forward to the end of 2018, and I was ready to dance again. We’re always looking for the best way to generate the stories that we think our readership will best respond to, and a handful of times in my career that has led to purchasing a truck. Up until now, those have all been relatively low-dollar cash deals with private sellers. This time was going to be different, though. To get what I was looking for, I would have to look a dealership right in the eyes and fight to the death. I spent months mentally preparing for the battle that would ensue.
The truck I was looking for was very specific: a SuperCrew ’13 or ’14 Ford F-150 Raptor in Race Red or Blue Flame. This particular truck proved difficult to find in my home state, which was shocking since California has probably the largest population of Raptors. After months of research, I found a collection of seven potential candidates around the metro Phoenix area. With that, I bought a one-way plane ticket and jetted off to Arizona with one goal in mind: driving home a Raptor.
My wife went with me, because who are we kidding, she’s the brains of this operation. After we touched down, we quickly grabbed the best rental car from Hertz’s line of garbage no one wants and set our sights on the truck at the top of our list. We knew any serious negotiating would take four to six hours, so starting with the most desirable truck was key.
Our destination was Peoria Ford in, you guessed it, Peoria, Arizona. We quickly found the truck and set to work examining it before the sales slime sauntered over. It took about 10 minutes before we were spotted and assigned a salesman. Now, if you’re lucky in your next vehicle-buying experience, you’ll get a salesman like we did. Christian Gore was amazing, y’all, and if you’re in the market for a vehicle in Arizona look him up.
This is the part where we all need to be better humans. Sure, car salesmen have a reputation. And sure, some live up to it. However, the better you treat the people working with you, the better experience everyone will have. Remember, the salesmen on the lot aren’t the ones trying to work you over; that job is left to the middle-aged men with fancy suits who stand on the pedestal behind a glass wall just watching. Save the fire and fury for those guys.
To make a long story short, we took a test drive, pointed out all of the truck’s flaws (they didn’t even wash all the mud out of the wheelwells—seriously), and then headed inside. They seat you by a hot window with backs to the to the manager’s bullpen, every part of the experience is meant to give the house an upper hand. By the end of our negotiating, we had three tiers of management and the dealership owner involved. In the end, we got a deal done that we thought was fair and had everyone frazzled and acting like we stole the truck. We’ll never know, however, how much further we could have pushed or if it was even a good deal at all.
All in, we were at the dealer for just shy of five hours. That was with a good salesman, knowing exactly what we wanted, exactly what to pay, and with no financing hassle. According to the dealer, the average is now up to eight hours for a simple auto transaction.
Lessons LearnedI learned a few lessons through the whole process and feel that if more people focused on these areas, better deals could be made and the process simplified, if even just a little. These ideas aren’t uniquely mine, either—many car-buying experts will say the same thing.
1) Be a good human. If you go into the deal with an attitude, they are going to send it right back. Treat the dealership staff how you would like to be treated. Use kind words, give compliments, and try to find something relatable with the salesman you’re working with—it’ll go a long way. Remember the Golden Rule.
2) Know what a fair deal is. Dealerships are a business and need to make a profit; they are not set on screwing the customer. That said, use one of the many car-buying and valuation tools available on the internet prior to hitting the lot. This way you’ll have a good idea how far you can push during negotiating. This goes for new and used vehicles.
3) Beware of the excessive lowball. Along with knowing the fair deal, it’s smart to not hit the lot expecting to get half off the sticker price. It just won’t happen. And the harder you fight on this, the more likely they are to just ask you to leave. From what we’ve heard from salespeople, this is among the worst things you can do, second to being a jerk.
4) Knowledge is power, so know more than the dealer. If you show up looking for “a bright-colored SUV with pretty wheels,” they are going to take you to the cleaner. Know the specific make and model you want, what features it should have, and how much they are selling for elsewhere.
5) Work every part of the deal separately. Negotiate the sale price of the vehicle, trade-in value (if you have one), and financing as different parts of the deal. And don’t get sucked in by the, “What do you want your monthly payment to be?” line. If they get talking about more than one thing at a time, just ask to stop. This is done to confuse buyers, and the house will always win, usually by lowballing a trade or jacking up interest rates in an attempt to lower the sale price.
6) Don’t be afraid to walk away. There are many fish in the sea of vehicles, and turning a buying transaction into an emotional one is going to bite you every time. If you get too attached on a vehicle, the salespeople can tell and will take the upper hand. The odds turn in your favor once they realize it’s just a hunk of steel and a number to you, and you’ll gladly look at another one at a neighboring dealer.
7) If you can’t afford the vehicle, don’t do the deal. Trucks are expensive now, and lots of dealers are pushing people into loan programs that are bordering insane. We’ve seen nine-year loans at astronomical interest rates, just to hit a monthly payment. My personal opinion would be that if you can’t pay cash for the vehicle, you shouldn’t be buying it. But, knowing that’s not how the world works, it’s usually best to find a local credit union and have a preapproved loan before heading to the dealer. Not only does this let you know what you can afford (and credit unions usually have some of the best rates), it also gives an advantage when negotiating.
8) Don’t be like Hank Hill—never pay sticker price. Unless it’s for a new Raptor, in that case MSRP is a pretty good deal (if you see a dealer upcharge tacked on, run away fast).