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Car-Buying Without the Sleaze

Sure you've researched what kind of car you want, but the time of day, week, month and year can all have an impact on your car shopping experience.

Michelle O. is a young, Bay Area professional. One day, she went into a used car dealership looking for a new-to-her used car. She wanted a Jetta; sporty, fun, dependable and practical, much like herself.

“It was the worst fricking experience of my life,” she described.

The salesperson pigeonholed, stereotyped, and condescended to her.

“You can listen to your Dave Mathews CD in here,” he suggested, pointing to the CD player.

“Dave Mathews sucks,” she retorted.

For safety reasons, Michelle wanted automatic locks, which she requested. She was then pegged as the safety girl.

“You can use the pop-out Volkswagen key as a weapon against an attacker,” suggested the car salesman.

“I could,” she paused, “if I was being attacked by a cockroach.” 

But the worst came when Michelle was about to sign the papers. She had specifically asked for a five-year financing plan. The slimy car salesman tried to slip the payments into a 72-month plan. Michelle is a biostatistician; she can do the math.

“Seventy-two months is six years, not five. I don’t appreciate being swindled. I’m outta here.”

He brought up being able to buy food for his children as a coercion tactic.

“Bye-bye,” she said, closing the door.

Michelle may have visited the wrong dealership, or the wrong group of salespeople, but maybe her timing was just off. Buying a car is a big decision that carmakers, consumers, and dealerships spend a lot of time contemplating. But one thing that many potential buyers may fail to take into account is what time of year, month, week and day they decide to shop and purchase.

According to Deanna Sclar, author of Buying a Car for Dummies, good timing can pay off. Here are her tips:

Year: It used to be the best time to buy was at the end of the model year, when manufacturers want the dealers to clear out the old models and make way for new ones (think rebates, incentives, and low prices). Now cars are released year round, so Sclar recommends paying attention to newspaper and dealership ads that tell when the new models are coming in. The end-of-year is also a great time to buy because salespeople may be trying to up their final sales figures. A potential drawback? As prices drop, selection may also.

Month: At the end of the month salespeople are trying to hit certain sales goals. They may be eager to cut a deal so they get bonuses.

Week: Shop toward the end of the week. If a salesperson has had a slow one, he is more apt to listen to your demands.

Time of Day: "Never look at cars when it’s dark. Those floor room lights make all the cars look gorgeous," notes Sclar. However, it may behoove you to negotiate your deal toward the end of the day, when salesmen are eager to get home. Acting like you have all the time in the world—when they don’t—could be in your favor. The only time you don't want to play the waiting game is if you know exactly what you want and know you can find it elsewhere. That’s when it’s "my deal or no deal."

Of course the most important timing consideration should be your own. Buying a car at the end of the year could leave you with car payments during the holiday financial maelstrom. It could also result in the purchase of a hot pink Jetta when you wanted black. When Michelle was shopping for a new car she didn’t have the luxury of waiting for the perfect time of year; she needed a car immediately to take night classes that were inaccessible by public transportation. She eventually got the exact car she wanted at the exact time. Who can argue with that?

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