by Alex McCall
Cars are cool. Most guys know this; they start playing with Hot Wheels in their younger years, and by time they are in their teens, they can talk torsional rigidity and pound-feet of torque with ease and enthusiasm. Girls, on the other hand, have a pink plastic Barbie convertible with no painstakingly-reproduced-in-miniature plastic engine, or even wheels that turn reliably and doors that don’t fall off.
When girls get their first car, it’s usually a present from mom and dad, or some old beater they bought with allowance and babysitting money so they could get to their job at the mall. When guys talk about their first car, their eyes tend to get misty, and they smile at the memory of working on their old Cougar with their dad or their buddies. When we girls think about our first car, we usually either remember what a piece of embarrassing crap it was, or remember the good times indirectly related to the car itself, like that road trip we took in it with our friends, or the special make-out session we had in the back seat with our high school crush.
Now, as responsible adult women and moms, we are
expected to go out and buy a car that is right for us and our families,
that doesn’t cost too much and won’t break down, or guzzle gas, or harm
the environment – with little car-buying experience and almost no prior
knowledge of the workings of cars.
In 2006, women bought more cars than men. In fact, Road and Travel published last year their findings of a survey they conducted in 2004 of women car buyers, finding that 52% of all car buyers that year were women. The same survey also found that 85% of all family decisions concerning car purchases were “influenced” by women. Carmakers are paying attention, rest assured. More car features – beyond vanity mirrors and lipstick holders – are being engineered towards the real needs of women, and auto dealerships are on high alert for discrimination against their fairer customers. The system is set up for women to succeed at this car-buying business, so why do 80% of us (according to msnbc.com) still bring along a man when we go to the dealership because we feel intimidated by the process?
Let me ask you something: Do you bring that same male friend or relative with you when you buy a swimsuit? Because every spring women embark on a colossal research project, involving hours of poring over source material, advice garnered from several sources on usability, cost and appropriateness, and hands-on inspection and trials that can last months. And all this for a scrap of fabric that costs less than $100.
The secret to car buying is that you needn’t be an automotive expert to buy one that is right for you; you simply must be a good shopper. Are you a good shopper? I know, I know, you could teach a Master Class in shopping, right?
Now that you’ve shaken off the intimidation factor, here are my 5 Easy Steps to Buying the Perfect Car for You:
Make two lists. The first one should be labeled: Needs
Write down what you need your car to do, for example:
I… have snow/ice (or other weather conditions) where I live
… live in the hills or mountains
… spend a lot of time in bumper-to-bumper traffic
… do a lot of long-distance driving
… have baby(ies)
… have school-age kids
… have teenagers
… have no garage
… have clients in my car regularly
The second list should be labeled: Wants
Write down what you want your car to do, and don’t self-edit or talk yourself out of things. Examples:
Car should fly
Car should not use gas
Car should parallel-park itself
Car should be indestructible in accidents
Car should find me Mr. Right
Have fun with this list: you might be surprised how many real-life car features reflect these wants, such as a car so light and so fast, you feel you’re flying; or a truck so durable it’s nearly indestructible.
There are car ads on TV almost every 2 minutes: which ones appeal to you? Even if it’s something you don’t think you can afford or isn’t practical for your needs, pay attention to why you find that car appealing. Is it the brand, or a feeling of luxury or status? Is it precision engineering? Take note of the cars that catch your eye in ads on TV and in magazines, and write the makes and models on your “Wants” list.
Take both your lists and compare them with a handful of cars that you like from ads or recommendations from friends or family. Want your car to fly? Look for a lightweight, high-horsepower coupe. Live in Colorado or Vermont? Check for AWD, or all-wheel drive. Every car online lists its specs, which can tell you much about the car, if you just know how to look. It’s exactly like clothes shopping with different terminology. Also, don’t automatically weed out cars that appear out of your price range, it’s quite possible you actually can afford the car of your dreams.
Many wonderfully informative online sites are designed to help people choose the right car. From full-service sites like vehix.com, cars.com and edmunds.com, to luxury automobile sites like forbesautos.com, to manufacturer sites that allow you to “build” one of their cars virtually, car shopping is now actually fun. You can do side-by-side comparisons of car makes and models, read advice and reviews, and participate in online forums with real owners of a particular make/model –That’s a great way to find out about the known problems of a car.
By now, you have narrowed down a selection of cars for consideration. You likely have a favorite or two in the bunch. Put them aside. Take away the most expensive car from the ones you have left. Get out your lists again, and begin the weed-out process based on your own wants and needs for your car, until you have only two or three options, including your favorites.
Looking at the MSRP for those cars, you have now established the price range you are willing to pay.
Talk with someone you trust, who is adept at financial matters, about whether you outright purchase, financing, or a lease is the right arrangement for you. DO NOT wait to do until you go to the dealership: that’s a good way to get a bad deal.
Now you know which car you want, how much you are willing to pay and how you will pay, it’s time for the fun part…
Just as you would with groceries or home products, check circulars and newspaper ads and inserts for sales and specials, before heading out to the dealerships. Dealer sales and incentives are always going on, and at different times of year the dealers are looking to unload their inventory at clearance prices. It pays to be patient and have an eye for sales!
If you aren’t necessarily looking for a new car, check out the online car classifieds at the automotive sites, or Ebaymotors. Anymore, used car sales are a sophisticated and reliable way to get a great car for less money. Just be smart, be informed, and trust your instinct if something doesn’t feel right.
If you do want a new car, research your local dealers to find the ones certified by AskPatty.com, or ones friends and relatives have recommended. There is absolutely no reason why you should ever do business with someone that does not respect you or treat you right. Go to the dealership armed with your car choices, your budget, your coupons and your questions. Don’t be afraid to ask them anything – no stupid questions exist when you are preparing to buy an expensive item from a salesperson. Remember that the salesperson is there to help you and will probably be of enormous assistance when you get to the purchasing stage. Also, never be embarrassed to say, “Thanks, I’m just looking.”
Test-drive all the cars you want to – there’s no limit. You are making a big purchase and you want to make sure you drive off in the right car. Imagine yourself driving this car all day, every day. Are you comfortable? Can you reach everything? Do you know how all the gizmos and gadgets work? Will all of your stuff fit in the car? Forget for a moment that the salesperson is in the car and concentrate on assessing the car’s value for you.
Remember at all times during your stop at the dealership that YOU are the one in control. Even if a pen is in your hand, a contract before you and financing and sales people urging you on, you can always walk away from a deal that doesn’t feel right. Try not to give in to any pressure, after all, those people won’t be driving with you a month from now, trying to figure out the paddle-shifter while navigating rush-hour traffic.
You buy your car at your price—no excuses! If they can’t work with you at one place, they surely will at the next. You don’t have to buy that car today, no matter what anyone says. If you want to sleep on it, it (or something just like it) will be there tomorrow.
5. Car Ownership
Once you bring that new (or new to you) car home, I predict you will be in love. You will find online an enthusiast’s group for every make/model ever conceived, and many cars have local and national groups that get-together, show off their cars, race, or just dine and drive. Specialized car types often have owner-outings, such as off-road events or parades. All of this reinforces your excellent choice in vehicle, and makes you feel part of something special and fun.
Maintenance is so crucial. Just by adhering to the recommended scheduled maintenance (often fully covered by warranty) will extend the life and value of your car by many years. Having AAA or other emergency coverage, such as OnStar, is well worth the cost of having the service, as you will undoubtedly discover. Getting your oil changed or dealing with a flat tire is relatively cheap and easy to have a professional do, but I recommend you learn how to do these any way, more for the sense of personal achievement and satisfaction than in case of emergency in the desert.
Now that you’ve bought a car – the right car for you – and had a pleasant experience doing it, spread the word to your friends and family. Cars are cool, and now you know that buying cars is a piece of cake.
Alex McCall is an automotive journalist and a car-crazy woman who has loved and learned about cars since early childhood. She writes about cars to educate women on car buying, car maintenance and automotive news, but more importantly; she seeks to spread her love of all things automotive to other women. Currently, she writes for ForbesAutos.com on a freelance basis and for her new blog, http://troubleonwheels.blogspot.com on a daily basis.