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I have to admit, all my car buying experiences have been traumatic. The car salesmen are a nightmare, the dealers are tricky, and prices are less than consistent. Because of this, through the years, I have created a tactic to go to the dealers with money at hand knowing what I will buy.

A few weeks back I started noticing that my employer, my credit union and a few other places are offering "CAR BUYING SERVICES". They provide you with certain benefits like low interest, better pricing, car fax if you buy through them. One example of this in the link below:

PenFed Car Buying Service

So, are these services worth it?

  • Just commenting on an resourcr for US readers considering buying new: Consumes Union has a service that for a small fee will tell you the ecact draler cost -- after incentive and rebate proframs -- of a car and all its variants/options. That puts you on a fair footing with the deale and lets you negotiate purely on how much profit they need to make on the sale. Cuts out a li=ot of the games the moment thehy see you carrying the printout. When I did this, it wss a matter of walk in, offer $500 over actual cost, sign, and wait for delivery -- as close to painless as it gets. – keshlam Dec 4 '15 at 19:02
  • Though I should also remind folks that buying a two- or three-year-old car avoids paying the heavy "property-line surcharge" for a new car, and may be much more cost-effective. – keshlam Dec 4 '15 at 19:04
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I have used car buying services through Costco and USAA. Twice with a Ford, and once with a Honda. In all instances I was directed to sales people that were uncommonly friendly and pleasant to work with. I was given a deep discount without any negotiation. In two of the three cases I did not have a trade. In one case I had a trade, and negotiated a deeper discount then was originally offered.

Did I get a good deal? Eh, who knows? Really it depends what your goal is.

If your goal is to avoid negotiation, avoid idiot salesmen, and receive a good discount then a quality car buying service may be for you. My research, a few years old, indicated Costco's program was better then the USAA one.

If your goal is get a deep as a discount as possible on a new car, well then you have some work cut out for you. Keep some hand sanitizer handy when you meet one of the slime ball salesmen. Keep in mind that not everyone understand the difference between the words value and cheap.

If your goal is to pay as little as possible for quality transportation. Avoid most dealers and new cars. But I don't think that is what you are looking for.

  • This was exactly my experience with the Costco program except my salesperson was as slimy as all the rest. She really didn't want to show us the Costco price sheet, rather she kept pushing other cars and other deals. – MrChrister Feb 5 '14 at 15:28
  • Sorry @MrChrister. The lady I had was super nice. Perhaps a complaint would be in order. – Pete B. Feb 5 '14 at 15:34
  • 3
    We didn't complain, we just didn't buy. It is probably a hard job and she might have been having a bad day. That was however the second time Costco's program failed us. The first time we never got a call back that they claimed was coming. We did tell Costco about that one. The services are not the problem, imo the weakest link is still the dealership. I dream of the day when cars simply have a price and no negotiations are needed... sigh.... – MrChrister Feb 5 '14 at 15:47
  • +1 for "the weakest link being the dealership" comment. – Pete B. Feb 6 '14 at 14:42
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I haven't heard of these before! (And I'm on the board of a Credit Union.)

The 0.99% on loans is great. It's especially great on a used car: the steep part of the depreciation curve was paid by the first owner.

The network probably have a business relationship with the credit union. Credit unions do indirect lending -- approval of loans that happens at the point of sale, which then the credit union gets as assets.

Depending on the cost of that program, it probably won't hurt. Your credit union wants to keep your business, because they know that you have a lot of options for where you bank and where you get loans.

2

The buying service your credit union uses is similar to the one my credit union uses. I have used their service several times. There is no direct cost to use the service, though the credit union as a whole might have a fee to join the service. I have used it 4 times over the decades.

If you know what make and model you want to purchase, or at least have it narrowed down to just a few choices, you can get an exact price for that make, model, and options. You do this before negotiating a price. You are then issued a certificate. You have to go to a specific salesman at a specific dealership, but near a large city there will be several dealers to pick from.

There is no negotiating at the dealership. You still have to deal with a trade in, and the financing option: dealer, credit union, or cash. But it is nice to not have to negotiate on the price. Of course there is nobody to stop you from using the price from the buying service as a goal when visiting a more conveniently located dealership, that is what I did last time.

The first couple of times I used the standard credit union financing, and the last time I didn't need a loan. Even if you don't use the buying service, one way to pay for the car is to get the loan from the credit union, but get the rebate from the dealer. Many times if you get the low dealer financing you can't get the rebate. Doing it this way actually saves money.

Speaking of rebates see how the buying service addresses them. The big national rebates were still honored during at least one of my purchases. So it turned out to be the buying service price minus $1,000.

If your service worked like my experience, the cost to you was a little time to get the price, and a little time in a different dealer to verify that the price was good.

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Are they worth it?

Depends on how you value your time. These programs do not say they will get you the lowest basement price; they say you get a reasonable price without negotiation. This is true.

"My time is money"

Use a service. Pick out the car you want and spend less than an afternoon picking up your vehicle. You don't have to fret or do all of the price research or comparison shopping because that is what the service does for you.

"I have free time in the evening anyway"

Since you have to pick a make and model before you begin AND because you need to arrange your financing at a credit union before you being (regardless of a buying service) I don't think they actually work out financially for most folks.

My anecdote:

Because we were buying an already inexpensive new car, the Costco pre-negotiated discount was just a few hundred bucks. The discount is different for each car (naturally). Our base model was terrific in consumer reports, but the sticker price doesn't leave dealerships a lot of room for profit to start with.

We ended up saving a couple thousand dollars by skipping the Costco program and following these tips from JohnFX:

What are some tips for getting the upper hand in car price negotiations?

But we did it all over email. We emailed any dealership we could find online that was in driving distance. (There were literally dozens of dealerships to choose from.) We made a new, throw away email address and starting to ask for a lower price. Whenever we got a lower price, we simply asked the others to beat it. All over email. It only took a few days, we know we got a low price and the stress really wasn't a factor. (A couple of the salespeople got a little rude, but it was over the email so we didn't care or fret.)

I had time to kill, and the extra hassle and effort saved me much more money.

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I went through the Costco program for the so-called "no-hassle" bargain price when I bought my Prius. According to other Prius owners that I've met on forums and TrueCar's web site, I paid "average." Lots of people in my area managed to negotiate a better price by $1-2k. So much for getting a deal. I do not plan to use Costco to buy another vehicle again.

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