How to... Choose An Auto DealershipOnce you've been bitten by the car-buying bug, deciding on where to shop can be almost as hard as choosing the make, model, color and options.
Selecting the right dealer can be a bit nerve-wracking, sure. But just as you'd like that new car smell to last a while, keep in mind that a reputable dealer wants to create a lasting relationship with you.
In this information age, make your first stops on the keyboard. Sales people actually like customers who've surfed the web for info like dealer cost and vehicle features. It's then just a matter of taking you for a test drive, and making sure the vehicle is a comfortable fit.
Visit the websites of potential dealers to see if they're up to date, or is listings linger long after the cars have disappeared from the lot. Check out their Customer Service Index (CSI) that rates buyer satisfaction.
Do some low-tech research too. On-the-street reputation can be just as useful a buying guide as any competitor data. Ask relatives or friends if they had a good experience at a particular dealership. If you see the dealer's nameplate on a car in a parking lot, strike up a conversation with the owner, and ask if he or she would buy a car there again.
Expect the salesperson to be up front. A dealer interested in earning your trust will fully disclose everything about the transaction. Be ready to walk out if they won't discuss anything but "What if we could do it for this much a month?"
Take a seat in the waiting room, and listen to what others are saying. Being a fly on the wall can give you a whole different perspective on the way a place treats its customers, long after the new car smell has faded.
Is this a hands-on dealership with the owner actually on the premises each day, or off golfing at some Florida resort?
Do they provide Parts and Services, or just parts of service? Is the service department open during hours that will suit your schedule, like evenings or Saturdays? Do they offer loaners so you're not stuck while your car's in the shop? Or shuttle service to pick you up at home or at work?
Finally, you expect the dealer to be honest - so be honest with yourself. What's your comfort level when you enter this showroom? Are you greeted professionally, or are you besieged with high-pressure tactics like "What can I do to put you in this car today?" Do you feel on edge because you're being steered toward a certain vehicle, or does the salesperson genuinely listen to what you have to say, and make recommendations to let you do the choosing?
A little research and awareness on your part at the outset can smooth out any bumps in your car-buying ride. Successful dealers know that repeat customers and referrals are built on trust, and trust is built by treating you with respect, both in the showroom and far down the road.
The Republican, Tuesday, May 17, 2005