BUYER’S GUIDE: Choosing a Car Dealership

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There are many decisions to be made when the time rolls around to buy your next car or truck. You’ll need to determine kind you want, which options you need, and how much you can afford.

You also have to figure out where you’re going to buy that car, and this means choosing a dealership.

A good dealer can make the difference between a satisfying experience and an exhausting process¬† with lots of time spent dickering¬†over price. It’s stressful, and the last thing you want is to feel uncomfortable with the dealership, their processes, and the people in charge of finalizing the transaction.

J.D. Power and DealerRater recently released a study that suggests the optimal time a customer wants to spend inside the walls of the dealership is about two hours, from the moment they walk through the door until the keys are in their pocket and they’re driving their new car home.

These tips will help you pick a dealership you’re comfortable doing business with when you buy your car and when it comes time for service in the future.

Read dealer reviews

Online reviews are a critical part of a dealership’s marketing today. According to one study at Search Engine Land, 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as they do personal recommendations. The internet makes it possible to do in-depth research on a dealership before you decide to walk through the showroom doors.

Be careful, however, of crossing a dealership off your list because of one or two bad reviews. Most of us have favorite businesses, whether they’re plumbers, clothing stores, or restaurants. Most of us have also had the experience of recommending a business only to have someone else say they had a terrible experience there and would never give them any business.

What you’re looking for is the overall tone of the reviews. If most of them are positive, then that’s a good sign. The reverse means you should probably think twice. Also, look for trends. If everyone seems to complain about the same thing, then it’s probably an issue.

Don’t just look at the star rating. Read the full reviews. Sometimes people give terrible reviews for the weirdest reasons. If the vending machine was out of their favorite snack, another customer was rude to them, or they dropped their smartphone and cracked the screen, then it was a bad day, but those aren’t reasons to shun a dealership.

Google and Yelp offer reviews of the dealerships as a whole, but sites like DealerRater also offer reviews of individual salespeople, which provide a much more complete picture of what the sales and service experience might be like for you.

Ask your friends

Word of mouth is a powerful sales tool, which is why dealers work hard to create a positive experience for every customer. Ask around for the experiences of others.

Check with friends, family, and co-workers and find out what kind of experiences they’ve had at local dealerships over the years. Sometimes they’ll even have the name of a specific salesman who was particularly good.

There’s no guarantee you’ll have a great experience just because your friend did, but it does improve your odds of walking away happy.

JD Power Cadillac

Look at the facilities

Much like you need to clean up your old car if you’re planning on selling it yourself, the dealership shouldn’t look like a disaster area. A modern automotive dealership should be designed to be as inviting and pressure-free as possible, and that’s not just in the showroom. The service area is just as important. You want a business that takes pride in itself and creates a pleasant atmosphere for its customers.

The lot should be full of clean cars, not cars covered with dust and grime. It should be appealing and organized, not a chaotic mess of haphazardly parked vehicles amid bad landscaping.

Once you walk into the showroom, take a look around. It should look clean and be welcoming rather than off-putting. There should be ample sales staff and they should look ready for business. A bunch of guy hanging around in ratty jeans or shorts does not bode well for a transaction that involves a large chunk of your money.

Take a peek at the service area, too. You might be buying a new car, but it won’t always be new and you’ll be spending some time in the service department. Is it clean? Is it comfortable? Do the employees look ready to help customers or do they look like they’re counting down the seconds until their shift is over?

Make sure your dealership looks professional and is a place you won’t mind coming back to for service.

Does dealer longevity matter?

That’s a tough one to answer. On the one hand, a dealer that’s been around in the community for some length of time improves the chance that they’ll still be around when it comes time for service checkups and repairs. A dealership that’s stood the test of time is probably doing something right and treating its customers well.

On the other hand, a brand new dealership, eager and freshly indoctrinated in modern customer service techniques may be able to meet your needs more effectively.

There’s no rule of thumb here. One dealership’s ability to put you in a car as quickly, efficiently and affordably as possible may have nothing, or everything, to do with its age.

Ask about available services

Don’t get so focused on the sale that you forget about the service department. Not every dealership offers the same conveniences for its customers, so it’s good to ask them about their own department.

Make sure you check their rates to see how they compare with other dealerships and service facilities. Ask about their hours to see if they offer any evenings or weekends to accommodate your busy schedule.

Many dealerships also offer shuttle services to pick you up and drop you off, which can save having to ask a buddy for a ride. Even better, some offer loaner cars so you aren’t stuck without transportation for the day.

Every car needs maintenance and repairs, so you’ll have to use the service department eventually. If you choose to have it serviced from the dealer of purchase, then be sure they offer what you need to make the experience easy and less of a hassle, especially for those unexpected repairs.

Shop around

No matter how good the dealership looks, it pays to shop around. Check out a variety of cars from different brands and see what each has to offer.

Dealerships are often located in the same area, making it easy to go from one to the other. Leave yourself plenty of time to see what they each have to offer.

Once you narrow down your choice to a specific brand and car, don’t be afraid to look at several dealerships that carry that brand. They aren’t all going to have the exact same cars on their lot, and the car you want might be sitting on a dealer’s lot just a town away.

Shop around to see what each has to offer. Compare the cars and the dealerships until you find one that works for your needs.

Buying a car isn’t only about finding the right car, it’s about establishing a relationship with the right dealership. A good one will make the experience easier and less stressful so you’ll want to come back to them for service for as long as you own your car.

Take the time to make sure the dealership you choose is one that will leave you happy when you drive home in your new car and when you come back for service.

Nicole Wakelin

Nicole Wakelin