When you hear the words “car shopping,” what do you feel or think? Does your skin break out in hives or goosebumps? Or perhaps you come down with a mysterious headache. Regardless of what happens, I hear a large number of people I know (and I’m sure you know several) that do not enjoy the thought of purchasing a new vehicle. Maybe it’s the miles of vehicles on car lots or maybe it is the intimidating lingo about engine size and miles per gallon. Or better yet, perhaps it is the car commercials that always have someone from the dealership yelling and pointing at you about how little money down you need to take a vehicle home. The good news is that you have several dealers in town that can help you avoid this experience. Before I introduce you to those dealerships and those key people, I want to share with you some very basic tips that I hope will give you a much better purchasing experience.
Tip#1 – Understand what you NEED vs. What you WANT
I will thank my parents for this one because, as I get older, the more it applies to everything I do. I had driven a Jeep Grand Cherokee for years and did a lot dirty work with it. I treated it like a truck. So logically, I began to look at trucks, knowing that I would be doing more hauling and dirty jobs in the future. Knowing I wasn’t going to use this truck as my primary vehicle, I didn’t NEED (nor could I afford) the largest and newest truck on the lot with the most towing power or an extended cab. So I began looking at used trucks. I also wanted a very basic truck with as few electronics as possible (I live plenty dangerously with hand-cranked windows). By understanding my needs and wants, I was able to determine that I was looking for a gently used work truck that was designed as simply as possible which I could use for a number of items. And because I wasn’t driving it often, it would last me several years. Now that I’ve figured out what I need and what I want, let’s talk dollars and cents.
Tip #2 – Know your budget and stick to it!
Yet another thing I learned from my parents. If you’re sharing this process with someone or a whole family, be very realistic with yourself – what can you realistically pay for a vehicle? Do the dollars you have budgeted for this purchase match your vehicle needs and wants? If not, either re-evaluate your needs and wants or keep the vehicle you have (unless of course it is on the way to the scrap-heap and you need something NOW). I had no desire to use a payment or loan to help pay for the vehicle, nor did I feel like my budget would be favorable to that, so this decision narrowed my search field dramatically. After speaking with several dealerships and doing multiple online searches, I had a good idea that what I was looking for was going to be hard to find, and I would have to be very patient. Remember that most dealerships have a consistent rotation of vehicles on a weekly and monthly basis. Don’t spend a considerable amount more on a vehicle just so you can “get it over with.”
Tip#3 – Search from home before you go to the lot
This should be a given, but unfortunately, not enough people do their homework! If your needs and wants are very similar and you know your budget, I recommend not only checking the local paper and local dealership prices, but go online or talk to your mechanic about the trends and reviews of the auto industry. Two great websites to get reviews and estimated values of used and new vehicles include Edmunds.com and Kelley Blue Book. KBB does a great job of breaking down the dollars and cents, whereas Edmunds does a great job of the vehicle description, how it was built, how does it compare to past models as well as its weaknesses and strengths.
Tip# 4 – If you don’t find what you’re looking for, don’t buy something else
If you really need a mini-van, but then leave the lot with a sports car, I’m here to tell you that you have been suckered and your spouse or partner is not going to be happy with you. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, WAIT! There are plenty of vehicles in the sea (eerm, lot) and your money will stay in the bank!
Tip# 5 – Don’t go shopping. Go hunting.
As I was talking to several dealers, every time I heard a customer say, “Well, I don’t really know what I want. I think I’d like a ……” Excuse me?! A car is NOT a purse, a pair of shoes, a set of golf clubs or a t-shirt. This tool will change your finances or your family’s finances for several years. You are entrusting this tool with several lives – your own, your friends, your family, and perhaps children or grandchildren. This is a serious decision, so please, don’t waste your time and money on a poor decision, and don’t waste the dealership’s time in complaining to them about the poor decision you made. Don’t shop and hope – search, scout, and hunt down the vehicle that fits you and your wallet best.
The dealers and players
Although for several months I had been looking at vehicles and figuring out my vehicle needs and wants, when it was time to ramp up the search, I did what most people now do when they want feedback – post your question on facebook and see what happens! In doing so, I had several conversations with Matt Emrick and Mike Butler at Junction Auto in Chardon and eventually booked an appointment to stop by and talk details and, if possible, see what Junction had on the lot. Since Junction was my first visit, I used what knowledge and direction I gained from Matt when I searched elsewhere. I got some great insight to the truck market – what is selling, what isn’t, what people are hanging onto for as long as possible, what certain brands are doing better than others and so forth. My biggest question for Matt was whether my needs and wants, along with my budget, were reasonable expectations. The answer was yes; but I would likely have to wait. Although nothing was on the lot at the time, we made a point to keep in touch.
My next stop was to Preston in Burton, and I spoke with Bill Lane. Like Matt, Bill gave me some great insight about what is going on in the industry and what was selling well at Preston in particular. I was able to look at a couple trucks on the lot, but at the time, I didn’t feel those vehicles were in the window of my expectations. I made a point with Bill to keep in touch, as I had done with Matt.
Another stop I made was at Chardon Motors on the corner of Route 6 and 608. In comparison to Junction and Preston, Chardon Motors in incredibly petite. However, what Phil Vaughan Jr. lacks in inventory, he makes up for in service and quality vehicles. Even with the lack of inventory, I was able to view a couple trucks in my realm of expectations. Although some of those vehicles were a little older than I might have cared for, they were all impeccably clean with no rust at all and had great service records.
After visiting a few other dealerships in neighboring counties and continuing my online search, I pulled all of my information and experience and read the writing on the wall. The reality was just what Matt, Bill, and Phil all told me – what I was looking for was not unheard of or hard to come by, but it did not come around often. So with the vehicles that were close to my expectations, I scheduled appointments with Phil and Bill to test drive a couple of them over the next week. After doing so, I made it clear to each of them that I was still searching and I would let them know if anything changed or if I would be able to bring in my Jeep to see what kind of trade in value would be available. I took the information I knew on these vehicles and continued my search, looking up reviews and talking to my family and friends. I went back for test drives with Phil and Bill. Both vehicles were pleasing to me and met most, if not all, of my criteria. The differences came in what items did I value more and what kind of trade in value would I get for my Jeep.
I took my Jeep into Preston and got a very good trade-in value and somehow was able to drive the truck during the weekend and see how this truck fit into my routine. I made my family sit in it, our family mechanic look at it, and took it through downtown Chardon and a few off-roads in Middlefield. I would advise anyone that is seriously looking at a vehicle to inquire about test driving for a day or two before purchasing. I don’t know if all dealerships allow it, or if this is limited to certain makes and models, but it does not hurt to ask. I would say that it is because of this opportunity that I recently signed the paperwork for my gently used truck from Preston Motors in Burton. My expectations and criteria were met, the price was even lower than I had budgeted for, and the trade-in value of my Jeep was higher than I had expected.
I had an incredible buying experience because Matt Emrick at Junction, Bill Lane at Preston, and Phil Vaughan Jr. at Chardon Motors were as honest with me as I was with them. They didn’t try to sway me to buy a product that didn’t fit my criteria and they bent over backwards to help me stay within my means. If you’re looking for a new ride, I would recommend starting with these three locations right here in Geauga County. However, they can’t help you if you don’t help yourself. Happy hunting!