Of course, it’s fun to support your friend while shopping. You get the vicarious thrill of a big purchase and an intoxicating whiff of new car smell.
Before taking on this role, you should know that the stakes are high, especially now when there is a shortage of vehicles and prices are inflated to historic levels. Getting away from a car has consequences; there may not be another to buy. But so does paying thousands of dollars for a sticker.
After being a car buying advisor for dozens of my friends, I found out that you have to be equal parts car salesman, psychologist and financial adviser. But there is even more to it – as I will describe later.
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strength in numbers
Former car salesman Mark Chevalier often had customers bring a friend to his Washington DC-area dealership. Facing two buyers definitely changed the dynamic, Chevalier says, making it hard to know who was making the decisions.
Now a professional photographer, he recommends bringing someone to the dealership “because I know what’s going on behind the scenes.” But choose wisely, Chevalier says, because too often he’s seen car-buying duos arguing over which car to buy.
“Not just anyone will foot the bill,” writes Edmunds.com consumer advice editor Ron Montoya. “The right person…can help you spot any inconsistencies in the deal, fend off potentially pushy sellers, and create leverage in your negotiations.”
If your friend buys a vehicle from a private seller, you can help keep them safe and be an extra set of eyes to inspect the car.
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The right person for the job
So, are you up to it? Here are five questions to help you decide whether you would help or hurt your friend.
1. Do you know the automotive market?
When your friend asks you, “What car should I buy?”, the best answer is often, “Well, what cars are you looking at?” Usually they already have at least one car in mind, maybe something they saw in a TV commercial or on social media. Their response significantly reduces the field.
Once you have a starting point, encourage your friend to consider other cars in the same segment, such as mid-size SUVs. Using a car finder tool available on most car buying sites and car buying apps, like Edmunds or Autotrader, you can quickly look up specs and features of competing vehicles.
If your friend isn’t sure how much car he would need – maybe he can’t decide between a pickup truck and an SUV – help him talk about what appeals to him in each car, then discuss the potential downsides. This could help them determine the best fit.
Finally, you will need a time limit. Can your friend wait a few weeks for a car to arrive? Some months? If they need a car today, you’ll need a long list of reserve candidates – and the budget to pay the high price an unclaimed car on the dealer lot can bring.
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2. Do you know the best way to finance a car?
Many buyers don’t think about financing until they’re at the dealership and have fallen in love with a new car. Big mistake.
First, they will need to determine whether they plan to buy or lease the car. Then, as a friend and advisor, encourage them to figure out how much they can afford as a maximum down payment and how they’ll pay for the car before contacting a salesperson or setting foot in a dealership.
To better understand all of their financing options, encourage them to check their credit score and apply for a pre-approved loan. Once they know what interest rate they qualify for, they can enter the information into an auto loan calculator and estimate the best down payment and loan term.
Ultimately, you need to have a number that represents their buying power, their maximum door price. You will have to decide many things at the dealership, but what your friend can afford to spend is not one of them.
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3. What are your negotiation skills?
The internet has opened an easier way to bargain using car shopping sites and apps. These sites offer databases of vehicles at your local dealerships and private sellers, according to the site. You can suggest your friend get quotes from multiple dealerships to find the best price in your area – or you can even get quotes for your friend.
But internet trading may not be possible these days. In fact, you may need to move quickly and in person to get the car your friend wants. You can help in several ways:
Agree in advance on an opening offer and a maximum price to pay.
Write down the numbers as the negotiation goes back and forth.
Check the numbers on your phone’s calculator.
Remind your friend to ask for a price at the door that will reveal add-ons and extras.
Encourage your friend to leave if he exceeds the previously agreed maximum price.
4. When was the last time you went to a car dealership?
Your friend asked you to come with him to the dealership because he is afraid of being under pressure and being outnumbered. But you have to be more than just a hot body. You need to know the general flow of an auto transaction and know where the potential pitfalls lie.
Typically, dealerships tell their salespeople to follow this general process:
Test drive one or more cars.
Negotiate a selling price with a seller.
Arrange the financing and close the deal.
After each step, try talking with your friend privately to make sure they’re comfortable with how the case is progressing. If they feel pressured or aren’t sure they’re making the right choice, ask them if they want you to step in or see if they’d like to leave.
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5. Do you know the most important word to say in the finance and insurance office?
This word is “no”. And you have to remind your friend to tell the finance office again and again. The most common upsells are for extended warranties and theft protection products.
On the other hand, some dealerships simply won’t sell a car that doesn’t have at least some of these extras included. If your friend doesn’t buy it, the next person will.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a moment to discuss these options. That max budget you talked about before coming to the dealership is your lifeline – but ultimately the decision is up to your friend, not you.
If they decide to continue, compare the financial documents to those discussed during the negotiation process. The numbers don’t have to add up to the penny, but if there is a major difference, check the contract for extra charges or other additional charges.
Philip Reed writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @AutoReed.