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Barbara Terry on Car Buying
Barbara Terry’s love of cars and car buying started in childhood, when she was immersed in tractors, motorcars and muscle vehicles. It’s no surprise that she grew up to be an auto expert. Terry writes a weekly auto-advice column for The Houston Chronicle and is also a contributor to MotorolaRoadTrips.com, a site for road trippers who want to record their adventures using their mobile phones. She has served as the spokesperson for eBay Motors, Goodyear, Shell Oil, RainX and Turtle Wax, and for fun she likes to participate in car races, including the Baja 500 and the Baja 1000. She is also in negotiations for her own reality show called “BT Garage,” based on the goings on at her auto garage in Hollywood. As a former car broker who had her own reconditioning garage, Terry strives to empower men and women about their automobiles. Here, she shares her advice for navigating the new-car-buying process.
What is the biggest fear that people have about the car-buying process?
The biggest fear that I get emailed to me or hear in passing is about mechanical things. They don’t know what is going on underneath the hood. Unfortunately, when they go in to buy the car, they haven’t done enough shopping around or comparing. Research is hugely important in making this purchase.
How can people avoid getting frustrated in the first 30 days of buying a new car?
Work on narrowing down your options. Take a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and go from dealership to dealership and test-drive different models. Also, doing a little research on the internet will help you narrow your choices by looking at product reviews, resale values, etc.
What specifically should people look for in their research for a new car?
Look at the options that come standard. A lot of cars will come with standard options that other manufacturers consider upgrades. If certain options are standard, that means it comes in the base price. If those options are an upgrade, they will charge you $2,000 for leather, $2,000 for sunroof, etc. I’ve sent a ton of people to Audi for this reason. If you buy an A6, it has a sunroof, alloy wheels, a sound system—all for a great price, whereas if you’re looking at a comparable car, you’re paying almost double for the same vehicle.
How important is figuring out the resale value of a new car in the first 30 days?
A car that has good resale value is important, even if today you think you’ll keep the car forever. If you’re doing your homework, a car with a good resale value is pretty good bumper-to-bumper. Even when it comes to color selection you should be thinking about resale value. Green or brown cars aren’t so easy to turn around as much as a deep blue, black or silver car. You want a good audience should you have to sell it. You can find resale values for cars at Consumerreports.com, Edmunds.com, Kelley Blue Book or the National Automobile Dealers Association site.
Walk us through the car-buying process, and explain where buyers get tripped up.
When you walk into a dealer, and you test-drive some cars, you’ll have a sales representative or the sales manager who will educate you on makes and models and options, and will help you narrow your choice. Then, the sales manager may come in to meet you, if they need to push you to make a commitment.
DO NOT BUY the first car you test drive in the first 30 days. Simply say “no.” You have to shop around, and you have to let them know you’re shopping around. Give yourself time to make the right decision.
Once you’re ready to buy a car, then you’re taken to the F&I [finance and insurance] department. A lot can go wrong here if you’re not equipped with enough knowledge. Both men and women feel they get taken advantage of here. This is where you’re encouraged to buy and cap on so many extra features, like tinting, sunroof, etc. You start with $30,000 car, but you leave with a $40,000 car. You need to find your comfort level and be educated on the process.
Many consumers are told to buy an extended warranty for their new cars. Is it necessary?
Many manufacturers do offer an extended warranty. That is of value, whether you do or do not sell the car, and if you do sell the car your future buyer is going to be happy. But, nowadays a lot of manufacturers are giving 100,000-mile factory warranty on their products. Go in with the mindset of purchasing a particular car, but if you’re not thrilled with what the warranty entails, maybe they should be looking at a different manufacturer, make and model. Much of your decision to buy a car should come down to what kind of warranty you will get on a car.
As a female auto expert in a male-dominated industry, do you find that the car-buying process is different for men and women?
I [personally] don’t find it to be any different [between men’s and women’s experiences], though there are statistics out there that suggest it is different. Contrary to what people tend to think, 68% of final car purchases are based on female decision-making, meaning a single woman or a woman in the household influenced the purchase. I’m not a big believer that women are taken advantage anymore than men are.
What options do people have if you buy a new car and hate it in the first 30 days or beyond?
You’re screwed. If you buy a car you don’t like, you’ve made a big mistake. Again, you need to equip yourself with the knowledge. If you’re buying a new car, you have to like it two months later. Sure, the dealer will take it back a few weeks later for approximately $5,000 less than what you paid for it, but that’s a very expensive few weeks and a waste of time.
Do your research. Fall in love with your new car. When I sit in my Jeep seat, I feel it. It feels “me.” We are one. I can drive any manufacturer’s SUV out there, but I choose the Jeep because the options work for me. If I sit in another SUV, it doesn’t feel right. Remember, there is that seat for all of us.
What should new buyers know about car insurance?
Make sure you carry liability, because you don’t want to lose your license in your state. A friend of mine was not carrying liability. He had a one-time ticket and he lost his driver’s-license privileges for a year. Some states are even stricter, so it’s very important to have liability coverage.
It might cost a bit more, but get a rental-car option on your insurance. If you wreck your car, this ensures you’ll have a rental car.
Also, shop around. There are so many competing car-insurance companies out there. (If you look at the commercials, they’re as competitive as the pizza commercials.) Keep looking until you can find a policy you can afford.
Long term, what can you do to make sure you continue to enjoy your new car beyond the first 30 days?
Take care of the car. Don’t just take it to the car wash every Saturday. The old theory of, “my car runs better when it’s clean,” doesn’t work. Mechanical maintenance is so important, not only resale value but for performance. Pop the hood when you’re pumping for gas and check your fluids. Have the oil changed every 3,000 miles. Things like that will keep your car healthy. Also, run the right gas in your car. Keep it as healthy for as long as it can.
And, use it, especially if you have a sports car. You don’t want it sitting in your driveway and letting the fluid systems clog up the car’s pipes. Drive it around at least once a week. Equate the car to your body. You want it running well and you don’t want it to get all clogged up.
Many dealers are pushing certified or pre-owned vehicles on buyers, sometimes even more than they push new cars. Is this a good option?
Certified pre-owned cars are good cars. A car that is “certified” has been run through the dealer’s service department and was “reconditioned,” meaning they spent money putting on new brakes, adding tires, etc. They “certify” it, guaranteeing that it is a good product, plus you are getting an extended warranty on the car.
Dealerships really try to push pre-owned inventory because there is a ton of profit there. They can buy the cars so cheap, put about $500 worth of work into it and sell it for so much. The national average profit for a dealer is approximately $8,000 per vehicle sold, because there is so much wiggle room on the price from buying it wholesale to selling it to the customer.
In this case, you’ll have to negotiate harder since there is more wiggle room on the price. Educate yourself by going to Kelley Blue Book or NADA, look at the wholesale value, and then you can figure out what the dealer paid for it and negotiate from there.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
I look at change as positive. Change is a life experience. And, if it doesn’t work out, I view it as a learning experience, a positive rather than a negative experience. That learning experience can make you a better person. I’ve never had a problem with change. Variety is the spice of life, right?
The best thing about change is…
…being able to have new experiences.
What is the best change you have ever made?
The best changes I’ve made are getting out of relationships I was not happy with. I’ve seen friends of mine settling into a rut, not having enough confidence to be the “bad person” to break it off. You have one shot at life. If you’re not happy, you’re not going to make another person happy.
For more information on Barbara Terry, visit www.barbaraterry.com.