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Service trumps price for car buyers

By Claes Bell ·
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Posted: 10 am ET

Much like rock beats scissors and the first Star Wars trilogy beats the second, good service apparently trumps low prices for new car buyers.

That revelation comes in an interesting survey from JD Power last week on how car buyers choose their dealerships:

More than half (52 percent) of new-vehicle buyers indicate that dealer treatment was a major reason to purchase their new car or light truck from a specific dealer, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) Study, which analyzes the new-vehicle purchase experience. Interestingly, the study finds that only 38 percent of buyers cite vehicle price, or the "deal," as the reason for selecting their dealer.

It tells you a lot about how terrible the car-buying experience can be that buyers are willing to forgo the lowest price on an identical product to avoid being hassled. That's why it's no surprise that a big chunk of dealership visits -- 18 percent -- end because of poor treatment by dealership salespeople. And if those lovely price negotiations feel long and drawn out, that's because they are: The average deal takes 53 minutes on average to negotiate, according to the survey.

Luckily, you don't really have to choose between a good price and good service. Nowadays, most dealerships will deal with you over e-mail.

Once you've identified the cars you'd like to consider, gone to a dealership to test drive them (refusing to consider buying then and there, of course) and identified which car is The One, all you have to do is e-mail all the dealers in a 50-mile radius asking for a quote. Then, take the three that give you the best quotes and pit them against each other (But Dealership X gave me this price), finance the auto loan through your own bank or credit union, and walk into the dealership with the best deal to pick up the car with your check in hand. More people are taking this approach, apparently:

Nearly one-fourth (24 percent) of buyers in 2010 submitted an online request for quote to a dealer, and were, on average, more satisfied with the negotiation process and price paid.

I haven't personally used this method yet, but a relative tried it and loved it. I plan to use it the next time I buy a car, just because I really hate both the showroom hard sell and sitting in the F&I room for an hour dickering over price, etc.

What do you think? How do you select a dealer? Would anyone who's bought a car over e-mail care to share their experiences with it?

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November 29, 2010 at 11:06 am

idk how 2 do this soooo bahahahahahah :)

Claes Bell
November 24, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Hi Peter,

A summary of the survey results can be found at ... thanks for reading!

Peter McGee
November 24, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Hi there,

how do I find the survey that you've referenced?
I don't see it on the JD Power website.