Save on Your New Car: Send Mom, Not Dad, to the Dealer
Some people just shouldn't go car shopping on their own — like Chris, who drove home to his horrified family in the garish chartreuse coupe on which he got "a great deal." Chris should have never walked alone through the auto dealer's doors, not only because he is colorblind — but because he is a man.
In generations past, buying the family car was considered Dad's job, but women now account for just over half of all automotive buys and play a big role when the family chooses a car. And that's a darn good thing for the household budget. Ahead of your next trip to the new car showroom or used car lot, you'll want to know what the automakers and dealers know about gender differences in car buying:
- Although on the whole more knowledgeable about cars — how they work, who makes what model, how Road and Track rated a new vehicle — men tend to be less rational about their purchases than are women.
- While men in a recent market research survey put "styling" on the top of the list of attributes they found most important in a car, women ranked it 11th. Women placed practical items like "visibility from the driver's seat to both the front and rear" high on their list.
- Men are more likely to carry into adulthood the unshakable desire to own their childhood "dream car." Whether or not it is a practical or affordable purchase, they may well go ahead and snap it up. A man can overlook the difficulty of getting the kids in and out of rear car seats when he test-drives the gleaming model whose poster was on his bedroom wall as he grew up.
- Unlike women, who approach salespeople with a set of questions, men are more likely to display their knowledge at the dealership rather than test or build on what they think they know.
- Women are more focused on cost, using dealer incentives like rebates to reduce the overall amount they will pay while men generally use them to buy a more expensive car.
- Men fall out of love with vehicles at mach speed. Research shows that it takes only four months for the average man to grow bored with his car and become susceptible to advertising and sales pitches to buy a new one. Women bask in the pleasure of their new purchases more than three times longer (though still not terribly long).
Knowing all of this, you may decide it's sensible to send Mom, not Dad, to the dealer next time. Of course, these are generalizations. There are men who buy cars pragmatically and women who buy them impulsively. (Unsurprisingly, it is an industry goal to turn women into more emotional purchasers.)
Nevertheless, car shoppers of both genders would benefit from following a dispassionate process that involves these steps:
- Ask yourself whether you really need a new car or just want one. Owning your current car a year or two longer could save you thousands.
- Make a checklist of realistic, everyday needs before researching models that fit those criteria. Avoid buying for peak cargo, passenger, or terrain needs; instead plan on renting a vehicle for these occasions.
- Conduct research online and view vehicles at an auto show before entering the high-pressure setting of the showroom. Try to avoid the pitfall of using research to justify an emotional decision rather than to help make a reasoned one.
- Rely on trusted sources for comparative information that don't accept advertising from the car companies, such as Consumer Reports.
- Bring your most frugal friend or family member with you to the dealer to help you stick to your needs checklist.
- Know how much a car will cost you to own, not just to buy. A car with a higher sticker price can cost you less to own over the first five years based on, among other things, its depreciation rate, repair costs, miles per gallon, and cost to insure. A good site for this data is Edmunds True Cost to Own™.
- If you cannot save up before buying, secure financing before going to the dealer. Understand how much you need in total (roughly two times the monthly loan payment) to own your car. Dealers know how easily payment shoppers can be convinced to buy more car once in the showroom.
This is a guest post by Catherine Lutz and Anne Lutz Fernandez. Catherine is an anthropologist at Brown University’s Watson Institute, and Anne is a former marketer and banker. They are the authors of Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and its Effect on Our Lives (Palgrave Macmillan). Read more by Catherine and Anne: