New Car Buying Secret That Could Save You Thousands
by Denise McCluggage
is a word that lights up most shoppers' eyes whether the subject is a pair of
oxblood leather boots, a six-burner gas range or a flat-screen TV. When it comes
to buying anything the one-up shopper is the one who can go to the source. "Retail"
is a dirty word.
many of even the savviest shoppers don't know that the car market has an equivalent
to "wholesale." That's because it may be hidden in the very same car
dealership that has a cast of smarmy salesmen with lines like: "So, little
lady, what'll it take to get you into this car today?"
can begin to unwrap the secret that will save you time and money if you can say
the Fleet Manager of a dealership is in charge of selling cars and trucks in bulk
to construction companies, rental agencies, sales departments, gas and electric
companies, etc. Then a few insiders discovered that they could buy just one car
from the Fleet department and still get the bulk sales benefits.
Here are some
of those benefits:
wheeling and dealing with the retail sales department. Bypassing the salesperson
saves the time and stress of back and forth negotiating.
Fleet Manager can close a deal without those mysterious conferences with the sales
manager and the finance department. He saves his time and yours by handling the
operation from start to finish. And time is money.
fleet side deals in greater volume and can offer a better price.
fleet side has less overhead that the retail side and often benefits from a holdback
(kickback) directly from the manufacturer exclusive to the Fleet Department.
Fleet Managers are more knowledgeable about their product than most salespeople
and can more easily — and willingly — locate a different color or option package
at a different dealership.
why doesn't everyone buy from the Fleet Department?
For one thing, not all
dealerships have a Fleet Department. Those that do permit but do not promote individual
sales through their Fleet Departments. Some even use subterfuge to keep a customer
from reaching the Fleet Department. (See "How to Buy from a Fleet Manager"
then there's the matter of maximizing profit. Obviously, dealers make more money
from the naïve buyer who strolls through the door, gets in and out of a car,
reads the sticker price in the rear window (a.k.a. the MSRP) and writes that amount
on a check. (Or better yet finances it through the dealership.)
being vastly more adept at negotiation than most buyers, usually extract a better
deal for the boss than the buyer could get by going through the Fleet Department.
of this puzzles you then you need to be reminded that a car dealership resembles
a flea market more than it does Saks Fifth Avenue. The sticker price is merely
a suggested starting point; let the haggling begin.
but not all dealerships have a Fleet Department now often called "Fleet/Internet"
because the Internet is changing the way people buy cars. J.D. Power and Associates,
the arbiter of most matters automotive, reports that 49 percent of car buyers now use
the Internet in some way to make their automotive purchase. Of those who use the
web, about 83 percent check out at least one manufacturer's site and 79 percent visit independent
sites. (Kelley Blue Book, www.Edmunds.com,
and www.ConsumerReports.org are the most popular of such sites.)
the only way in the United States to actually buy a new car is through a licensed new car
dealer. Anyone who thinks he bought a new car on the Internet actually bought
it through the Fleet/Internet department of some dealer or other to which he was
directed by his Internet shopping.
and you, would probably save more by going directly to the Fleet Department of
a dealership near you.
even then the Internet is an almost necessary stopover. You can sit in one place
and check out every make and model on the market. You can learn what colors, interiors
and options are available. You can visit the sites of all the car magazines. You
can read road tests by an assortment of experts and would-be experts. You can
compare your choices side by side.
cannot, however, actually drive anything. For a test drive you must go to a dealership.
this can be tricky.
are car shoppers who feel an instant obligation to anyone who answers a question
or grants them a test drive in a car. Truth be told, I'm one of them, but a former
car dealer has assured me that test-drives and question-answering are all part
of their day. They don't expect to sell to everyone who drives a demo. So drive
as many cars as you need to make your decision.
not talk price or trade-in or deals. Just drive the car, take notes and maybe
a few snaps with a digital camera to remind you of details.
is when you know what you want — make, model, color, wheels, options — that you
seek out the Fleet Manager and take a step toward car ownership.
TO BUY FROM A FLEET MANAGER
your homework so you know exactly what you want. One reason that Fleet Managers
can give you the price they do is that you are ordering a product, not taking
their time to gather information, kick tires and make up your mind.
out the name of the Fleet Manager so that you are sure you reach that department
directly and not a retail salesperson. Call the dealership and ask for the name
(pretend you represent a large plumbing company if you want to).
to be connected to that person or call back and make an appointment. Understand
that at any time someone in retail sales might try to divert you from the Fleet
Department into their bailiwick.
the Fleet Manager what you want. If he/she doesn't have it on hand, it can probably
be located elsewhere for you.
there is no dealership with a Fleet Manager near you check the website www.teamfleet.com.
Its a site founded and maintained by John Melendez, himself a Fleet Manager.
Besides citing lots of reasons for buying what he calls "fleetail" rather
than retail he has created a list called "Best Dealers" organized by
state and car make. You can also request a price quote on the vehicle(s) of your
choice and you might get an answer. I struck out entirely on the five or six vehicles
I asked about but was given a list of reasonable alternatives.
check the site and the dealers list; maybe you'll find the name and phone number
of a Fleet Manager who is ready and willing to get it for you wholesale.