USAA Car Buying Service – “How to Buy a Car” 101

Our Heroes at Home Financial Event just finished our FY15 tour where we gave 10 presentations at six bases and we’re gearing up for FY16. In fact, you can contact us about whether we are coming to YOUR base next year.

McConnell AFB Heroes at Home Financial Event

McConnell AFB Heroes at Home Financial Eventnext! Our non-profit tour is brought to military families by USAA and one of the main topics that is of the most interest to our military families is: HOW DO I BUY A CAR and save money?

Let me start by asking you the question we ask our audiences: How do you lose around $8000 in 8 seconds?

Did you get the answer yet?

The answer is: you drive your brand new car off the lot.

Yes, the average new vehicle will depreciate $8000 in the first year. So WHY oh WHY do you continue to buy NEW? Some folks answer, “for the warranty.” But if you bought the vehicle a year old, you could do two things to make up for that 12 months of warranty you lose over buying new:

  • Warranty Purchase – you could purchase an extended warranty, which (depending on the car you drive) is only $800 to $1500 per year. This is WAY LESS than the 8K you are losing by buying new. Plus warranties are negotiable. When I had to renew the warranty on my Mercedes 280SLK, the dealership gave me their best price. Then I called USAA, telling them the best quote I got and they beat the price by $800. Plus, instead of the $200 deductible I had with the other quote, the USAA deductible was $0! I used that warranty at my local Mercedes dealership (world’s best service department) and paid $0 deducible and got the same excellent service that I normally get.
  • CPO or Certified Previously OwnedIf you get a vehicle with a CPO on it, then part of the deal is that the dealership extends the warranty a year and this is a full manufacturer’s warranty. Plus, there are more stringent inspection standards and additional roadside assistance. Once, I had a BAD salesperson who told me the car was CPO, “All our cars are CPO” she said, but she never presented me with CPO paperwork to sign at the deal’s closing. You guessed it, the vehicle was NOT CPO and she lied. Be sure you get CPO paperwork if you are told it is a genuine CPO. It costs the dealership anywhere from $1000 to $2500 to CPO your vehicle, depending on the year, make and model. You HAVE TO sign CPO paperwork that is dated from BEFORE the date you buy the car or it’s not valid. Remember that asking a dealer to make a vehicle CPO is part of the negotiating process and this will increase the value of the deal anywhere from $1000 to $2500.

Mercedes - Before and After Crash APR 2015A few months ago, I was on my way to Disneyland to meet another author friend and a careless driver made an unprotected left hand turn right into my vehicle (about 5 feet off the bumper). I had NO TIME to react or even take my foot off the brake. The fact that Mercedes are so well built and the fact God sent his angels to protect me are the only reasons I walked away from this terrible crash with only a few cuts and bruises.

This accident put me back in the market for a vehicle. So this time I decided to try USAA’s car buying service. Since I’m driving my Marine’s car (who is overseas) for a few months, I could take my time to find the best deal. The car buying service told me the price, the discount, gave me free access to a CarFax report, showed me a chart of similar cars purchased in my area to indicate an average, good, or great deal, and more. I compared the prices I saw on the site to Kelley Blue Book and did all my research. Then I followed the same three steps we teach in our Heroes at Home Financial Events.

Step One: Negotiate Price First

Negotiate the price of the car at a dealership apart from the value of the trade-in. Tell the salesperson you want to determine the price of the car without the trade-in. The reason you want to do this is because salespeople will often give you far more for your trade than you expected—thus hooking you on the deal. However, this higher-value-for-the-trade-in shtick can be part of the technique they use to get you to purchase the car. If a higher value is given to the trade, then they will give a lower discount on the price of the vehicle, because all the discounting went into the value of the trade.

Step Two: Negotiate the Value of the Trade-In

Now that you’ve determined the price of the car, ask what the dealer will give you for your trade-in. Most likely, you will get more for your car if you sell it yourself. A little elbow grease and some top-notch detailing can net you hundreds of dollars more than a dealer can give you, if you can find a buyer. Some people (like military families) don’t always have the time to sell their car because of mobbing schedules and so forth. So if you are going to try to trade in your car, look up the value of your existing car at Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds, then print the page (or screen shot it), and bring it with you to the car lot to negotiate the price. Bottom line: try your best to gather enough facts so that you make a wise decision.

Step Three: Secure Your Own Financing

The F&I (finance and insurance office) is where the lion’s share of a dealerships profit is made. In this office, you will have to navigate interest rates, payments, terms, additional services, and warranties. Unless you put miles on your car for business or you are purchasing a car that will cost a lot to repair (and you intend to keep it longer than the warranty lasts), extended warranties are usually not a good value. When it comes to vehicle financing, you can generally do better on interest by selecting your own creditor unless the manufacturer is offering a lower APR. Keep in mind that the .99% APR offers only go to the top 10% of those who are the FICO score elite, chances are good that you will not qualify. The credit life insurance that dealers offer is more expensive than raising your regular insurance premium by twenty thousand dollars to cover this expense. And don’t forget to go to USAA to see if you qualify for great insurance at a great price.

By following my own advice, I talked to David Cardoza, my sales representative and I was able to:

2014-mercedes-benz-cla250

  • Negotiate the best price on the vehicle.
  • Get the USAA discount added to the deal.
  • Get a car that had less than 3K miles on it.
  • Get CPO added to my vehicle.
  • Drive a vehicle that is now under warranty until 2022.
  • Get a like-new car that had only been in service officially for a mere three months.
  • Save $9K off the brand-new-plus-CPO price.
  • Pay cash for my car (stay tuned for next week’s blog on how to pay cash for cars).
  • Get the year, make, model and color of the car I wanted.
  • Walk away feeling good about the deal and the value I got.

When are you in the market to get a vehicle, which of these tips will you follow to get the best deal?

Ellie Kay

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