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TMFPostOfTheDay (< 20)

13 Steps to Buying a Car



November 21, 2013 – Comments (1)

Board: Buying/Maintaining a Car

Author: 2bpoorYorick

I don’t remember when I first read Motley Fool’s series of articles: 13 Steps to Buying a Car, but its been quite a while. The bookmarked pages gathered dust over the years. Occasionally I would reread them and jot notes to myself in my journal, while I waited for the twenty years to accumulate on our then, current vehicle. Ya, you read correctly, I buy a car for a minimum of twenty years of use. I really don’t like loosing all of the car’s value to depreciation. I especially do not care to give the dealer additional $$$ in the form of interest. The transaction is with cash. The twenty years that pass between car purchases is used to amass the purchasing price of the new vehicle. Small monthly deposits into a savings account then moved to CD’s adds up significantly over this period.

When I finished using the 13 steps in October our 1991 Toyota Camry was running as strong as ever. I really didn’t need to buy a replacement. Extenuating circumstances: our ages, our extended family needs, technology improvements, and that little devil setting on my shoulder whispering sweet suggestions in my ear.

My wife and I talked about the cars that were within our means and how they would meet our transportation needs (Steps #2-#4). Lists of vehicles and their attributes were constructed. Consumer Reports observations were consulted: safety and reliability being a high priority. Specific automobile internet forums were joined: questions about gripes, kudos,options: desirable and not, were asked. Professional car reviewers on YouTube were watched, with jaded eye. The list was in continual rework mode.

I will admit that I’m not your usual impulsive car buyer. Yes, I lust after that low slung high performance, limited production beast depicted on the covers of car magazines.
The seventeen year old kid residing somewhere in this ancient body continually moves the cursor to access the internet address where these dream ships await. Alas, MPG means more to me than 0 to 60MPH times. Insurance crash test results are more meaningful than the lap times at Nürburing. Lack of durability/reliability eliminated a substantial number of highly rated cars. Wouldn’t you expect a $50,000 automobile to be more reliable than one costing $23,000?

By mid September my research was completed (Step#9). We had taken test drives (Step #5) in the cars that had made it to the top three (Step #7). It was now time to compose a letter (Step #12) that would be sent to the dealerships that sold this make/model .

My letter stated the exact year, make, model, color and all option packages and individual options that I wanted. I requested that they send me a letter containing a list starting with the base car followed by each option package and the individual options that I planned to purchase from their dealership. I also requested they include the Manufactures Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) and the invoice price for each item on the list. Furthermore, I wanted any other charges, fees, or expenses itemized and included on their bid for my business. Finally they were to include what the final price to me would be to take possession of this vehicle. I worded the missive so it left no doubt that this letter was being sent to many dealers. Let the competition begin.

At this point you’re wondering how I selected the dealerships. My situation is a little unique. I live in a very rural area near the junction of Oregon, Washington and Idaho (the Pacific Northwest). My nearest dealer was over 90 miles away. The population centers where the most dealership reside is 300 - 400 mile away on the i-5 corridor. Most of the letters went to this area. I sent out 36 letters via USPS, yes, the internet or fax would have been faster and less costly. I included a prepaid cell phone # that I had used on another project with a few hours on it. I wanted them to be able to reach me to ask clarifying questions. Negotiations on the phone were not allowed. All communications regarding the car would be in writing.

Of the letters sent, 31 dealers replied with a written bid. Nineteen of the dealers made calls... most to clarify the timeline that I had stipulated. A few were cut short when they tried to negotiate pricing. The modern salesperson uses the internet and the phone as the primary tools for locating prospective buyers and disseminating information. When my letters arrived at the dealerships they had a hard time trying to fit my written requests into their preconceived battle plans. Very often the letter was passed from person to person in the sales department from highest to lowest according to the pecking order.

The range of bids : High $27,545
Low $24,150
Median $25,443

These figures indicate to me that there is a lot negotiation room ($3395 between High and Low bids). Supposedly the invoice price is the amount that the dealer pays for the car. The $24,150 that I paid is 6.34% below invoice. I know that the manufactures have incentives and in house deals that reimburse the dealers after a sales period has ended. I think that by using Motley Fool’s 13 Steps to Buying a Car that I may have cut into some of that hidden money.


The 1991 Camry is going to our Granddaughter. She has been working on her 100 hours of driving experience in the process of acquiring a drivers permit. Our mechanic went through the car this fall. His recommendations have been completed. His comment to us, “I would let any of my family members drive this car.”

Some of you may have guessed at the model and make of my new car. Through all of my ramblings, its not my car that I want to highlight and laud. Nor is it the deal I managed to get. I’m writing this to show you a hidden gem within Fooldom: 13 Steps to Buying a Car. Read. Think. Apply.

Will I use this technique again in the future? Well, in twenty years when our new car is ready to be replaced with a 2033 vehicle I think my main form of transportation will be a walker.

Walkers be damned! The futurist in me says that the cars in that time frame will be self directed. The occupants whether blind, hard of hearing, or ambulatory challenged will give destination points and the automobile will deliver them safe and sound. Take that, seventeen year old kid.

Fool on. 

1 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On March 03, 2018 at 7:51 AM, ksgill (< 20) wrote:

Hi: the link to the 13 steps appears to be working?  It would be great if someone could provide an updated link.  In particular, I seem to remember that the letter needs to be sent to a specific person at the dealership, an individual responsible for moving cars on and off the lot.  This individual has a title, which I cannot recall, sand is not a salesperson.

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