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How an Edmunds editor bought her 2011 328i
Ever wonder if Edmunds' employees follow their own advice? Carroll Lachnit is features editor at Edmunds.com. Here's the story of how she bought her first new car in a decade.
In late December 2011, when it became clear that my 2001 Acura TL might be heading for some expensive transmission repairs, I went shopping for a new car. I wanted a coupe, and it didn't take long to narrow down my list: Volvo S60, Volkswagen CC, Audi A5, Mercedes C250, Infiniti G37 and BMW 328i. I toyed with the idea of the Mini Cooper Clubman, but since no one at my local Mini dealership could be bothered to call me back regarding a test-drive, I dropped it.
With that short list in hand, here's how my car buying went. From start to finish, it took about a week.
The Research: Since I work at Edmunds, I had some in-house resources on my side. I drove our long-term Volvo S60 a number of times, so I didn't need to test-drive it at a dealership. I got personal car recommendations from Edmunds editors. I huddled with our consumer advice editors, Ron Montoya and Phil Reed, for shopping and negotiating strategies. Car shopping is a lot more fun when it's a team sport.
It's true that I had "insiders" to lean on, but the tools I used the most were the ones available to any car shopper. In software development circles, using your own product day in and day out is called "eating your own dog food." That's what I did: filled up on Edmunds.com Car Chow.
I read Edmunds' reviews of all the cars I was considering. I used our True Market Value and True Cost to Own information and re-read most of our stories on negotiating. I also used our iPhone app for at-home and on-the-fly research.
The Test-Drives: As Edmunds advises shoppers, I made test-drive appointments through the Internet departments of the various dealerships. I did stop by one dealership to scope out a car I'd seen on the dealer Web site. The CPO Volkswagen CC showed a sticker price that was $1,000 higher than the price advertised on the site. That was just one more good reason to use the Web.
I did the bulk of my test-drives on the same day so my impressions would be fresh. The Internet department sales folks who went on drives with me were polite, laid back and well-versed in their cars.
Narrowing the List: After the test-drives, I spent a couple of days winnowing down my car list. Once I'd driven the BMW and Audi, I didn't give the Volvo S60 a second thought. Too stodgy. The Mercedes C250 just left me cold. Can't say why, but it did.
The Infiniti G37 didn't stay in contention long either. It's a fine car, but having once had an Infiniti G20, and coming out of an 11-year Acura relationship, I was ready for a little more of a driver's car. My top three picks all were German.
The Volkswagen CC was not the usual car to cross-shop with BMW and Audi, but I really liked its looks, and the thrifty part of me was enticed by the price (about $30,000 for the Lux trim level). Ultimately, I ruled it out because I preferred the 328i's steering feel, surefootedness, responsiveness and power. It just won my heart.
It won my head too, once I decided on a 2011 BMW 328i. Since I would be buying it at the end of December and at the end of 2011, I knew dealers would be motivated to make me a deal.
Must-Haves: I didn't want a lot of special stuff on the car, but I did want navigation and heated front seats. I wasn't even that particular about interior and exterior color -- aside from being bored by silver after 11 years. My husband found a gorgeous Montego Blue Metallic with Saddle Brown Dakota leather. It came with the Premium Package (which includes a universal garage door opener, moonroof, auto-dimming mirrors, BMW Assist with Bluetooth, lumbar support and a digital compass mirror) and the Value Package, consisting of power front seats and an iPod/USB adapter.
Buying the Car: Edmunds' TMV price for the car was a little below the invoice price, which Edmunds listed as $40,155. (BMW said invoice price was $41,165. The difference seems to be that BMW shows the automatic transmission as a $1,375 option. Edmunds shows it coming at no charge.) MSRP was $44,050.
The actual negotiation took about 15 minutes over the phone. I asked the excellent Internet manager for McKenna BMW in Norwalk, Calif., to give me her best price.
Based on the invoice price and TMV, I already had decided that a good deal would be a price between $39,500 and $40,000. When she said "$39,995," I paused for just a minute. And then I said "OK."
There are some -- including my husband, who negotiates for a living -- who would say that I should have pushed harder for a lower price. Where's the sense of victory unless there's a tussle over price?
I suppose I don't see car buying as combat. The salesperson had presented me with a price that was $4,000 below MSRP, $150 below invoice, and spot-on when it came to TMV. I decided not to waste my breath for a few dollars more. If Edmunds had Price Promise back then, I definitely would have considered using it.
The F&I Room: Like the price negotiation, this was a relatively painless process. I did buy a $2,000 extended warranty on the tires. I'd heard some unpleasant stories about the vulnerabilities of BMW run-flat tires. Plus, the warranty offered coverage for wheel damage. I'm hard on wheels, so I thought I would get my money's worth. And so far, that premise is proving true: The car's wheels protrude a bit and are prone to curbing. I've had free repairs on three occasions (and only two of those were my fault, by the way).
What I Learned: Buying a car does not require months of research, weeks of roaming car lots or hours of negotiation. If you do your homework, it's easy. And it's fun. I haven't had any buyer's remorse. After two years and 23,000 miles, I still feel a little thrill when I open the garage door and see my sleek, gorgeous car. It's even more thrilling when I hit the start button and punch the gas.