Car Buyers’ Concierge Takes Surprise Out of Shopping
When Tracey West learned that her 14-year old car would need thousands of dollars in repairs, she knew the time had come to part ways.
West turned to the $851 million IBM Southeast Employees Credit Union to start her search for a new vehicle. A member of the cooperative for 10 years, she financed her last car through the Boca Raton, Fla.-based credit union.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be a used car. My car didn’t give me any problems, but when it finally died, I knew I wanted a new one,” said West, who works as a project manager in Atlanta.
Perusing the credit union’s website, she came across an e-book titled “10 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying Your Next Car.” One of the first tips was to get preapproved, which West said she did.
She was then paired with the book’s author, Tywone Thomas, who works with several credit unions as a representative with Auto Advisor Services LLC. The program assists members with the car buying experience.
West said she picked up several helpful tips from the book, such as comparing all options, taking test drives and making sure to get all the desired features upfront. While she had heard many versions on when was the right time of the year to buy, the book suggested going to dealers at the end of the month.
“If they have a certain number of models that they’re trying to get rid of, say 200, and you’re 198, they might be more eager to give you what you want,” West learned.
Another of the book’s suggestions is to take the emotion out of car shopping. For West, it was one bit of advice that was hard to contain.
“It was so funny, when I saw the panoramic sunroof in the Hyundai Sonata, I just couldn’t hide my emotions,” West acknowledged.
From preapproval to driving that 2012 iridescent blue Sonata off the dealership lot, West said the entire process took about three weeks but only because she really wanted to have enough time to compare and test drive. In the end, she got affordable monthly payments, a 100,000-mile warranty and the envy of some of her friends who bought more expensive, luxury models.
“One thing about working with the credit union is you don’t have all the haggling. [The dealerships] don’t try to sell you extra stuff you don’t need. Once the price is negotiated, everything is smooth.”
After 10 years of working with members, Thomas said he was motivated to write the book after hearing from members who had faced all types of car buying challenges. In addition to IBM Southeast, he serves as an auto adviser for Publix Employees Federal Credit Union, Combined Employees Credit Union and CGR Credit Union. He said his role is to help locate vehicles, negotiate deals and audit the transactions for members to make sure that they are being treated fairly.
“A lot of members are afraid to car shop alone and are not sure about the process of buying a car the right way. A lot of times they allow dealers to talk them into financing with them, instead of their credit union,” Thomas said.
A download of the book can be made available to credit unions, which is offered to members for free. It includes a question and answer section, an auto shopping worksheet and online resources. Thomas also provides scenarios that can be used in the negotiation stage.
IBM Southeast’s philosophy on financial education is that a smart consumer is a smart buyer, said Laura Hetherington, vice president of loans at the credit union. Since the book was posted on three different sections of the cooperative’s website in July, more than 130 downloads have occurred. Members are also listening in on an accompanying podcast, she added.
“It’s not a salesy book, it’s just great information. It’s 10 things members can do to get a good deal. That’s why we made it available,” Hetherington said. “The book encourages people to go to a credit union–not necessarily ours–for financing.”
Hetherington said after reading the book she was hopeful members would walk away feeling confident and educated.
“Usually when you sit down for financing, that’s when the prices go up and the hidden fees come out,” West said. “I didn’t have any problems with that.”