The Carbuyer guide to a great car deal
We headed out to the forecourts and showrooms of the UK to find out what car buying is really like
What we did...
We’ve done the hard work for you, contacting dozens of dealers to show that getting the best price is a matter of perspective and persistence.
Our mission is to provide you with the best possible advice when it comes to purchasing a new car. So for the third issue of our quarterly magazine, we decided to go shopping undercover to find out how to get the best deals going on new cars.
We set out as a mixed double to get a sense of balance, with Becky Wells and Hugo Griffiths posing as potential customers at 10 franchise dealers each. In order to build a comprehensive understanding of the modern car-buying landscape, these visits were then followed up with an additional 20 phone calls and 60 e-mails to different new-car retailers.
Although our duo were posing as potential customers, to make the experience as realistic as possible, both behaved just as they would when negotiating a deal for real. That meant first-time buyer Becky went in with an open mind and armed with plenty of information, while seasoned haggler Hugo made it clear from the outset he was after the best price possible, and was willing to walk away from a deal if this wasn’t offered.
Rules of the game
For consistency, we went for the same specific model of car at each dealer and looked to finance it on Personal Contract Purchase (PCP). While we went down the traditional route of main franchised dealers, it’s worth noting online brokers such as our sister company BuyaCar.co.uk can also net you big savings.
Hugo: After a couple of minutes wandering around outside, a salesman invited me in with a friendly welcome. He showed me the three-door Fiesta I said I was interested in, offered a test drive and talked about the merits of ST-Line trim and the engines available. After asking for a discount, I was immediately offered a £1,500 dealer deposit and a further £500 off if I bought before the end of the month, although this would be for a then-current 66-plate car, not a 17. The salesman had a professional and friendly manner, and I felt a deal could be done quickly and efficiently, but without much undue pressure.
Becky: A receptionist found me a salesman after just a little wait, and we talked about what I was after. He started our chat a little bluntly, perhaps wanting to prove he knew what he was talking about. He quickly softened up though, helping me choose a spec, showing me around the car and talking me through products on offer, including demonstrations of the protection products that most other dealers had added to my quotes automatically. He mentioned the £1,500 dealer contribution, plus the £500 road test offer, and also agreed to throw in some floor mats and a tank of fuel.
Hugo: I wasn’t even allowed to look at a car before I was taken to the dealer’s desk, where the sales pitch quickly begun. Although I was offered a drink and the salesman was friendly, I felt I was being pushed into a deal. Only by stressing I wasn’t ready was I able to extricate myself. A £1,400 deposit contribution was offered, with two years’ servicing thrown in if I bought that weekend – but I didn’t feel I was getting a particularly good deal. A summary e-mail of the offer arrived before I had even left the site, with another following later that same day.
Becky: After a little wait with the receptionist, a dealer found me and chatted to me about the Polo. He didn’t show me around the car and seemed a little uninterested, zoning out when I turned down his test-drive offer, although he did build me a finance quote quickly. There was a Polo special offer being shown, but I had to ask him about it and he didn’t know all of the details.
Hugo: Despite being on the same site as VW, the experience at Toyota couldn’t have been more different. A friendly, relaxed salesman talked me through the Aygo, letting me look around, and he was clear a new car would be a better buy than a nearly- new model if I took out finance. I managed to negotiate a free sat-nav upgrade worth £600, although the salesman initially told me there was a significant deposit contribution available, which had been replaced by a 0% interest finance offer.
Becky: Upon entering, one salesman said he’d get someone straight away, while the scary female receptionist told me I’d have to come back if I didn’t have an appointment. When I did get seen, he showed me around the car, but became fixated on my part-exchange and wouldn’t even give me a quote until he’d evaluated my MINI. They said to come back, then the sales director told me a “second visit is a serious commitment”. It was safe to say I didn’t return!
Hugo: Once inside, I was approached pleasantly and felt relaxed throughout the meeting. The dealer was keen to get the right car for me and didn’t try to push me into a higher trim level after I explained I was happy with an entry-level Cee’d. Although I was told he couldn’t throw in any options, I managed to negotiate three years of free servicing, worth £329. This dealership experience was a little ‘no-frills’, but I felt at ease with the salesman, and got the impression they’d work hard to get my business.
Becky: I felt like the salesman was nervous talking to me as I was a woman – he was keen to apologise after asking me for my date of birth, budget, or even whether I was Miss or Mrs. The meeting was interrupted a few times, too, and parties were very keen to be overly apologetic for interrupting. He explained an older model might be more beneficial, due to 0% finance offers, but did start showing me a Rio instead of the Cee’d I was after, which became confusing.
Hugo: I was offered a drink almost immediately, but it took an age for a salesman to appear. Despite being quite clear about the engine and trim level I was after, the dealer advised me to come back when I knew what I wanted. He even advised me to come back in a month or two so I could get a 17-plate car, but quickly realised his mistake. After pushing for a deal and questioning some spurious figures, I got a £900 deposit contribution witha further £500-1,000 off if I bought one of their unregistered stock cars.
Becky: A warm welcome meant I was seen to straight away, but they said I’d have to wait 15 minutes for a quote as “their systems were running slow” – although they used the time to show me the car. I was there for nearly an hour, but they had listened to my requests and offered a deal that fitted what I wanted. The salesman even offered to bring the car to my house to test, rather than having to return. I was told a 7% discount and a £160 dealer deposit would be possible.
Hugo: The dealer was somewhat blunt in his manner. Still, that meant a deal was quickly put together when I said I’d just come from Mercedes, even if BMW’s offer wasn’t all that good: a £750 deposit contribution with 5% off the car’s cost price, with a further 0.5% or so off once I was ready to actually sign for a car. I was offered a drink but not a test drive and left with a price list but not a business card. Efficiency is all very well, but I didn’t get the impression my business was all that important.
Becky: A bright receptionist greeted me and found me a salesman straight away. He seemed uninterested, and proceeded to make decisions for me, picking a spec rather than discussing what options would be best. He kept addressing me by name, too, starting sentences with ‘Well, Becky’, which I found to be patronising. He said there was no dealer deposit on the model I’d picked, but didn’t discuss other options, and said deals would only be on the table when I was ready to sign.