Car dealerships can be intimidating places no matter your gender, but the process of buying a car can be especially intimidating for women — and with reason. A 2015 Yale study found that, on average, women were quoted list prices $200 higher than those given to men, Today reported. And a 2016 study on car buying by Beepi Inc. found that 49% of millennial women feel tricked into buying additional, unnecessary features versus 34% of millennial men.
That’s not to say that women shouldn’t feel empowered to go into a dealership on their own to buy the car of their dreams — but it helps to be prepared. GOBankingRates spoke to auto experts to get their insights on how to buy a car and the best car-buying tips for women.
Last updated: May 20, 2021
Do Your Research First
“Buying a car is the second-largest purchase decision most people make after buying a home, and it can be a stressful, overwhelming experience,” said Kerri Wise, vice president of Industry Relations and Education at TrueCar. “Consumers are faced with 30-plus brands and 300 models, and there are often questions around whether you should lease or buy, buy new or used, and how much should you pay.”
Doing research to figure out the answers to some of those questions before stepping into the dealership will help women to feel prepared.
“Nowadays there’s a wealth of information online, including expert and consumer reviews, vehicle comparison tools, information on safety and technology features, and vehicle pricing and trade-in valuation information to help you choose the car that’s right for you, and to get a fair price on your trade-in and new vehicle,” said Wise.
Determine What You Can Afford
“The first thing that you’ll want to do is set a budget and stick to it,” said Wise. “Remember to consider the full price of the vehicle, including taxes, fees and any potential interest. Don’t just shop on the monthly payment.”
Wise recommends using sites such as TrueCar to help you get a realistic sense of what a car will cost.
“You can see what others in your area paid on average for your vehicle of interest, and receive upfront discounted pricing on inventory from local certified dealers,” she said.
Determine Your Must-Haves and Nice-To-Haves
“You will want to determine what type of vehicle you are interested in that best fits your lifestyle, whether that is a car, a compact SUV or a pickup truck,” said Wise. “Research the vehicle online, read reviews and even ask your friends, family and co-workers. Having some flexibility on models and options can help with this process.”
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Narrow Down Your Options
Get an Estimate of the Trade-In Value of Your Car
“About 40% of people who buy from a dealership have a car they’re looking to dispose of, so don’t forget about your trade-in,” said Wise.
You can use online tools, such as TrueCar’s True Cash Offer, to see how much your car is worth based on its condition.
“Once you know the value of your existing car, that can help inform what you can afford for the transaction price of the vehicle,” said Wise.
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Find a Reputable Dealer
Finding a reputable dealer “is perhaps the most important thing in order to avoid scams,” said Tony Arevalo, co-founder of Carsurance.net. “Women can ask their friends or family members for recommendations. Also, checking Google reviews can be a great strategy for making sure that the dealership is trustworthy.”
Play Dealers Against Each Other To Get the Best Price
As for how to negotiate car price, let the dealers do the legwork for you.
“If you, like me, hate talking on the phone, I recommend emailing a few dealers to ask for their best drive-away prices on those specific vehicles. If you don’t mind talking to real human beings in real-time, phone calls work well too,” said Steinway. “Use the quotes to play each dealer against the others. Dealers will often say they won’t compete against other dealers, but they will if you show them a better competing offer for the same model.”
Determine How You Will Pay For the Vehicle
Whether you’re a first-time car buyer or have bought your share of cars, you’ll want to have your loan options ready to go before going to the dealership.
“If you’re not paying cash you will want to prepare for your car loan,” said Wise. “The two biggest factors here are your credit score and the length of your loan. It’s advisable to keep your loan terms as short as possible so you pay less interest over the life of the loan.”
Wise recommends visiting your bank or credit union to see what you qualify for before going to the dealership.
“If you get pre-qualified, then you can compare that loan offer to what you receive at the dealership,” she said.
Walk Into the Dealership With Confidence
“You have to walk into the dealership like you’re important,” said Steinway. “You’re about to make a major purchase and you deserve to be treated with respect. Repeat this mantra to yourself before you step foot on the dealer’s lot. If the dealer doesn’t treat you with the respect that you deserve, just walk out. There are tens of thousands of dealerships — and a growing number of online options — and no reason that anyone who treats you poorly should win your business.”
Ask About Special Financing Offers
There might be financing offers available to make your car loan even more affordable — but you won’t know about them unless you ask.
“At the dealership, remember to ask about any special financing offers that are available,” said Wise. “Often the auto manufacturers have special financing offers through their lending arms.”
Bring All Necessary Documentation
“There are a couple of important documents you’ll need to bring with you to the dealership: your driver’s license and proof of insurance,” said Wise. “If you’re trading in your old vehicle, you’ll need to bring the title, registration and any loan documentation you might have.”
Bring Your Research With You
Having something physical to reference can be helpful when negotiating.
“Doing your homework online and printing out sheets for pricing, incentives and what you want will definitely help you be more prepared and take away some of the intimidation,” said Lauren Fix, The Car Coach.
If You’re Prepared, There’s No Reason To Be Fearful
“Don’t be afraid to go into the dealership,” said Wise. “Just be prepared with information based on your research and on the price you identified. You wouldn’t go into your final exam without preparing, right?”
Consider Bringing a Friend or Family Member With You to the Dealership
“It never hurts to bring along a trusted friend or relative,” said Richard Reina, product training director at CARiD.com. “Share your list of questions and wants with them as well so they can advocate on your behalf and keep you from getting distracted by a shiny, too-good-to-be-true offer that might be offered by the sales staff.”
Don’t Hesitate To Ask Questions
“It’s OK to ask questions, no matter how obvious they may sound to somebody who is a car expert,” said Arevalo. “The more initiative you show, the harder it is for dealers to pull off a scam.”
Don’t Let Emotions Play a Role in the Car-Buying Process
“Try your best to remove your emotions from the vehicle-purchasing process and do your homework,” said Wise. “Research the make and model, while prioritizing your wants and needs for your future purchase.”
Test Drive the Car You’re Interested In
“Whether you’re buying new or used, it’s critical to test drive the vehicle,” said Wise. “Do a full vehicle walk-around and get the questions that you have answered before making any commitments.”
Test Drive Multiple Cars
You might have a good idea of the car you want, but it’s best to test drive multiple cars to be sure.
“Plan to test drive three vehicles in your category,” said Fix.
Make the Most of the Test Drive
“It’s helpful to understand what to pay attention to during a test drive,” said Reina. “You’ll likely be able to tell quickly if you’re comfortable with the way a car handles and performs; however, don’t feel rushed or pressured during a test drive. Take your time to really familiarize yourself with the features and ask questions throughout the drive. The salesperson is there as a resource.”
Have an Outside Mechanic Look at the Vehicle Before Purchasing a Used Car
As for tips for buying a used car, make sure you know exactly what condition the car is in and find out if any repairs need to be made.
“If you’re buying used, ask to have the vehicle inspected by a mechanic of your choosing,” said Nicole Firebaugh, manager of PMR Auto & Diesel Repair of Marion, Illinois. “Most dealerships are perfectly fine with this, and it gives you an outside source beyond the dealership mechanics to ensure everything looks good. Your mechanic sees these vehicles on a regular basis and knows what makes and models tend to hang out in the shop more often and what common problems they see.”
If You’re Buying a Used Car, Get Any Promised Repairs in Writing
“If you are buying a pre-owned car on the agreement that something is fixed, have it stated that the repairs will be in place before you buy,” said Christina Mascaro, marketing director for Apple Sport Auto Dealerships in Austin, Texas. “If you see something questionable, tell [the dealer] you’d like to buy the car but would like the service department to check on that ‘weird leak.’ Yes, you can ask those things!”
Don’t Make a Final Decision Without Consulting With Your Insurance Company First
“Before you make any final decisions, make sure to check with your insurance company,” said Fix. “The rates [could] make a huge difference in your final choice.”
Trust Your Gut
“Don’t buy a car if you don’t feel good [at the dealership],” said Mascaro. “If [the car-buying process] starts off on a bad foot, ask yourself how badly you need that one car and if you can’t go someplace else. Believe me, some other dealership wants your business, and you can have a whole different experience just a mile down the road.”
Don’t Be Afraid To Walk Away
“Be sure to take your time and do not be afraid to walk away from the dealership,” said Wise. “It’s important to focus on finding the vehicle that’s right for you.”
Don’t Feel Pressure To Buy on the Spot
If you’re unsure about buying a car or specific add-ons, ask the dealer if you can take some time to think it over.
“Ask what the timeline is to come back,” said Mascaro. “Ask if you can go home and take a day. Finance managers will usually tell you the offer is good if you call them back within a day or two.”
Consider Purchasing a Vehicle Online
“If you are not comfortable with a dealership environment, you can purchase a vehicle online,” said Fix. “You’ll have a chance to think about the decisions rather than taking the pressure one-on-one.”
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