Solutions to Your Car-Buying Anxiety: Part 2 At the Dealership

Anne-Marie Hays

Last Updated: August 17th, 2022

cars lined up at a dealership

In Part 1 of our series Solutions to Your Car-Buying Anxiety, we covered researching your car purchase, from how much to spend, to what to buy, and where to buy it. In Part 2, we are going to cover the part where you actually leave your house to go buy a car. This is often the most anxiety-producing step in the car buying process.

David Weliver, founder of Money Under 30, and a former dealership employee, sums up common feelings behind this anxiety: “As consumers, we have a lot less experience buying our cars than we do, say, shopping for groceries, because we only buy cars every so many years. Also, we’re talking about a purchase that costs many, many thousands of dollars. So you have a perfect recipe for mistrust in the transaction.”

“The car buying process is one of the most frustrating experiences on earth,” says Michael Rudge from Rudge Automotive Service and Paytons Auto Body. “The entire experience plays on nothing more than the buyer’s emotions.”

No one likes to feel vulnerable like this. So, after you have handled your preliminary research, contacted dealers about available vehicles, how do you handle the stress of actually going out and getting it done? Let’s tackle a few of the common worries that people have, with solutions about how to avoid them altogether, as well as simple steps to handle them head-on.

Problem 1: I feel insecure with my car-buying knowledge. How do I deal with a car salesman without feeling belittled or taken advantage of?

This worry is a big one, and not uncommon. "[W]omen, in particular, seem to hate car shopping," says Sonia Steinway from Outside Financial, "in our survey of 600 recent car buyers, women were 25 percent more likely than men to report having a bad experience at the dealership." She says that several likely reasons are few women working in sales roles at dealerships, and outdated attitudes of salesmen themselves.

One of my favorite portrayals of this in the media is in an episode of FOX’s New Girl, where the main character Jess, a female, invents a husband to make the process go more smoothly. This may seem farcical to some, but this episode felt all too real for many watching.

Whether you are a woman or not, getting through the dealership experience is still a pickle that many wish to avoid. This is an option. Weliver says, “[I]f you’re buying a used car and would rather skip the traditional dealership process altogether, there are a few new online dealerships including Vroom and Carvana you might want to check out. The downside is that you can’t test-drive cars before you buy, but you can complete the entire transaction online and they deliver the car to your house in a week or so.” So, if you would like to buy a car with dealership-type assurances while avoiding a visit to the local lot, it is an option.

However, if you are willing to stick it out and visit dealerships, research is going to be your best defense.

Problem 2: I don’t know anything about cars. What am I supposed to be doing or paying attention to during the test-drive?

“After you’ve narrowed your list of cars to two or three, it’s time to test drive,” says Jenni Newman, Editor-in-Chief. “To streamline the process, create a checklist of important features to evaluate such as visibility, driver’s seat comfort, acceleration, handling, ride comfort and noise, backseat roominess, cargo space, interior quality, and multimedia functionality. Also compare the standard and optional safety technology, the EPA fuel-economy ratings, and price.

Make sure to test drive the contenders over the same day. Even if you can’t drive the cars over the same roads, you’ll still get a sense of the differences between the cars.

Test-drive before you buy. When trying to decide which car you want to drive, test-drive the leading contenders the same day — ideally, back-to-back. This will help you discern.”

Sarah Lee Marks, founder of also suggests that you “Have the salesperson give you the route in advance, and be quiet. Turn off the radio. Listen for road, wind, and tire noise.”

Problem 3: I hate that there isn’t just one price for everyone. How do I deal with this?

“One of the top reasons people hate shopping for cars is because the price usually has to be negotiated, and nobody wants to feel like they got ripped off,” says Jake McKenzie, Content Manager at Auto Accessories Garage.

Keep in mind that over the last few years, “Many dealers have gone to 1-price-best-price on their used cars and some for their new as well,” says Marks. If you want to avoid a loose pricing structure, consider shopping at a TrueCar certified dealer, a CarMax used car superstore, or Carvana, where prices are fixed.

However, single-price dealerships won’t always get you the best price. As Marks puts it, “This has taken some of the negotiation off the table, not always to the consumer's benefit. Now the shopper must do more comparison shopping between dealers to know what is the best deal for them.”

Problem 4: How do I know if I am getting a good deal?

If you are still willing to head out to a run-of-the-mill dealership, how do you make sure you are getting a good price? This is where research on websites like TrueCar, KelleyBlueBook, and Edmunds come in handy. Each has its own pricing tools to help compare purchase prices in the area.

“Today it’s not that hard to get a good price on a new car,” says Paul Maloney, owner of Car Leasing Concierge. “The problem is, a good price is not always your best deal. Car dealers have many avenues they can easily steer you down to make up the difference.

For example:

  • inflated finance rates
  • inflated lease rates
  • documentation fees
  • processing fees
  • bank Fees
  • undervalued trade-in appraisals

So the price they see online or in a newspaper ad is designed to do only one thing — reel you in hook, line and sinker, then drown you in payments. Hence, the bait n’ switch maneuver. Skeptical car buyers know this, but unfortunately, they are very limited on being able to figure out just how much they end up paying because they don’t have access to the factory-to-dealer incentives and buy rates leaving the customer with a very uneasy feeling.“

Ivan McBride, Vice President of Automotive Lending at PenFed Credit Union has some advice. He says, “consumers should do their research and look at car buying services as part of the research. A service like TrueCar will provide consumers a 360-degree look at their pricing options so they can get the best and most fair price on the car.“

However, there are a few things that consumers should know. McBride says, “Two things: 1) Everything is negotiable and, 2) You have to be reasonable.” To keep this advice in mind, he suggests, “When you’re preparing to go in, know the non-negotiables (that could be a monthly payment, new technology, etc.) for you and always be willing to walk away if you’re uncomfortable or your non-negotiables are not being met.”

When it comes to McBride’s advice about being reasonable, advertising agency owner Robert Barrows, who has worked in the auto industry, suggests that consumers know, “A dealer can give you a deal on the front end (the new car) or the back end (the trade-in value of your used car), but they really can’t give you a deal on both ends.” Expecting both will probably lead to disappointment.

Problem 5: How do I speed up the dealership process?

When it comes to the actual purchase process at a dealership, consumers are least satisfied with how long it takes. Autotrader reports that buyers spend about 40 minutes just waiting at the dealership on average, and 64 percent of consumers were dissatisfied with how long it took reported that financing and paperwork took longer than expected.

“The worst part of buying a car is probably how time-consuming it is,” says McKenzie. “Between price comparisons, test drives, and the mountains and mountains of paperwork, buying a new car can eat up loads of time.” To avoid mental and physical exhaustion, he suggests splitting the process up. “Go take a test drive with the knowledge that you won’t buy that day no matter what. Making it a multi-day experience will save you that fatigue of trying to do everything in one afternoon. “

In addition, McBride says, “The more familiar you are with the vehicle price, the options available, what you can afford, etc., the better off you’ll be and the quicker the process will go once you go into the dealership,” says Ivan McBride with PenFed.

If you wish to expedite all of this, consider a car-buying concierge, like Authority Auto, or having a service help with local pricing quotes, like CarBargains, so that you only visit one dealership. On the other hand, you might select a dealership network that offers express service like CarSaver. Any of these should help to speed up the process.

Stay tuned for more of our "Solutions to Your Car-Buying Anxiety" series. Next time, we tackle all the financial decisions that come with a new or new-to-you car. Dreams really do come true.

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