Scotty Reiss actually started with a family blog, but quickly found that her reviews of cars were so popular and so informative, she had to start She Buys Cars to keep up with demand. That's given her a lot of insight into making an expensive, yet common, purchase; she shared some thoughts with us about how to get the most out of your car shopping.
How could auto manufacturers and dealerships do a better job of selling cars to women?
More than 80 percent of women feel that automakers and sellers don't understand them. Which is a huge gap: Women make or contribute to 85 percent of car-buying decisions. Auto makers know this and are trying really hard to both communicate to women better and to build cars with women in mind. They have done things like increase safety features as standard or low-priced features, and many include 24-hour roadside assistance for the first three or four years of ownership.
There is a bigger gap between how women think and make decisions and how dealerships are set up to sell to customers. Most of the techniques that dealerships use to sell and service cars are contrary to how women think and operate; one of our missions is to help close that gap by arming women with the knowledge and empowerment they need to make smart decisions at the dealer and also to work with dealers to be more in tune with their most powerful customers.
What are some signs that a dealership may not be playing totally straight with you?
Follow your instincts on this. If it seems too good to be true, if it doesn't feel right, if there's too much back and forth, if it's not the exact car you want, if there are terms or items that you don't understand or that don't make sense, take a break from the negotiation and do some research. If you're in a bind, rent a car for a few days; don't jump into a purchase because your car died or you're in a hurry to get a new car.
If you go into a dealership knowing what to expect - a little online research and a few phone calls fielding questions before you go in - that will give you the empowerment you need to know you're getting a fair value. When it comes to purchasing, know the price of the car, the price of the features you want, the value of your trade-in and if you're financing, what interest rate you should qualify for. The salesperson will get it quickly and either show you what you came to see or ignore you - if they're only targeting people who they can talk into a bad deal, they won't be interested in you.
When it comes to service, know what needs to be performed and know what a fair price is for that service. If you get recommendations for things you hadn't expected, be prepared to take your car to another mechanic for a second opinion before authorizing the work. Knowing your car's manufacturer-recommended service schedule is important, too. Know when they recommend you replace the water pump and the battery, then plan and budget for it.
How do you budget for a new car? What should we be aware of before we buy?
Just like any big purchase, we should start the saving and shopping process way before the actual purchase. Putting a fund aside for your down payment is a great idea, and start to think about your monthly payment, insurance, parking and fuel costs. What is the total number, and how does it fit into your overall monthly budget? And be realistic: Can you be happy in a low-priced model that doesn't have any of the features you really need? Can you really afford that sporty luxury car?
Decide, too, if purchasing new, purchasing used or leasing is right for you. A lease is great if you don't drive very much, less than 12,000 miles a year, and you need a new car every few years. But beware: Leases can often cost you at the turn-in for damage, extra mileage or other charges. Know what these possibilities are before leasing. A purchase is often the best deal because you own it; when you're done paying for it, you have an asset you can put toward the purchase of a new car, or you can just enjoy not having a car payment.
Doing a little research ahead of time, such as the five-year cost of ownership, is great. How will a particular model affect your insurance rates? Are there features that will lower your insurance rate? Are there fuel options that will lower your cost of ownership? And what services are included in the purchase price, such as 24-hour roadside assistance or a maintenance package?
If you are buying a used car, look at the certified pre-owned options. These typically have extended warranties and, often, extended maintenance packages; it's a nice sense of security in a used car to know you won't have to pay for repairs or oil changes for a while.
What are some of your favorite cars on the market right now?
There are so many great cars right now, it's hard to say. But here are our favorite features: mid-sized cars and crossovers with a third row like the Mazda 5, Nissan Rouge, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder, Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave; safety features such as blind-spot monitors, rear-view cameras and adaptive cruise control as standard or low-priced features; hands-free lift gates; and connected car technology - this is a must, and a great investment. Also, there are a lot of really great entry-level priced cars on the market, so even customers with limited budgets can get all these features on a car they can afford.
What about electric cars? Do they make sense at the moment, financially?
Electric cars are a hot topic, but really, it's the whole alternative fuel category that is so exciting - not just electric, but gas/electric hybrids, fuel cell and diesel - all alternatives to traditional gas-fueled cars. Each manufacturer has looked at the options and how to get the performance out of their cars and still provide maximum efficiency. We really love the gas/electric hybrid option; a plug-in that allows the car to run on battery for 30 miles or so, then switches over to a gas engine means you can drive around town virtually gas-free for weeks at a time.
But consumers have to consider what the overall cost is - while electric right now is far cheaper than gas, it may not always be. And while charging is free in a lot of places, that, too, may not always be. Also, while gas can be expensive, it's really how far you go on a gallon that matters, and if you can't recharge your car, then electric doesn't make sense. One option that we love is Hyundai's fuel cell Tucson. The car is leased for $499 a month, and all re-fueling is included - a great deal, but you have to live in Southern California to benefit.
If you could go back and tell yourself something before you bought your first car, what would it be?
Save, save save! If I'd put part of each paycheck toward a new car, I'd have had something fresh and new right after college rather than another used clunker. And in the long run, those used cars were really more expensive; I was constantly facing "unexpected" repair bills. Consumers right now can take advantage of so many great tools: online research, opinions from friends and bloggers and great sites like AutoTrader and retailers like CarMax that give you lots of information before you buy. And having a nice down payment gives you more options for financing, most likely a better interest rate because you're financing less, and greater flexibility in the model of car you buy.
What's the future of cars?
Alternative fuels, more efficient batteries and lighter-weight materials will have a huge impact on the cost of owning and operating cars. Also, auto-driving technology. Yes, we are headed toward cars that drive themselves, but all those technologies also make our cars easier and more intuitive to drive. Adaptive cruise control, for instance, monitors and adjusts the distance between your car and the car ahead of you; crash mitigation technology will stop your car before it hits another car or object; self-parking technologies will allow the car to park itself - all of this removes much of the risk to your car and those around you, and also can lower your insurance rate.