Finding a reputable car dealership is key to big savings.

How to Choose a Reputable Car Dealership

So you’ve decided it’s time for a new car, new to you at least. You’ve done your research and narrowed it down to a particular brand, maybe even a specific make and model. But have you considered who you will buy it from?

New or used, a car is a major purchase for most people. Shouldn’t you give a little thought to who gets your money? Here we’re going to dive into the thorny topic of choosing who to buy from. We’ll start by discussing why this matters. We’ll talk about good sources of information, and then we’ll dive into the evaluation criteria you might use.

1) Car Dealerships and Reputation

“Used car salesman” has been a way of describing someone as shady for about as long as there have been used cars to sell. Fair or not, the profession has a poor reputation, and in the past it was probably deserved.

Unscrupulous car dealers would sell vehicles with hidden problems, charge prices that were too high or sell unnecessary add-on services to consumers that did not know any better.

Car buying is a lot better today than just a few short years ago. For one thing, car buyers are much better informed, and second, many car dealers learned long ago that taking advantage of customers doesn’t help build a lasting business.

However, there are still bad apples, and the old adage, “buyer beware” is as true today as it’s always been. Read more about dealer tricks of the trade in my section on the most common car dealer scams in modern dealerships today.

2) Service After the Sale

It’s possible you’ll buy your car and then never visit that dealership again, in which case this section doesn’t apply. Many car buyers though, especially those purchasing a new vehicle, will be going back for servicing and warranty work. In other words, this isn’t a one-off transaction you’re signing up for but a relationship.

We’re not advocating a long courtship here, but we are suggesting this is another factor to consider. You should find out if they keep convenient hours, if they offer any particular perks or incentives, and if they’re known for doing a good job.

Ask your salesperson to take you on a quick tour of the service department. Ask to see where you are suppose to bring your car (service drive) when in need of service. Also ask to see their service waiting area and take note of what accommodations are provided while your vehicle is being serviced.

3) Which Manufacturer Brands Have the Best Reputation?

A good start point is to learn how individual brands compare. You can do that with the J.D. Power US Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI). This annual survey ranks known brands by the performance of their dealerships. (Note that it doesn’t comment on individual dealerships, so a good brand could have a poor dealership close to you, and vice-versa.).

J.D. Power reached out to nearly 30,000 buyers for the survey. They are asked about dealership personnel, the vehicle delivery process, the ease with which the deal was worked out, the paperwork completion process, the overall facility and the dealership’s website.

For 2017, Buick came top among mass market brands. In the Luxury category Lincoln and Mercedes took joint honors with Infiniti and Porsche not too far behind.

4) Assessing Dealership Reputation

After identifying which brands you favor, and maybe also which to strike from your list, it’s time to weigh up individual dealerships. If you need help locating those close by, the manufacturer websites will help. Just look for a “Find a dealer” tab or link.

Having shortlisted dealerships, the next step is to get a feel for their integrity. There are three avenues to pursue:

  • Customer reviews. There are many places to look for reviews on line. The best known are probably, Yelp and Google.
  • The Better Business Bureau (BBB) website for your state. Here you can look for BBB-accredited dealerships and also see if those on your list have many complaints against them. An “A” grade is ideal.
  • Longevity. A dodgy dealership won’t usually last long. Word gets out that they’re not to be trusted and the business folds. Conversely, if they’ve been around decades it’s reasonable to assume they get a lot of repeat business. And car buyers wouldn’t go back to dealership that they felt ripped them off.

As with the JD Power SSI, the result of this phase of your investigation is most likely that you’ll cross some businesses off your list. After doing that you’ll be ready to move on to other aspects of finding a dealer you’ll enjoy working with.

5) Dealership Evaluation Criteria

There are a lot of factors to consider when evaluating a dealership, but for simplicity’s sake we can group them under four headings:

  • Price – Is the dealer willing to negotiate and flexible on pricing…Are they a “one price” facility?
  • Inventory – Does the dealer have the car you’re interested in purchasing?
  • Perks – What kind of additional items or services are available from the dealer?
  • Facility – Location, hours, shuttle service, loaner vehicles?

a) Price

You won’t know exactly what you’ll be paying for your next car until you’re working with a salesperson. You can however get a sense of how competitive they are from using an online referral service such as Ryde Shopper, Motor Trend or Cars Direct. Just note the quotes you receive on a few popular models, and then compare them with what other dealerships are asking for the same vehicles. (You may find for example that dealerships in less affluent areas have better prices.)

b) Inventory

Most dealerships put their inventory online. This lets you see who has the best choice of vehicles. If you’ve already settled on a particular model, trim and even color it also means you can see if it’s available.

I highly recommend even if you find the perfect vehicle on a dealer’s website. DO NOT make initial contact with them directly through their website. You will still want to go through an online referral service like Ryde Shopper first. Doing so lets the dealer know they are not the only dealer your requesting price quotes from and will also encourage them to provide you with a better up front price. When going through an online referral service. Make sure you select all the dealer’s available to get the most quotes in hand.

Use this handy Car Payment Estimator to estimate the payment on any vehicle.

If the dealership you want to work with doesn’t have the exact vehicle you’ve selected they can almost always get it for you. They’ll often trade inventory with other dealerships, (especially if they’re part of a larger group,) but it may take a few days to get the car you want. Alternatively, if they have to order it from the factory you could be waiting weeks, or even months in the case of popular models.

c) Perks

Many dealerships will offer “freebies” to sweeten the car purchase deal. Of course they’re not really free, but you should still take them into account when car shopping. Some of the most common are:

  • “Free” or “included” basic maintenance such as oil changes and tire rotations.
  • Car washes. Some will wash your car after servicing it, others won’t.
  • Loaners. Some dealerships will loan you a car while yours is in for servicing.

d) Facility

There’s a lot to consider under this heading, but you might start with location. Assuming you’ll be going back for servicing, it helps to find a dealership not too far from home or where you work. A lower price at a dealership two counties over might be outweighed by the time and expense of getting there. (Bear in mind that you don’t have to get your car serviced by the dealership that sold it.)

Other important factors to consider are:

  • Opening hours. Do they have an early drop off time? Are they open late one or more nights each week?
  • Shuttle services. Will they run you home or to work? How far will they go?
  • Is there a waiting room? For a relatively quick job like an oil change it can be easier to wait than take the shuttle home and then call for a ride back. If they have a place to wait, is it clean and comfortable? Is there complimentary coffee and WiFi? (If yes, you might be able to able to work while you wait.)
  • Do they seem too pushy? Yes, they’ve got a business to run, but do they seem like they’re constantly pushing additional services? If so, you might prefer to take your business elsewhere.

Learn How To Get Car Dealers To Compete Online For Your Business

6) Choose A Car Dealership You Want to Deal With

When you’re buying a new car, it’s the vehicle that’s key to your decision, but you should also feel comfortable with the people you’re buying it from. You want to be sure they’re not taking advantage of your good nature, and that they’ll be there to help if you run in to problems.

Most car dealerships are honest these days, but the onus is on you to check them out. The internet makes it easy to learn what experience other car buyers have had, and you should supplement that with your own eyes, ears and questions. Choosing wisely helps ensure your car purchase goes smoothly and that you get the after sales service you want.

Click Here to Calculate the Monthly Payment on Any New or Used Car

Before Buying a Car Anywhere

The number one tip for saving the most money when buying a new or used car is to always take your time and “DO YOUR RESEARCH FIRST!” For more strategies on navigating the new and used car buying process, spend a little time upfront before beginning your car shopping adventure by browsing through my 100% free online car buying guide –

As always, I recommend using an online referral service such as Ryde Shopper, Motor Trend or Cars Direct before physically walking into a car dealership. Their free online price quotes will automatically include any discounts or cash-back incentives currently available in the marketplace. This information will help level the playing field with the dealer and let you know right away which dealer’s are willing to be more flexible on price.