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Buying a new car using TrueCar.com

Kamil Kaluski September 9, 2014 For Sale 14 Comments

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I recently spent a weekend car shopping with my mother. She has been wanting a new car for some time. When my little brother developed a need for a newer car she gave him a great deal on her ’04 Acura TL, and in process she justified a new car for herself. She didn’t know what she specifically wanted, but she knew that she wanted reliability and fuel efficiency in a small two-door AWD convertible sport utility vehicle. She wanted all of that for under $25,000. Since such vehicle does not exist, she compromised on a new Jeep Wrangler.

Not caring about heated leather seats or navigational system, she decided on the Sport S model. Power Convenience Group (power windows, door locks, and remote entry) was a must, as was an automatic transmission (sorry, she drove stick all her life), and a hard top. The thing she was most adamant about, however, was the rusty Copperhead Pearl color.

She test drove two cars at two different dealerships and got two quotes, but all were for cars in different colors. I went onto TrueCar.com for the same reason that a lot of people do, to check out what TrueCar says we should be paying for a car. The TrueCar price was in between the two dealership quotes. At that time I decided to further test out what this whole TrueCar website is all about.

For those who do not know, TrueCar.com works with dealerships all across the country. In an attempt to take the frustration out of car shopping, the website shows a potential buyer the bottom line, final sale price. It also shows what others have paid for the same car, and someone can buy a car using TrueCar via participating dealerships, all with no haggling. Sounds like a great idea, but how does it work in the real world?

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This is mine, and my mother’s, TrueCar experience:

  • My mother knew exactly what model, options, and color she wanted and she would not budge much from it.
  • After two dealerships visits we learned that the TrueCar price was not only very accurate but also very good.
  • I configured the exact car she wanted on TrueCar and the website started its search.
  • TrueCar’s search showed several cars but only one car that was in the Copperhead Pearl color.
  • My phone rang literally three minute after I clicked “next”. It was a lady from the dealership that had the Copperhead Pearl Jeep in stock.
  • Unfortunately the sales person wasn’t aware of the car I so thoroughly specified on the site and proceded to tell me about her inventory. She insisted that I came down and look at their cars and that they would make me a great deal. No mention of TrueCar in her opening speech.
  • In this conversation I learned that the Copperhead Pearl vehicle that was lacking the crucial Power Convenience Package. No deal.
  • I received three other phone calls from dealers but none had the right combination of colors and options.
  • I then searched the inventory of every Jeep dealer from Maine to Delaware. There was only one dealer that had the perfect car, and, shockingly, at the time it was the only other Copperhead Pearl Wrangler in the whole east coast.
  • Unfortunately that dealership was not associated with TrueCar. Bummer.

The final negotiated price was pretty much exact to the TrueCar price. In this case TrueCar provided us with the feeling that we were getting a great deal. This alone saved us a great deal of dealership hassle. In all, the website makes car buying a lot more transparent, which it should have always been.

Some issues with TrueCar:

  • The biggest issue was obviously the lack of the very specific vehicle my mother wanted. I see this being a problem for very particular buyers. Those buyers more flexible on colors and options will find TrueCar.com a lot more useful.
  • Along the same lines, TrueCar’s results under “view dealer pricing” page, do not tell me the configuration of the cars it has found for me. That is not very reassuring and chances are that it would not be the exact car a buyer expects.
  • The surprising issue, from TrueCar’s standpoint, was that each dealer treated me as if I made a cold call to them. They knew I came from TrueCar, but it did not sound like they were aware of the car I built on the TrueCar website nor its quoted price.
  • Having been to the TrueCar website in the past, I noticed that there is now an option to estimate the lease payment. Based on my experiences, the monthly payment number is very accurate but down payment, which is probably tricky to compute due to so many variables (credit score, mileage), needs some work.
  • The addition of used cars to TrueCar also seems new and is very welcome. In order to gain consumer confidence, perhaps it could show what warranty the vehicle comes with right up front. Upon seeing the term “CPO” people may be more likely to pull the trigger. Perhaps TrueCar should offer warranty for some of those used cars which would make them a lot more appealing (hello used Land Rover), which in turn would increase the sales volume.

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This is my mom’s new car. It even came with the accessory side steps she wanted right from the factory. I should upgrade the headlights for her, maybe for Christmas? What mom wouldn’t want a headlight upgrade for Christmas? I’ll order a soft-top for next spring. I wonder how pricey Rubicon take-off wheels and tires are. Winch! She definitely need a winch! And a snorkel!

 

  • JayP2112

    I tried Truecar a few weeks ago looking for a white Challenger SRT manual. It was interesting to see the price history and how they'd not really lowered in price. Dodge has discounts and that was reflected at Truecar. For me to get the car I wanted, I'd have to sell the Mustang. Ain't going to happen.

    For the Focus, I went 1990's old school. Found the white car I wanted, found a similar car cheaper online at another dealer in Desoto. The local dealer matched and now it's in my driveway.

    I love wheeling and dealing though. But I know many others who dread car buying- it's not their thing.

  • CoastieLenn

    I used TC this past July in my search for a Tacoma. The price they gave me for the truck I wanted (2014 Double Cab, 4cyl, AT, PreRunner) was about $4k less than MSRP and both dealers that are near me participated in the TC program. They both looked at the $24,6xx ( TTL) and said "Ok, I can do that." One of those dealers quoted my $26,9xx OTD the week prior.

    Needless to say, I'll definitely be using TC once I actually make up my mind on what I want and when. Damn automotive A.D.D.

    • Awesome!

  • Feds_II

    Looks like Kamil has signed up for several hours of Freedom Top removal/installation on a semi-annual basis! "Oh, and since I'm here Kamil, do you mind storing the top in your garage? Thanks Son."

    I tried very hard to buy an Unlimited this year as a familiy car. However, for $30,000 used (it was a leather-and-painted-hard-top-Rubicon), I couldn't live with the unfinished-ness of the inside.

    • Funny thing, I'm the one living in a condo and my mom is the one living in a house with a garage.

      Used Wrangler prices are insane, which is why she bought new. I've been looking at used JKUs, as you may know… it's ridiculous. And yes, I think they are way over-priced new.

  • Sjalabais

    The numbers are exclusively provided by dealers or also by purchasing parties? What I think is very weird, is that you guys didn't seem to have considered ordering a custom-tailored car, as it is common in Europe. I mean, if you know exactly what you want, and time is not of the essence, why not just tell a dealer: "I want that, I pay now, you have no inventory cost on this one, give me a good price"?

    She didn’t know what she specifically wanted, but she knew that she wanted reliability and fuel efficiency in a small two-door AWD convertible sport utility vehicle.

    You need to work on your definition of "specifically".

    • Maymar

      Because of the inventory cost, dealers are generally much more interested in moving the stock they currently have. Technically, they don't really invoke cost on it through their floor plan until something like 90 days in stock, so really, they want to keep what they do have constantly turning over (and of course, the manufacturer wants to keep sending dealers inventory to keep the factories churning because of union deals).

      You can custom order a car of you're insistent, but you usually don't get the same bargaining position. Just a matter of deciding how committed you are to a specific build.

      • Sjalabais

        I see your point, but…a custom-ordered car is a guaranteed, easy turnover and it needs to be produced and shipped, too. A little change in dealer attitudes and these could be seen as "bonus cars".

        Basically, I am just surprised that a huge service economy like the US displays such consumer-unfriendliness with the most American of items.

        • HTWHLS

          Don't be. I don't care what anyone says. TRY to find a dealer willing to order a car. I'm convinced it cannot be done in the US anymore with an insane wallet and good connections. The US Auto Dealer network long since gave up trying to please customers or win repeat business. They are there to move units and maximize wash-out numbers.

          • Sjalabais

            Theory says that in case of ugly collusion someone else is to pop up out of thin air to pick up the slack and improve the business. Maybe Tesla's shaking things up enough for a consumer-renaissance…

    • Several issues with ordering:
      1. At the time the 2014 production was completed and the 2015 has not began
      2. Because of my brother's new job, he needed a car ASAP.

      • Sjalabais

        1. Another artificial, consumer-unfriendly kind-of-issue.
        2. I'd call that a good reason to be quick. 🙂

        Hope she's happy with the Jeep, btw!

        • She loves it!

  • david42

    This sort of thing is nice when you have no trade-in, but I think the (vast?) majority of car purchases involve a trade-in. In that case, the dealership still has a huge amount of freedom to screw you on the trade-in value.