Finding Good Dealers

Car dealerships have largely eliminated the high-pressure sales tactics of yore mainly because customers wouldn't stand for it anymore and enlightened dealers started getting all the business. The whole industry has followed suit.

Dealerships now focus on customer and sales satisfaction ratings, which are tabulated from surveys of recent buyers. The results of high ratings can include higher bonuses and other rewards from manufacturers. Those ratings are also among the criteria that earn dealerships special status, such as Ford's Blue Oval and Chrysler's Five Star designations.

Top 10 Sales Satisfaction Ratings -- Luxury
Below are results from the 2011 J.D. Power and Associates Sales Satisfaction Index Study. The study is based on responses from about 25,000 new-vehicle buyers. The industry average was 688 on an index scale of 1,000.
NameplateIndex Ranking
Lexus715
Cadillac713
Mercedes-Benz701
Porsche696
Land Rover690
Lincoln681
BMW677
Infiniti676
Audi675
Acura673

Source: J.D. Power and Associates 2011 Sales Satisfaction Index Study

Selecting a Dealer

When you're searching for a car, perhaps the most meaningful dealer referrals you can get are from friends, relatives and co-workers in your area. Not all salespeople within a particular dealership are equally knowledgeable, accommodating or scrupulous, so ask your referrer for the name of the salesperson to request or avoid. If a referrer claims to have been "screwed" by a dealer, ask for details and try to determine if the referrer got screwed or simply screwed up. The latter isn't the dealer's fault.

The temptation will be strongest to limit your negotiations to the dealership closest to your home. Buying from a nearby dealership is a natural inclination and one that comes with some advantages. If you shop at a dealership near your home, the salesperson may view you as a neighbor, which is a good start to your relationship. More importantly, you represent many years of repeat maintenance and repair — the part of the dealership that pulls in most of the profits.

Top 10 Sales Satisfaction Ratings -- Mass Market
Below are results from the 2011 J.D. Power and Associates Sales Satisfaction Index Study. The study is based on responses from about 25,000 new-vehicle buyers. The industry average was 642 on an index scale of 1,000.
NameplateIndex Ranking
Mini723
Buick682
GMC672
Volkswagen660
Chevrolet655
Scion655
Subaru655
Mazda653
Chrysler647
Ford645

Source: J.D. Power and Associates 2011 Sales Satisfaction Index Study

Further, service departments tend to treat owners who bought from the dealership better than customers who bought cars elsewhere. They don't necessarily rob outsiders blind, but nor do they typically make vehicles bought from them a priority. If there are more cars to fix than there are technicians or hours to fix them, it's the outsiders who wait until the next day. This isn't an absolute, but it's common. It's up to you whether preferential treatment is worth more money.

That said, shopping at only one dealership is not a good idea. Instead, we suggest you start your search farther away, and work your way closer to home. By the time you get close to home, you should have several quotes, and the neighborhood dealer may match the best offer.

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