Put Yourself In The Driver's Seat

Women often pay more for a car than men--but it doesn't have to be that way. First, get on the I-way...

When Ellen Byck bought her Nissan Maxima four years ago, she told the salesman exactly what car options she wanted--and exactly what she wanted to pay: $27,000. To get a fix on the price, Byck talked to a lot of people, including an auto dealer friend. Of course, the salesman tried to haggle, but Byck held her ground. She was ready to buy at the price she wanted to pay, she told him, and could write a check immediately. Otherwise she would walk. Her tough stance worked: She got the car at her price. "If you do your research, you'll feel confident in your negotiations," says Byck, a pharmaceutical representative for Schering-Plough in Westchester County, N.Y.

Unlike Byck, most women car buyers (and many men, too) don't get the best price. The two times I bought a car on my own, I was surrounded by three men in their fifties claiming, "There is no way, honey, we can sell you this car at that price." I caved in--I had no confidence that I could wrangle a better deal elsewhere. I know that I overpaid, because I later learned of others who bought the same car for less money. I'm not alone. Studies show that women typically pay more for a car than men. For a $25,000 vehicle, women on average pay $500 more, says Chris Denove, a partner at J.D. Power & Associates.

So it's no surprise that in a survey of women between the ages of 35 and 44 conducted by Opinion Research Poll for car referral service Autobytel.com, 78% said the traditional car buying process is a negative experience. They felt they either overpaid or the salesman didn't take them seriously. The dissatisfaction is due, in part, to 92% of all car salespersons being men. "There are still male salespeople who harbor the perception that a woman who walks on the lot is not a serious prospect until she brings her male counterpart," says Denove.

The idea of haggling also is daunting. "You have to be a good negotiator to buy a car, and women don't like to negotiate," says Jean Swenson, co-founder of AutoAdvisor.com, an online car-buying service. They're more likely to avoid confrontation. "If someone is willing to pay more, why should the car dealers offer it for less?"

But the Internet is leveling the playing field for all car buyers, especially women. A host of auto Web sites, such as autoweb.com, autobytel.com, and carsdirect.com, lets the buyer bypass the intimidating negotiation process. These sites will give you a no-haggle, often competitive, price quote on the car you want. You can get car reviews and insurance info, as well. In some cases the sites let you buy a car online. The Net can also arm you with a load of information to take on a dealer with confidence. Such pricing data as what dealers pay for cars can be found at edmunds.com and kellybluebook.com.

Two sites I found most appealing specifically target female buyers: autobytel.com's For Her section and womanmotorist.com. Both present a complex subject in an easy-to-understand way. At For Her, I could easily tap into a glossary of auto insurance terms and a terrific test drive checklist. Similar information at other sites isn't as accessible or packaged all in one place.

At womanmotorist.com, I found a handy script so I could practice negotiating the price of my next car over the phone. Among the useful lines for your repertoire: "I want to give you a deposit but I'd like to agree to a price first," and "I want to buy my new car as close to invoice as possible." Apparently, Byck didn't need a written script to get her price, but I'm glad it's there to use for my next car purchase.

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