If you haven’t already realised, the task of buying, maintaining and eventually selling a car can be just a little harrowing. Unfortunately, the laws of chivalry do not necessarily apply within the automotive industry, especially at the retail level. Many observers suggest that women in fact, receive worse treatment than men when they attempt to buy, repair, maintain and eventually sell their cars.

However, there are two pieces of good news for female drivers. The first is that the car manufacturers’ attitudes towards women have changed drastically in recent times for the better. Cars are increasingly being designed and marketed with female customers in mind. The second is that one can easily equip oneself with sufficient knowledge to navigate through this sometimes treacherous terrain.

Some women rely exclusively on their motoring-inclined partners, relatives or friends for assistance when they enter the car market. If you are not fortunate enough to have anyone of these people to rely upon or simply choose to proceed on your own, don’t fret, help is at hand.

The first thing you should do is to understand some of the basics about why women are not given the respect they deserve at the retail level:

Being ignored by sales executives

Many salesmen and surprisingly, saleswomen do not automatically associate a female in the showroom as being a potential customer. It is not uncommon for a woman to walk into a showroom and be completely ignored by the duty sales personnel. This is called “pre-qualifying” a customer, one of the fundamental sins committed by many sales professionals. We have heard of many cases when a female buyer walks into a showroom with a male companion only for all the attention to be given to the male. Many sales executives assume that the man is buying the car and that the woman is going to choose the colour.

Make an appointment. Since it is unpleasant to be ignored, our suggestion is to call ahead and make an appointment with a sales executive. If you can obtain a referral for a responsive sales executive, you should do so. Sales executives usually treat referrals more seriously than a walk-in customer. If you are not sure who to call, you can always try FussFree Auto’s good service locator program – no charge applies.

Also, if you are going car shopping with a male friend/relative, do not be afraid to tell the sales executive that you are the car buyer. You deserve the best treatment as possible so do not be afraid to ask for it!

Being treated in a condescending manner.

Here is a little trade secret. It is not uncommon for a sales executive to be poorly informed about the product, service and the market in general. Many of these sales executives try to camouflage this inadequacy by pretending to “know it all”. This behaviour is manifested sometimes by “talking” down to customers and it is usually female customers who bear the brunt of this phenomenon. In general, men do not experience such treatment because consciously or sub-consciously, the sales executives believe that they are less likely to be found out by a woman. They believe that on average, women are less informed about cars and the automotive industry in general.

Research, prepare and observe.

As far as possible, read up a little bit about the car you are interested in before visiting the dealership. Familiarise yourself with some of the technical terms used too, if you have the time. Use the Internet to your advantage because in all likelihood, someone out there has written something about the car you are interested in. Consider visiting discussion forums on the internet and ask questions there. Also, talk to people who you know are familiar with cars. They will be able to give you some pointers as to what to look out for but be careful, many people have extremely skewed opinions when it comes to cars. Try to collect as much objective information as you can. You may wish to check out some of the useful links on our website.

Once you have short-listed the cars you are interested in, create a checklist or search for one on the Internet (FussFree Auto does provide all its clients with a checklist). Make sure to list down all the questions you want to know about the cars you are evaluating. Also, when evaluating cars, be sure to carry a notebook to scribble notes and further questions that may arise from the vehicle presentation. Be sure to ask these questions and make sure you get adequate answers.

Watch out for some tell-tale signs that the sales executive is trying to pull a fast one. Body language, eye movement and even contradictory explanations are some of the things you should be looking out for. If you do not understand something, there is nothing wrong with asking the person to re-explain it in simple terms. Do not be afraid to appear “ignorant”. It is their job to answer your questions. Lastly, try not to be confrontational. If you are starting to feel uncomfortable with the process, back-off, calm down and return to the discussion using objective questioning and facts.

We witnessed a case when a client who was buying a new car wanted a particular colour scheme that was reflected in the brochure. The reply from the sales executive was “That colour isn’t nice. It gets dirty easily”. The actual fact was they did not have that colour in stock and the sales people were asked to try and “push” out the remaining colours. The correct approach would have been to explain to the customer what was in stock and the waiting period for the desired colour.

Being pressured into buying a car.

As sales executives are rewarded based on the number of deals they close, it is no surprise that they will go quite far to get a prospective client to sign on the dotted line. Some employ “pressure” tactics in an effort to close the deal. For example, they will discourage you from shopping around, bad mouth competing vehicles, tell you that COE prices are going to go up, the special offer is only for today or anything else that might sway you into making an immediate decision.

If at any point in time you feel compelled or pressured, excuse yourself and walk away. Explain to the sales executive that you need some time to consider the purchase. Afterall, this is a major expenditure item and should not be taken lightly. If you are keen on the car and that “special” deal, ask the sales executive to arrange for the offer to be held over for a couple more days. Most dealerships will do so if asked.

Not allowed to negotiate.

Again, many sales executives have the pre-conceived notion that women should not be allowed to negotiate. Either that or they feel that women do not have the strength nor strategy to successfully negotiate. As a result, some sales executives brush off the negotiation attempts with shallow excuses and skillful dodging. In some cases, sales executives do not want to be seen as having “lost” to a customer, especially if that customer is female.

Negotiation should only start once you have decided on the vehicle that you want. However, during the process, many sales executives will try to get you to sign the sales contract with various “enticements” (“I’ll throw this in for free”, “I’ll try and get you a discount”, etc.). Note down all these offers in your notebook until you are ready to negotiate.

Once you have decided on the car and would like to commence negotiation, use information previously gathered to assess how much movement in price is likely. Also assess the merits of getting “freebies” thrown in rather than a straight discount. Remember, $300 to you in cash, is likely to be worth more than $300 worth of accessories to the sales executive. They have bulk purchase privileges so use them to your advantage.

Lastly, remember that the sales executive has to make a living. If you push him/her too far into the corner, you might end up receiving sub-optimal service. He/she is likely to be your main point of contact at the dealership so preserve that relationship. 

Heavy usage of technical terms.

This is either a smokescreen to cover up poor product knowledge or a strategy to overly impress upon you the fine qualities of the vehicle they are trying to sell you. Some people believe that if you are made to feel sufficiently inadequate, you will sign on the dotted line without questioning rather than appear to be ignorant.

Again preparation. As best as you can, prepare for your dealer visit. Also, do not be afraid to ask, ask and ask again. You have every right to be informed and you should leave the showroom with any questions unanswered. If the sales executive does not give you an adequate answer, note it down and try to find out the “truth”.

In general, we would like to suggest the following tips (some have been mentioned above):

Buying a car

  • Do your research. Surf the web, ask your friends or relatives about your particular automotive needs.
  • Do not be afraid to ask. When buying/repairing a car, ignorance is not bliss. Ask, ask and ask until you understand.
  • Do not be afraid to walk away. You have every right to take your time to consider your decision.
  • When buying pre-owned, insist on an independent vehicle evaluation. If the dealer/seller refuses, walk away. There are other cars out there.

Repairing a car

  • When visiting a workshop, ask to be shown what is going to be done to the car. Make sure the mechanic/service advisor opens the bonnet to explain things to you in simple language. If you feel unsure or do not trust the service provider, explain calmly that you will need to find out more about the problem. Do not be afraid to get a second opinion.
  • When you decide to leave your car at the workshop, make sure you get a written quote for the work that is supposed to be carried out. Use this to compare to the invoice when you are collecting your vehicle. Also be sure to get commitment for the time that will be required to complete the job.
  • When collecting your car from the workshop, again, do not be afraid to ask what was done. Ask for evidence of part replacement and work done.

Selling a car

  • Do not feel pressurised when approached by dealers. Their objective is to get their hands on your car for the lowest price possible. Unless something is seriously wrong with your car, it is very likely that you will be able to get another quote for your car.
  • Do not be in a hurry to sell. This shifts the power away from the seller (you) to the buyer.
    If at any time you require further information or advice, please do not hesitate to contact a professional advisor who will then be able to guide you through the process.