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8 Questions to Ask a Car Sales Expert

Published on 24th June 2016 in Professional Register

A driver asking questions to buy a new car

Steph runs an automotive marketing consultancy: http://www.stephsavill.co.uk specialising in selling motoring services to women. She was the recipient of the IMI's 'Outstanding Contribution to the Motor Industry Award 2015' on behalf of women drivers.

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Confirming earlier research about car shopping, 82% of women involved in buying a new family car with their partner are equally or mainly responsible for research, planning and decision-making. In their latest car shopping research, Different-Spin.com has discovered that females are three times more likely to say they had an awful experience in a dealership than an excellent one. And 90% would not visit a car dealership without a man. 

Regardless of the many excellent and female friendly car dealerships, perceptions are everything. From my experience there are too many stories of women being ignored and spoken over in car showrooms, in favour of their male companion - even when the car is for her and she's paying. A similar and equally inappropriate situation is when an independent and wealthy female, car shopping alone, is told to bring her husband to conclude the finances. 

Every time a car sales person behaves like this, they run the risk of losing your custom for life, not just a short term car sale. And affecting the brand they represent. So, for female and male car shoppers alike, here are some important questions to ask, including whilst in the showroom, before signing on that all important dotted line. 

1) Can This Dealership Match The Deal I Found Online?

We're assuming you're busy individuals who know what make and model you are seriously interested in. So you'll probably start at Google to see the best deals online, but stop and think before you buy direct from a distant dealer. Yes, they will deliver for a fee, but if things go wrong after delivery date, chances are you may need to return the car to the selling dealer. Getting things sorted at a long distance can be problematic. Why not take a copy of the online offer you're looking at and ask your local dealership if they can match it? 

2) Do I Trust This Dealership And The Member Of Staff I'll Likely Be Dealing With?

Assuming you've negotiated a great deal locally, with a member of staff you like and trust, you can relax knowing they'll help you sort out any delivery problems, future servicing and repairs. To find that business and individual, visit their website for starters, make a note of car sales staff names and pick up the phone to speak to them about specific cars.

If you'd prefer to have their undivided attention, make an appointment with the business/individual.

If you simply want to have a look at the cars, explain this to the dealership receptionist, although this won't stop passing staff asking you if you're being looked after - they've been trained to do this!

If you'd prefer to deal with a female member of staff, ask if there is one. After all, it's up to you to take control of where and how you spend upwards of £9000 - that's the average price of a used car sale today. 

3) Find Out If The Dealership And Car Sales Person Is Licensed To Do Their Job.

The majority of car manufacturers and their franchised dealerships are licensed to sell new cars in accordance with the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) New Car Code, operated by [Motor Codes] http://www.motorcodes.co.uk/motorist/the-codes/new-car-code.html.

Despite the number of complaints about used car sales there is no equivalent scheme, although Motor Codes also operate a [CTSI scheme for warranty providers] http://www.motorcodes.co.uk/motorist/the-codes/vehicle-warranty-products.html committing subscriber schemes to higher standards than required by law.

When it comes to showroom staff, it's surely reasonable to expect to deal with car sales experts who won't overcharge, patronise or sell you extras you don't need. One of the best ways to be sure about this is to search the IMI Professional Register / for local Car Sales Experts who've signed an ethical commitment re car sales.

Whilst they might work in dealerships where haggling is the norm, if you are unhappy here, there is a clear chain of responsibility starting within the dealership, moving to the manufacturer or warranty provider then to the Motor Codes CTSI dispute resolution service, if need be and applicable.

4) Ask Advice When It Comes To Diesel vs Petrol vs Ultra-low emission Cars.

The jury is out about the future of diesel based on environmental grounds. So it's reasonable to expect a car sales person to explain your choices here even if trying to sell you a specific car!

Ask their factual advice based on your annual mileage and typical journey length.

In addition, a car sales expert should know the facts about the environmental credentials and emissions of the cars they have on sale. Ask them to write this down for you, for future comparison in your own time.

5) Determine How Much 'Essential Features' Will Add.

The likes of air-conditioning, parking sensors and a simple satnav system are high on my car shopping list. You will have your own and some car makes and models will include these whereas others won't.

My car buying rule of thumb is that where I don't need and can't justify complex gadgetry, I don't pay extra! Especially where there's a lesser specification and a cheaper model in the range.

6) Ask About Test Drive Options 

Some dealerships fail to appreciate that test driving an unfamiliar and expensive new car, in an unfamilar area and with an unfamiliar and seemingly confident member of staff as a companion can be massively stressful for most motorists, regardless of their gender. 

Which may explain why so many either decline a test drive, delegate this to a more confident companion (is this why so many females take a male?) or simply buy a newer version of the motoring brand and model they know already. Even when that model isn't one of the best in the vehicle category in question... 

Yet a test drive can make or break the car sale and is highly recommended. Nobody can afford to get such an expensive purchase wrong... 

So, why not ask for the test car over a weekend, delivered to your home? If you don't ask, you don't get and many manufacturers are offering this service. Given enough time, you can then check out the all-important comfort and visibility of your driving seat. Some cars seem better suited to taller, shorter or less agile individuals so you need to find the right one for you. 

Adjust your seating position to make sure you are sitting comfortably, can see clearly over the bonnet, aren't too close to the steering wheel or too far from the pedals, with the headrest in the correct position and with as near as perfect all-round visibility using all mirrors. Don't make do with less than perfect here. 

This will also give you the opportunity to try out any eco 'start 'n' stop' engines if you haven't driven one before. 

7) Ask About The Safety Specification of All Cars You're Interested In. 

New and used cars have a Euro NCAP rating for adults, children and pedestrians. Ask your car sales expert about this and understand what this means. 

If safety is at the top of your shopping list, is there a safer car in this category of car? 

Does your new car come with Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) as standard? This means it'll alert you, or apply the brakes for you, when your car is too close to the one in front. 

A Euro NCAP survey in 2015 found that Autonomous Braking (AEB) systems were responsible for a dramatic 38 per cent reduction in real-world rear-end crashes. 

Despite this evidence AEB is only standard fit on 17% of new cars currently on sale in the UK. 

8) Ask About The Economic Factors 

The top priority for most of us when buying a car is the price. Yet there's a lot more to this than just the finance costs, part exchange values and the final selling price of your car in question. 

How much will it cost to run? You should consider the insurance group (the lower the group, the lower the risk/premium), the CO2/VED tax group (NB: check whether the VED is the same in Year 2), the length of the warranty, mpg and any annual servicing deals. 

Ask the car sales experts you're dealing with to write all this down for you, so you can compare the details in your own time.

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Entering a car showroom to buy a new or nearly new car should be a joyous not an awful experience.

Shoppers should dictate customer service levels to suit them and not feel ill at ease, patronised or pressurised into buying a car they're not ready for or to pay more for it than a savvier shopper might. 

You should all be able to buy a car from a car sales expert who knows the facts and sees us as long term customers, not just short term commission statistics. 

Please remember that there may be others shopping in car dealerships at the same time as you. Understandably, some are put off by noisy young children who run around within the showroom. Which begs the question, why don't more UK car dealerships offer pre-booked creche facilities as they do in Japan? Or offer to visit us at home to discuss our car needs? 

Today's motor industry is ripe for change. This article merely touches the surface of the many car sales' challenges it faces, with a view to the future. Hopefully the first step towards improving perceptions will be for the industry to address the likes of Different-Spin.com research findings and appoint more females to executive roles in car manufacturer and franchised dealership boardrooms, as well as on car showroom floors – thus representing women car buyers and being seen to respond to our needs and expectations. 

None of this is rocket science of course, but if a female-centric business approach can raise sales, customer service and satisfaction standards, then I'd expect the entire industry to be as delighted as the majority of car shoppers would be, including the women drivers I set out to represent.

Steph Savill, MBA, Chartered Marketer, FIMI

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