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I am a woman with an older car. These two facts can make me vulnerable to paying too much for my automotive repairs. I don’t like being vulnerable in that sense so I did something about it.
The point of this article is to share how I have made myself less vulnerable as well as some strategies I’ve learned in negotiating.
For many years I bought new cars every 5 years to avoid the position I’m currently in. However, upon discovering FI (Financial Independence) I realized how much money I’d been spending on cars and the opportunity cost of not investing it.
From the age of 18 until the age of 42 (minus a 3-year stint when I lived carless in Colorado), I had new cars with an approximate car payment of $270 a month.
I did a real simple, back-of-the-envelope, calculation on what I would’ve made if I’d invested that money instead:
Investing $3,240 ($270 x 12) a year for 21 years with a 7% rate of return would have turned into $156,656.55!! Now, this is not factoring in the amount of money I spent on interest and down payments, mostly because I don’t remember.
Since I did need a car, let’s imagine if I had been a little bit smarter. What if I saved up $3,000 dollars in high school and bought a cheap used car with cash and thereafter saved $100 a month for my next car purchase? I would have been able to invest the other $170 a month ($2,040 annually). Using the same parameters of 21 years at a 7% rate of return, I’d be sitting on an extra $98,635.60 right now!
Here’s the compound interest calculator I used for the above calculations.
Hindsight is 20/20 but these exercises can be valuable in changing the road you’re on which is exactly what I did.
I paid my current car off 3 years ago and knew I wanted to keep it and set up a car savings fund. My plan is to pay cash for all future, preferably used cars. That being said, I knew I needed to get better at three things:
- The proper maintenance schedule for my car
- Develop a relationship with a good mechanic
The first one is fairly easy. We all know, or should know, to change our car’s oil and rotate our tires at the specified time dictated by our car’s manual. Often this is 3,000 and 6,000 miles. There are other maintenance items and fluid flushings which should be done at different mile markers. I recommend researching your car’s maintenance schedule by either reading your car’s manual or doing a google search. Do not get this advice from a repair shop when they are trying to sell you something.
If you don’t have your car’s manual, Edmonds has a list of online car manuals here.
I found this article on car maintenance to be very informative.
I was fortunate for a two year period to be referred to a mechanic who did work out of his home garage. The only problem was that he was about an hour away. It was a long drive but he was so honest and cheap that it was worth it for the big stuff. These relationships typically only come from referrals.
I didn’t go to him for my oil changes or tire rotations as those can be done cheaply at a lot of local places. However, I did use him for major repairs or bigger maintenance, like changing my serpentine belt. He often taught me how to order my parts online and he would install them for a fraction of the cost.
Tire rotations can typically be done for free if you get them where you buy your tires. I found a good local place for this. They also do a whole host of repairs including oil changes. So I established this shop as my go-to for oil changes and tire rotations.
In the beginning, they would try to upsell me on other repairs. I would always check with my other mechanic first. More times than not he confirmed it was not necessary, so I declined.
This ended up being a viable tactic in developing a good relationship with these local mechanics. One time I flat out told them that I was only interested in doing the necessary repairs on my older car. From then on out, their sales pitches lessened.
The Cookie Story
I drive a manual shift car and this past year my emergency brake broke. Unfortunately, if I am parked on an incline my car will slide downwards. At first, I would place a rock behind a tire to prevent that. I got fed up with this and went to my local mechanics for an estimate. Keep in mind I established with them that I only want to do necessary repairs. They saved me from myself and said, don’t do it! Just go to the tractor supply store and buy a wheel chock for $14.99. The estimate to replace my emergency brake was ~$500.
I bought the wheel chock and now use it when I’m parked on an incline. It seems a little less hillbilly 🙂 than using a rock. They saved me $485! That is deserving of homemade chocolate chip cookies so I got to baking. They were grateful and it strengthened our relationship. Never underestimate the power of a kind gesture and homemade cookies!
New Car Problem
Just yesterday I discovered a new problem with my car. The telltale sign was a rattling of my hood and an awfully harsh feeling going over bumps. When I popped the hood, I saw something that looked amiss. I took a picture and sent it to several people who are more knowledgeable about such things. I learned that I have a broken strut. Now that I know what I need I’m going to call three different mechanics (including the one above) and obtain estimates.
Today at a local ChooseFI meet up, I was talking with my friend Anna about my recent car woes. She was kind enough to pick me up and on the drive, she mentioned that immigrant auto mechanic shops won’t overcharge you and typically don’t try to upsell you. She and her husband just happen to know of a good one and so this will be one of the three calls I make. It is always a good idea to compare costs, even when you have a go-to.
Anna also recommended I check to see if there is any type of discount in paying with cash. If there is a story to tell about my upcoming automotive experiences, I will be certain to write about it.
Okay, two of my negotiating stories are from my own experiences and one story is from someone else.
Story #1 – New Skis
Now that I’m out of debt, I plan to do a lot of skiing next winter and this winter I had been considering replacing my 16-year-old skis. Occasionally ski resorts will have what they call, a demo day, where vendors let you try out demo versions of their popular selling skis. This is exactly what I did and I found a pair I loved.
While I loved the skis the first key to being successful at negotiating is to NOT fall in love with the item you are buying. Oops! Well, I decided to reason with myself that I really didn’t need them. Since I have been embracing frugality for the last four years, I convinced myself quickly to only buy them if the deal was right. I meant it too. There are always more opportunities to buy.
I researched the skis online to get an idea of their cost. Then I waited until the end of the season and contacted two local ski shops. The first shop was able to get a demo pair, which are typically cheaper and include bindings. The second store had a brand new version, sans bindings. I got quotes from the two shops and then I went back and forth with each of them via email. They both dropped their prices a couple of times. Hint, the end of the season is the time to negotiate. Finally, the store with the demos offered to include a summer wax and to try and sell my current older skis in the fall. I decided this deal was good enough to jump on.
Story #2 – Contained Anger – The Only Valuable Emotion in Negotiations
I recently moved into a little one bedroom apartment (within walking distance of my job!) and wanted internet. I found a local rep who gave me his current deal for high-speed internet and promised to waive the install fee.
My first bill contains the $99 install fee. To make matters worse, the rep was not returning my calls. I got on chat with the service provider and found out there were no notes in my account to waive the fee. So I did what any person, who was realizing they were being screwed over, would do and I told them to cancel my service and remove the charges.
The conversation went on for an hour with the rep saying things like, “I understand how upsetting that must be” and “we value your business”. The back and forth went on and on like this while I got more and more frustrated.
First, they offered to waive $33 of the install fee, to which I said, “nope, cancel my service and remove the charges”
Second, they offered to waive $50 of the install fee, to which I said, “nope, cancel my service and remove the charges”
Finally, they offered to waive the full $99, to which I said, “thank you for doing what was originally promised”.
In this occurrence, I was filled with one emotion and that emotion served me well. I mean seriously! I felt righteous indignation and was not going to back down. Nor did I care that there are only two internet service providers in my area. I thought if the other one doesn’t work out either, maybe I’ll just use the library.
Story #3 – New Cars
I know, I know, I said I was done buying new cars. This story is not my own, but a friend’s who recently bought a new car. I realize a lot of people in the FI community may never buy a new car but just in case there is a couple of good lessons in here.
My friend has the cash and wanted to buy a new car. His first tactic in negotiating the price down was to be silent. He is really good at this. While the salesman offered a number, he just sat there and said nothing. I’m not sure I can do that naturally as I always want to fill the silent space. But it worked as the salesman didn’t like awkward silence either and kept lowering the price. It got low enough that my friend bought the car.
Here is where it gets even more interesting. My friend sat down with the finance department to pay cash for the car. The dealership explained to him that paying cash would bump up the cost of the car by $3,000. Whaaat?!? $3k more for paying cash – that is crazy!!
So my friend agreed to financing, confirmed there was no early payoff penalty, made one payment and then paid that baby off! If this story teaches you anything, it’s that dealerships make most of their money off financing.
My takeaways are this:
- Always be informed
- Leave emotion out of it (except for contained, justified anger)
- Be willing to walk away
I plan to get better at this with more experience and figure we can glean from one another. What are your experiences in negotiating?