After driving a 2002 Ford Focus for my entire stint in college, I finally decided to purchase a new used car. In light of my previous blog post regarding digital serving as the future for dealerships, I wanted to share my car shopping experience, ranging from research to signing the final paperwork in the finance office for a 2016 Buick Verano.
Why I purchased a new used car
The top three reasons customers purchase a new vehicle are personal reasons, mechanical issues and pricing. My purchasing decision stemmed from the pricing and for personal reasons; I felt that it was time to upgrade to a newer vehicle as I begin my career as a digital district manager for General Motors and I now had the means to afford a car payment every month with full coverage insurance instead of PLPD. While I love my Ford Focus, I had grown into bigger shoes that needed purchasing.
As a consumer I cross shopped numerous vehicles; the main models that I searched for were the Chevy Malibu, Chevy Cruze, Chevy Volt, Honda Civic and Honda Accord. As a district digital manager I have access to a supplier discount that can be used on the purchase for new or unused vehicles, but after adding incentives it was still significantly cheaper to shop for a new used car rather than a new car, even if the manufacturer warranties were shorter for a used vehicle.
While I was drawn to supporting my workplace by purchasing a GM product, I felt as though it would be a smarter decision to purchase a Honda Civic or Accord based on reliability and practicality. My family has also purchased from Honda for 20 years and never had any serious issues, so I was persuaded to side with the devil I knew rather than the devil I didn’t. Despite many friends stating that their Cruze’s and Malibu’s never broke down or had issues either, I personally wasn’t impressed with their interiors or driving experience compared to the import competition. The exterior designs were much sleeker, but Honda beat them in terms of their interior design and brand reputation for reliability.
There was one GM brand that I didn’t even consider: Buick. I sat with one of my friends at Applebee’s discussing new cars when he randomly pulled up a new Buick Lacrosse on his phone and stated, “I could see you driving this car.” While Buick has built an unwarranted reputation as catering to an older demographic, the reason I had never considered the brand was due to price point and I didn’t know a single person who drove a Buick. After more research, I discovered that used Buick’s were priced the same as Chevy’s and Honda’s, making them appear on my radar for the first time.
I continued my research, delving heavily into these five specific models and reading as much information as possible about them. I moved away from the Honda Accord and Chevy Malibu due to the price point in comparison to the smaller Honda Civic and Chevy Cruze. For the same price, the Honda Civic seemed to offer the better value proposition in comparison to its competitor, eliminating the Chevy Cruze from the competition.
This left the Buick Regal, Buick Verano and Chevy Volt. The Volt was removed from the list based on the fact that I wouldn’t be able to utilize its electric charging component based on my current living situation; in the future I might move into an electric car, but at this moment it wasn’t meant to be.
For the Buicks, I decided to either look into the Buick Verano or the Lacrosse based on reviews and pricing; for a few thousand dollars more I could go with a much smoother, spacious car in the form of the Lacrosse, or for a few thousand dollars less I could purchase a Verano that is nearly similar to the Regal (unless Turbo and GS trims are factored in).
I watched numerous Youtube test drive videos and scoured dozens of subreddits for user opinions before settling on the Verano, which was priced the lowest amount while offering all of the amenities and size that I could possibly need. Then it became a back and forth debate of going with the Verano, a car that I didn’t know much about regarding reliability, or the Civic, which has a decades-long reputation for never breaking down. What won me over was the entry-level luxury interior and raving reviews for the Buick Verano as a true sleeper car in its class.
Pricing and online shopping
The hardest part of research and cross-shopping was over; now it was time to find the best deal for a Buick Verano. I primarily used Cargurus to compare prices and mileage for Verano’s at numerous dealerships. Once I found the most competitive prices for several vehicles, I compared distance, mileage, pricing and dealership ratings to determine who I wanted to purchase from. At first I was willing to drive to a Buick/GMC dealership Waterford, Mich. and Toledo, Ohio to test drive two specific Buick Verano’s before I found even better deals at a B-lot, or used car dealership, and CARite, a franchise in Michigan that specializes in collecting used vehicles and selling them at the lowest prices possible with a no hassle experience.
I was apprehensive regarding the B-lot, which received poor reviews that were never directly addressed despite earning an average 4.6 Google Review overall rating. What really deterred me from purchasing was a poor customer experience (multiple calls from multiple salespeople despite only sending a single online lead) and the finance office calling regarding pre-credit approval without me setting foot into the dealership.
While I had never heard of CARite, based on the layout of their website, customer reviews and the professionalism that they seemed to display digitally I decided to take a chance and check out the Verano on their lot. Not only was it a 2016 Buick Verano, but it was two years newer than the Verano on the B-lot at the same mileage, price and the manufacturer’s warranties in effect until 2020-2021.
Visiting only one physical dealership
After comparing nearly 15 dealership websites, I finally chose the one dealership that I would visit in person. Without going into too much detail going through the credit approval was hassle-free and I had the chance to check out the Buick Verano on their lot before I test drove it a few days later. There were scratches on the back bumper from what appeared to be luggage removed from the trunk, as well as scrapes at the bottom of the front bumper due to the extremely low clearance of the vehicle, but this was expected because it was a new used car.
I asked the salesperson a few questions to get a feel for the reputability for the used dealership such as how they acquire their vehicles and how long they had been working at that location. My salesperson explained that CARite typically sends a specialized mechanic/auditor to auctions, where they inspect the vehicle and purchase it if it meets their stringent standards (about 20 percent of inspected vehicles are then purchased and sold by CARite). The salesperson also worked with the company since its inception in 2011, which was a good sign.
Background and finance research
As I waited to hear back on my pre-credit approval, I calculated my monthly payment based on several possible APR’s, as well as the overall interest accrued over a 60-month period. My research included tax, title and registration as well so I wouldn’t be side swept by the total price at signing.
One important part of my researched was checking the VIN number to see the history of the vehicle and make sure that it hadn’t been in any accidents, wasn’t a salvage title and wasn’t previously used for taxi or rental services. In consideration of the hurricanes floods in the southern region of the United States, it was also vital to make sure the vehicle wasn’t in an affected area and being resold at a significantly reduced price due to environmental damages.
Luckily this specific Buick Verano turned up clean and I received a call from my salesperson stating that I was approved for my credit application at a low rate. We proceeded to schedule the test drive and finalize the sale if I liked the car.
After setting up my appointment I took a trusted relative with me on the drive to check my expectations, go over the vehicle with me on the test drive to make sure everything was in order and act as a second opinion on the chance that I was being sold on unnecessary or outrageous packages at financing. During the test drive we stopped the car in a parking lot; went over the entire exterior for scratches and dents; looked at the bumpers to see if the paint was consistent or if they were replaced; inspected the interior for damages; opened the hood to view the motor and other components; and checked the underside of the car for rust or a damaged underside.
After confirming that the car was in good shape other than cosmetics, it was time to hash out the finances and sign my life away for six years of car payments. It was surprisingly quick and transparent, taking approximately ten minutes to walk through what I was signing, what my payments were going toward and how much interest I would owe at the end of six years with my APR rate. Once I acquired the insurance information for the Buick Verano, the only thing left to do was transfer the license plate from my previous vehicle.
Like I said in my previous blog post, the future of dealerships is digital. I visited 20+ dealership websites, researched using social media platforms and Google Reviews, as well as compared vehicles with third party websites like Edmunds and Cargurus. During my entire purchasing process I interacted with two salespeople at two dealerships and only physically visited a single one after deciding on the vehicle that was right for me.
Dealerships need to offer a no-hassle experience, use transparent/best pricing, take part in SEO/best practice techniques in the digital space and utilize effective brand reputation management to attract customers. It’s not enough to wow consumers who physically enter the dealership; it’s necessary to provide the best consumer experience possible in the digital space. If dealerships neglect their digital efforts, they’ll be overshadowed by the competition. I visited nearly 20 dealership showrooms online before making my purchase; therefore it’s pertinent that dealerships offer an experience that makes them that single dealership for a potential customer.
Author: Brandon Lazovic
Brandon Lazovic is a district digital manager at General Motors assisting a number of dealers in New Mexico and southern Colorado with website optimization, reputation management, content creation, CRM integration, social media promotion and search engine marketing. Before Lazovic began working at General Motors he collaborated with start up companies in Ann Arbor, Mich. to expand their businesses through digital marketing initiatives and previously served as the news editor for the Eastern Echo in 2016 and as a staff writer for the EMU media relations department in 2017.