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Mother Shops Best: Top 10 Tips for Confident Family Car Shopping

Published on: March 01, 2012

ParentMap and Carter Subaru have partnered to bring you helpful content related to car safety and maintenance. This month: Car-buying tips for the family's toughest customer: Mom.

Mother Shops Best: Top 10 Tips for Confident Family Car Shopping

Women are often referred to as their husband’s “better half.” Sure, Dad deserves plenty of “better half” props himself, but few would disagree that moms earn their rightful claim to the title during the average day. Mom bandages scraped knees and mends broken hearts, is proficient at everything from hemming pants to coaching soccer to speaking conversational French, ascends the corporate ladder with enviable grace in her spare time… and sleeps. You know, occasionally.

So we all agree Mom's a superhero, right? Now add to her superpowers yet another feat: She just might be better at car shopping than Dad.

Yep. You heard that right! Analysis conducted by reported in January 2012 suggests women really know their way around a car dealership. Seattle’s Carter Subaru General Manager Jennifer Moran — herself a mother of five — is not at all surprised by the findings and offers a theory for why women, and specifically mothers, are possibly the savvier car shoppers: “Call it ‘Mom Instinct,’ but I think mothers are more hard-wired to consider the pragmatic aspects of shopping for the family car because that car is a protector of their children.”

Women put in the time and research to get the best deal, equipping themselves to be more efficient negotiators. Moms know what they want — practical cars that will keep their kids safe while driving back and forth to school and on an endless stream of shuttle runs to weekly practices, lessons, and errands. In contrast, men can be a bit more distracted by the Siren's call of a powerful engine.

Want to get the best car on the market for your family's needs? Do your homework and trust your instincts, Moran advises:

1. Learn the lingo. Sticker price? Invoice price? MSRP? If you’re confused by these terms, don’t worry. Before you leave for the dealership, arm yourself with the basic knowledge you’ll need to effectively talk shop with a salesperson. Do a quick Internet search to bone up on the jargon, and you will be speaking Car in no time — it’s way easier than your attempts at Spanish in college. Promise.

2. Know what you want and what you don't want. While men have tech features, aesthetics, and horsepower on the brain when car shopping, women focus on safety, functionality, and budget-friendliness. The findings bear this out: 74% of men in the study cited aesthetics as a key purchasing criteria; women listed aesthetic considerations ninth on their lists of concerns — ninth out of nine total. An unambiguous 95% of women buyers were chiefly motivated by safety and functional reliability.

Women are on the ball, and that is essentially due to three words: Research, research, research. Six percent more women than men take websites seriously when they’re looking to buy a vehicle, and that’s a smart move. The Internet has become a great equalizer for car buying, and women use it to equip themselves with information on models, price points, features, and safety specs — before setting foot on the car lot. Doing their homework often means women get a better deal. Gentlewomen, start your browsers!

3. Understand your financing options ahead of time. Talking money is never particularly fun for anyone, but making the wrong choice with your money feels even worse! When you buy a car, you have several typical financing options available to you: paying cash, leasing, or taking out a loan. Understand the relative pros and cons of all three, and how each of them would impact your budget — before you lay down any money.

4. You won't have all the answers, so make sure to ask the questions. If you're shopping for a used car, it’s important to get the full vehicle history report before signing your name on the dotted line. And is the car a practical choice? You need to know what to expect in terms of gas mileage, for instance. Male buyers have been known to skip a question or two so as not to risk looking uninformed during the negotiation process — women are less prone to impulse buying because they are more thorough in asking questions and are more likely to order vehicle history checks. Ninety-four percent of women in the study listed interest in acquiring the incident history of a used car as their second biggest concern. That car may look like a cherry, but you better make sure it's not a lemon.

5. Be prepared to negotiate. Remember how you used to barter for a better dessert during lunch back when you were in grade school? It’s time to dust off those mad skills. A salesperson wants you to open your wallet. That's his or her job. It’s your job to stay calm, never look too eager to jump at a car or an offer, and make sure you extract a quote before discussing anything further. And always negotiate up from the invoice price — instead of down from the sticker price — to get the best deal.

6. Find out which extras are essentials. The dealer will likely offer a host of extras for your vehicle, but make sure you only pay for what you need. It is easy to be lulled by a soothing pitch for an extended warranty or “rust-proofing” for your new car, but make like it’s your kids asking for a puppy and just say no. Especially if you’re on a strict budget, the cost of add-on features and services really needs to be looked at closely — some are worth it, but many produce only minimal or variable benefit. It is worth repeating — let the Oracle of Google be your guide: Do your research.

7. Shop around. Don’t think you have to buy a car at the first dealership you visit. We rarely marry the first person we kiss, right? It’s completely OK and advised to look around online, go to dealerships in other cities, and plan to take a few days or even weeks to explore and consider your options. Above all, keep a level head: Apart from their home, buying a car is the second most expensive purchase the average family makes. If you're feeling impatient, just remember how long it took to find the right house. Shopping around is essential.

8. Be a picky customer. Searched all over and can’t find that dream vehicle you saw on the Internet? Hold it! Before you give in to impatience and settle for second best, realize you can order up a car with just the right set of essentials from the factory. If you’re looking for specific features or the right shade of blue, don’t compromise. It might take several weeks to arrive, but it will be worth it in the long run. You have to live with your purchase every single day — even making a concession on color, though it sounds trivial, can result in unnecessary unhappiness.

9. Know when to walk. Women often have a price point in mind when they set out to buy a car, a number that will reasonably work within the monthly budget. If you have a figure in your head well before you start negotiating, it makes it easier to cut bait if a salesperson isn’t budging. Decide on a price you’re willing to pay, and then stick to it.

10. Trust your gut. If compromising on that sound system gives you a bad feeling, reassess. If you’re not sure the safety features are solid enough, take a step back and look at your options. Purchasing a family car is a big decision. Your gut — the same one that has the uncanny ability to know when your kids are hurt, sick, or in various other forms of distress or discomfort — will always be the best tool you have in making important decisions. Rely on it.

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