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I am a woman and studies have shown that women...

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Dear Tom and Ray:



I am a woman, and studies have shown that women end up paying more than men when they buy new cars at a dealership. Naturally, I'd like to avoid this. I've heard of people who will do the negotiating for you. The person gets a preset fee and gets nothing from the dealer. What do you think of this kind of service, and where can I find a reputable negotiator? -- Lynne

TOM: Well, I'm sure the dealer would be happy to recommend someone to you, Lynne.

RAY: Actually, the best way to find a negotiator is through word of mouth, from someone you know who has been satisfied with the result. They also advertise under "Automobile Purchasing Consultants" in the Yellow Pages if you don't know anyone who has used one.

TOM: The advantage of a negotiator is that you don't have to get anywhere near the new-car sales process -- a process that makes a lot of people feel like they need to shower in muriatic acid when it's over.

RAY: If you really feel helpless in this regard, a negotiator/consultant might also be able to advise you as to which car to buy. And, sometimes, negotiators will even take the transaction right up to the paperwork stage for you, so all you have to do is sign and drive away.

TOM: The only downside is that you don't know how good the negotiator really is, whether his or her advice is any good, or whether he or she is married to the dealership's sales manager. So ask for some references. You also have to be convinced that you'd be saving more than you're paying him or her to do the negotiating.

RAY: If you're willing to get involved a little bit, we do know of a well-regarded national service called Car Bargains. Car Bargains is a nonprofit service that seeks bids from at least five dealers in your area for the specific car you want. Then they present you with all of the bids, and you choose the one you want (presumably the lowest). They charge a flat fee of $165 for this service. Car Bargains can be reached at (800) 475-7283 or on the Web at www.carbargains.org.

TOM: With Car Bargains, you'll still have to go and finalize everything with the dealer. But the cost is pretty reasonable, and the outfit has been well reviewed by a number of national consumer magazines.

RAY: The other option, of course, is to do the bargain hunting yourself. You seem disinclined to do it (I know, that muriatic acid is murder on your hairdo!), but consumers like you have much more information than they did just five years ago. The Web folks we work with run a site called www.cars.com. If you go there, click on "model reports" and look up the car you're interested in. You'll not only get the dealer invoice price, but a recommended "target" price that a
reasonably good negotiator should expect to pay for that car.

TOM: Consumer Reports offers a similar service, along with negotiating tips, for a modest fee. It calls the target price the "wholesale" price. Contact Consumer Reports at (800) 888-8275 or www.consumerreports.org.

RAY: And if you go in armed with that information, at least you'll know whether the dealer is being reasonable with you or is just trying to make his next boat payment. Whichever way you decide to go, good luck, Lynne.
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