The world of car retailing is changing, and it means good news for car buyers. The traditional way of buying a car from a dealer’s showroom has been around forever, and it’s a game where the playing field is tilted heavily in the dealer’s favour. The dealer knows all of the numbers involved much better than the buyer, and so knows exactly where margins can be increased and reduced to maximise their profits while still appearing to provide a good deal.
It’s a bit like a casino; the punters at the tables may have a few individual wins here and there, but overall the house always wins. Buying a car from a dealer is similar, in that you might get them to drop the car’s price slightly or throw in some extras, but they get it all back again on the finance package or the other extras you hadn’t realised you even needed (but were convinced by the salesman that they were absolutely essential).
The internet has gone some way to helping buyers, in that you can easily check prices from several different dealerships all over the country. But that’s still only a starting point; a dealer will often be happy to cut the price on a car if they can make it up elsewhere, and it becomes very difficult to stay on top of the negotiations when you have a new car, your part-exchange (trade-in), finance, insurance, options and accessories all making up the final numbers. The dealer is expert at juggling all these balls at once, and they know exactly how much they are making from each part of the overall deal. The customer, usually, is completely in the dark as to how much of a deal they are really getting.
More and more car buyers are now turning to a car buying agent or car broker to help them manage their car purchasing. Here the buyer gets to play on a level field with the dealer, as the car buying agent or car broker usually has the same knowledge and expertise as the dealer to be able to negotiate on every aspect of the deal to the advantage of the buyer.
The other advantage of using a car broker or car buying agent is that it saves you an enormous amount of time. Researching cars and trekking all over town to visit dealerships, getting quotes from different dealers on different models and comparing all the information is a tremendously laborious exercise. A car buying agent or car broker can take car of all the running around and allow you to concentrate on your job or enjoy your recreational time.
So what exactly does a car buying agent or a car broker do?
Let’s explain the difference between a car buying agent and a car broker.
With a car broker, you provide as much detail as you can about the car you are looking for, and the broker sources a vehicle which matches your desired specification as closely as possible.
A car buying agent offers a more comprehensive overall service, usually involving specific advice and recommendations on choosing a car and its specification to suit your needs, as well as the sourcing of the chosen vehicle. If you are not sure on the best sort of car for your needs, a car buying agent’s advice can be far more valuable than the savings he or she may be able to get from the dealer. Choosing a more suitable car can be worth a considerable saving over your whole ownership period, even if the deal on the car’s price is not as significant. Many people have bought a car completely unsuitable for their needs, and using a car broker won’t prevent that. A good car buying agent, however, will help you ensure that you are choosing a car which will do everything you need for as long as you own it.
Brokers and agents make their money from either a fee charged to the client for their service, and/or a payment or commission from the dealer. This is an important point for you as a buyer; if your broker is being paid by a dealer, they are ultimately working for the dealer rather than for you, meaning they may not be acting in your best interests to secure the best car available at the best price possible.
To ensure that your agent is acting in your best interests and not the dealer’s, you should always look for a car buying agent or car broker who has a clear fee structure and does not take payments or commissions from the selling dealer. The fees should be clearly explained, easily understandable, and relate to the service provided. If a broker advertises their services as being free, then it almost certainly means they are being paid a commission or ‘finder’s fee’ by the dealership. If an agent or broker offers their advice as free, it is unlikely to be a properly detailed and analytical report which covers every aspect of your driving needs.
A car broker will normally charge a fee based on the value of the car they are sourcing. If this is the case, you should be clearly aware of their fee structure before you commence – for example, if the relevant price threshold on their fee structure is £30,000, then a car costing £30,001 may mean a much larger fee for the broker than a car costing £29,999.
Some agents or brokers will charge a flat fee for their services, and some may charge a fee based on the level of discount they achieve from the advertised price. This means that the more money you save, the more they will make and gives you some reassurance that they are acting in your best interests.
With a car buying agent, there will normally be a fee for their advice and expertise, and a separate fee for sourcing a vehicle. Again, you should be aware of how their pricing works, but don’t be put off by the idea of paying for expert advice as it may save you thousands in the long term. You may even use a car buying agent for advice on choosing a car but handle the purchase yourself. This is often the case with company car drivers, who have leasing arrangements in place at their workplace but don’t know which car to lease.
In summary, a car broker or car buying agent can make the process of buying a car much more appealing and advantageous to the average consumer, saving considerable time and potentially a lot of money.
Stuart Masson is founder and owner of The Car Expert, a London-based independent and impartial car buying agency for anyone looking to buy a new or used car.
Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for nearly thirty years, and has spent the last seven years working in the automotive retail industry, both in Australia and in London.