Tips for Women on How to Buy a Car

how to buy a car as a womanWhat has been your experience buying a car as a woman — and what shared wisdom can you impart to other women just setting out to buy a car? If you went to the dealership with a male significant other or friend, did the salesperson mostly speak with him while ignoring you? Did you feel like the salesperson was being condescending? Did the salesperson assume you didn’t know anything about cars (whether or not that’s true)? And if it is the the case (no judgment from this non–car expert!), did you feel like you were taken advantage of as a customer? Or, did you feel you weren’t treated differently as a woman, and everything went great?

With the 2018 car models now available in showrooms — and because the next two months are an excellent time to buy a car — we thought it’d be a great time to discuss how to buy a car. We haven’t had a lot of posts about car-buying (there have been many good discussions in threadjacks), although we’ve previously talked about the issue of whether to buy a fancy car to impress clients and, on our blog for working moms, we’ve talked about how to choose the best family car for you (Swagger Wagon, anyone?).

To spark some discussion, here are some interesting stats and other information about women and car-buying:

  • “Women buy 68% of all new vehicles” [source] and “85% of car-buying decisions are made by women.” [source]
  • “Only 7% of front line management, sales and service advisor positions are occupied by women” [source] and “47.3% of women car shoppers prefer women dealers.” [source]
  • “Women consistently do better when they negotiate virtually. [A study] compared face-to-face negotiations with those conducted online, by phone, or by video and found … women were more assertive when they weren’t haggling face-to-face.” [source]
  • “Men tend to let emotion influence their vehicle desires [while women] emphasize practical benefits like durability, reliability, safety and affordability.” [source]

So, let’s discuss! Share your stories and tips for how to buy a car as a woman — were they good experiences or did you find the process frustrating? Do you lease or own your car? For those of you with kids, do you have a “family car” as well as a business car? Any advice on selling and trading-in cars? What sort of information would you most like to see on Corporette: saving for a car, getting a car loan, researching cars, negotiating a price, etc.? 

Update: Apologies to the readers who didn’t like the original title of this piece — writing headlines, finding keywords and optimizing posts for search engine traffic are all a big part of the game, and it’s definitely more of an art than a science. We’ve since changed the title to one of the reader suggestions. 

Further reading:

  • 10 Confessions of Car Salesmen [Mental Floss]
  • Behind the Scenes at a Car Dealership [Edmunds]
  • Women Dominate Car-Buying Decisions; Few Hold Auto Executive Jobs [NPR]
  • Buying a Car Online: You should do it. Especially if you’re a woman. [Slate /DoubleX]
  • How Women Can Avoid Macho Sales Tactics and Buy Cars for Less [TakePart]

Picture via to buy a car as a single woman

We asked the Corporette readers to share their stories, lessons, and tips for how to buy a car as a single woman -- what are their best tips on negotiating for a car, haggling on car price, and choosing a safe car (and maybe a car to impress clients also)?


  1. Anonymous :

    I really hate the title of this post. I understand what you’re going for here, but the way to buy a car as a woman is to be a woman and buy a car. Why not a title like “Tips for women buying cars”??

    • Senior Attorney :

      Boy, no kidding!

    • Lana Del Raygun :

      Oh, I interpreted it as being sarcastic.

      • babyweight :

        My reaction to the title was shock that Kat had written it, which is why I clicked. It’s so off-putting.

    • Anonymous :

      Yeah, no kidding.
      Step 1. Be a woman.
      Step 2. Buy a car.

      Even worse, the URL says “single woman” – not sure what marital/relationship status has to do with anything.

      • Yeah, this made me cringe, too!

      • Yep. I also cringed.

        If it’s mostly women that are making car buying decisions, can’t we just say: “how to buy a car”?

        I’ve had salesman try to cheat me, but I don’t think it was related to my gender. The “this car is only available for a limited time! So please make a deposit using this handy paypal link to reserve it if you want to buy it!” trick is directed at all buyers, not just women.

        If the salesman were stupid enough to act like my SO were the decision maker, I would just leave and not buy a car there. There are dozens and dozens of dealerships. Just go to a different one if they can’t figure out that who the customer is.

    • Anonymous :

      I guess I don’t understand why you are offended. Perhaps the wording was off, but don’t pretend like dealers don’t treat women differently. When I went to buy my last car, my husband was with me and the salesmen kept trying to talk to him/ask him questions. I had done all the research and it was going to be my car. I finally said I’m the one you need to deal with. My best advice is to shop around email quotes (final/out the door pricing with all taxes/fees). I got one quote, and then sent it to another dealer to ask if they could beat it. They did so I went in to negotiate in person. I then sent that offer to a third dealer who said they could give me the same exact deal, but nothing better. That’s how I knew I got a fair deal.

      • Anonymous :

        +1. I bought a car last spring. The dealership was busy with customers and salespeople. On day one I was the ONLY woman in the room other than the receptionist. On day 2, there were a couple of other women but they were with husbands/male whomevers who did all the talking. It was a very weird vibe.

        And I did feel that the salesman tried to take advantage of me, though of course I don’t know whether he would have done the same with someone else of whatever gender. I came in having been promised X; he changed it to Y; I threatened to walk out; I got X. I signed paperwork for a car with no miles; he called the next day with the news that the car at 4000 miles but that was only because of the color I had chosen. I threatened to void the deal; he miraculously came up with a car that had never been driven.

        Women being treated differently in car dealerships is a known phenomenon. Not a universal one by any means, but a known one.

    • Anonymous :

      I don’t even like the revised headline. What about “Tips on Car Buying”? I don’t find the stereotypes about car buying for women hold anymore. My experience is that salespeople know where it’s at. They absolutely pay attention to me. They make their living selling so they don’t need a survey to tell them that typically the women are more about practicality and the men are more about fun. (I bet that the best salespeople use this as a starting point but adjust their tactics quickly when they have a couple who don’t fit the “typical” mold.) But my experience is the salesmen know they have to get me to okay the deal before it will go anywhere, and that I’m the one who’s going to hold out and nitpick and ask questions and get the price down. My husband is a steady, practical guy most of the time, but he loves new cars and he’s already driving it off the lot in his mind the second we step into the dealership. So I’m the one who gets most of the salesman’s attention.

    • Anonymous :

      Also, the photo is of a man.

  2. Senior Attorney :

    My best tip for car buying is to have a good friend who sells cars and will give you the killer BFF deal! My tap dancing teacher changed careers and now sells Audis, and I got a screamin’ deal on the cutest A3 from her! And it makes me feel great to have been able to support her!

    • Anonymous :

      Literally you also tap dance?!? Are you a real person.

      • Senior Attorney :

        Haha I used to tap dance badly. I called it The Weekly Humility Hour. Not for a while now that Miss Amanda is selling cars instead of teaching…

    • This is interesting. When Rosa needed a car, Dad bought it for her. He asked her to come with him, but he did ALL of the talking and negotiating on it. At the end, AFTER everything was figured out, he just pointed to her, gave the guy HER license and said, it is for her. Write it up!

      The lesson here is to get a man to deal with the salesman b/c they do NOT get taken advantage of by the sales man. I am not sure we would do any better if we had a sales WOMAN, b/c I think those people are trained to be piranna’s, knowing that however much MORE $ they can fleece us with is that much MORE in their pocket’s.

      The reason Rosa did not ask Ed to do the buying for her is b/c Ed is NOT sherewd like Dad. Ed is really kind of a pushover, b/c I have seen him order at restrunts and buy things that he does NOT even want b/c the waiter/waitress recommends it. He often tells Rosa he is NOT good at standing up to sales pitches even tho that is what he does all the time At Merril Lynch! FOOEY!

  3. I’ve always bought, since my first car at 19, never leased. My biggest advice is to do your homework before you go in, and come with your own financing. Taking the financing part away from the dealer totally changes the negotiations.

    Also if you like a “new” car but want to save money, considering buying a certified pre-owned car. My last two cars have been certified pre-owned, former leases that were maintained beautifully. I got a newer car but didn’t pay as much, so I could afford to go with a higher-end model.

  4. Anonymous :

    I’m a firm believer in buying the nicest house you can afford and treating cars as functional transport, so my suggestions are based on car as a necessary evil. Plus I have three small kids so zero point in owing something nice that will be covered in cheerio dust.

    1. Buy a newer pre-owned vehicle. Most major manufacturers have certification programs too.
    2. Aim for a two year old vehicle so it has at least a year of warranty left.
    3. Buy towards the end of the month when salespeople are more eager to make quotas for the month.
    4. Buy in January not July – at least in cold weather climate – hardly anyone car shops after Christmas/in winter so they are looking to move inventory.
    5. Test drive it and have it looked over by a mechanic before you buy.
    6. Figure out what vehicle you want by test driving a bunch of different ones, then spend a few months following the preowned market to get a sense of how often newer preowned low mileage vehicles come available and what they sell for. Ask to put as much as possible on your credit card for the points (assuming you pay it off immediate).
    7. Buy your vehicle outright if possible – contribute a set amount to a car fund every month – back up emergency repair/general emergency fund if needed and after a few years, that amount plus the trade- in value of your old car, pays for the new car.

    • Anonymous :

      and by ‘new’ car in # 7 I mean your next newer preowned vehicle.

    • This has been our approach to car buying and it’s worked well. We also tend to keep cars for at least five years, often longer. And I’m sounding like my dad here, but take care of your cars! A well-maintained used car that’s familiar to you (and paid off) is the best kind if you’re not a car person.

    • +2 with the addition of negotiate over email! I bought/negotiated for my last car over email and it was the best thing ever. They FedExed me the paperwork and I wired the money. The only time I went in the dealership was to pick up my new car!

    • Anonymous :

      This is our approach too. Although we typically buy cars that are 3-5 years old and pay cash, usually from a private seller. My husband can do a lot of basic car mechanics and we have a mechanic we trust who inspects the car beforehand, so we don’t feel tied to buying a car still under warranty. We also only buy Hondas and Toyotas and then drive them into the ground. (My last Honda was my commuter car and I finally gave it up at 300,000 miles. It still ran well, but I wanted something newer and bigger now that I have three kids and a shorter commute.)

    • Anonymous :

      My husband works for a dealership (not in sales though).

      #3 is a huge thing (doubly so in the winter)

  5. Anonymous :

    Have parents that will give/sell you their used cars when they want a new one? I’m almost 40 and have never bought a car except from my parents. Everyone in my family drives Toyotas and they last forever. My parents like to upgrade every 10 years, so they typically drive their cars from years 0 to 10 and then spouse & I drive them from years 10 to 20. I know they maintain their cars really well so I get the price benefits of not going through a dealership without having to worry about vetting a third party seller. My parents aren’t going to be driving forever though, so I’m going to have to figure out a new plan soon.

    • Anonymous :

      My family regards the first 100K miles as the break-in period, so I’d still have no wheels on this plan.

    • Anonymous :


      I’m still driving my father’s 1997 Toyota Camry. I’m almost 50!

    • Same! I have never actually bought a car from someone other than my dad. We call it “Pompom Pop’s Used Car Lot” and depending on the situation, he’ll self-finance, if possible. Last purchase was the first one where we didn’t live right around the corner, and he offered to deliver the car to us 500 mi away, so long as we bought him a train ticket back.

      (in other news, Pompom Pop is pretty freakin awesome, and I am very lucky)

  6. Linda from HR :

    I have a question on test driving:

    When I bought my car, the test drive resembled a driver’s test – a quick drive through some nearby residential backstreets and that was it. Got a feel for how the brakes and steering felt, but I was disappointed that I couldn’t take it on a nearby highway or even main roads to get a feel for how it handled going more than 30MPH. When I was young and my parents were looking at cars, they were usually able to take test drives on the highway if only for a little bit.

    In hindsight, could I have said something to the dealer like “That’s it? I only drove for 10 minutes and we barely even hit 30MPH. I was hoping to take it on [main road] or [highway] if possible, since most of my driving will be getting me out of the city.” Or was I right to just accept that’s how the dealership did their test drives? Should I have gone somewhere else with a better route or somewhere that gave people options on where to test drive?

    The car I ended up getting was okay, but I have some regrets on how I went about buying it and I want to be better prepared and informed for next time, which might be somewhere in the next year or so.

    • Anonymous :

      Ask for a better test drive and shop elsewhere if you don’t get one. I once drove it home to see how the stroller would fit in the trunk – ten minute drive each way plus i took it on the highway for 20 minutes after. I can’t imagine test drive for less than a half hour and would definitely want to try it on the highway. I hate test drives when the salesperson comes with you.

    • Anonymous :

      We’ve always been able to take the car home for 24 hours and so we drive on the highway, etc. during that test period. Also helpful for really playing with the features.

      • A GM dealership almost forced me to take a car home for 24 hours on a test “drive” even after I told them I wasn’t sure I could swing it financially!! And this was when I was 22 years old.

    • I’m sure that they would let you take it further if you ask, and that a lot of people do ask.

      When I last shopped (last year), all of my test drives were on my own, completely unrestricted. I had to give them a copy of my license or something, but they just gave me the keys and told me to have at it. I could take it wherever I wanted, for as long (I assume within reason) as I wanted.

      • Linda from HR :

        I’ve seen both, this one was accompanied and again I didn’t question it, but I probably should have. Part of me wonders if he didn’t trust me to drive unsupervised (not because I’d steal it, but because I’m clearly a silly little girl who can’t be trusted to operate big machinery all by herself).

    • You’ve definitely gotta take it on the freeway at least long enough to see how it accelerates on an on-ramp. I test drove a car that couldn’t get up to highway speed by the end of the ramp even though I had it floored. No thanks, I need a car that can get me out of the way quick if it needs to.

  7. My tip for anyone is to buy your car through AAA. It’s a member service they offer for what, in the grand scheme of buying a car is a nominal fee (I think about $300?). You have to know what it is you want (year, make, model, features, color, any packages, etc.) but then AAA will find the car and give you a price. There is no negotiating. In my experience, it’s always been a better price than a dealership. Always.

    The best part – they drive the car to your house, you sign the paperwork at your house, and you never, ever have to set foot in a dealership. On my last purchase, they even did a trade in with my old car and helped me set up the financing. My husband and I, and his parents, have bought 6+ cars this way and we’ve never had an issue. My husband is a unique sort and loves cars, and will go and test drive cars for fun, so he did all of the prior research for me.

    The person who drove this car to my house last time (in 2015) was a retired 75 year old man who does this as a side job.

    Now, you cannot buy any car through this program, and there may be some other limitations I am not aware of. For example, I know they didn’t have my husband’s Audi RS whatever available, but I think if you’re looking for a normal-ish, mass-marketed car, then you will save time, money and, most importantly, your sanity buying a car this way.

    • Trying to use the AAA program – which sounds awesome – but cannot figure out any fee-based option where they winnow it down like this. We’re members and have been forever.

      We know what we want. We need it soon. We can figure out the financing… just need to get a good price at a reputable dealer in our area (DC). The AAA program you describe sounds awesome, but I cannot find anything in my membership info beyond a TrueCar guaranteed price I then have to take to dealers (who are already emailing me…) Any tips or a website?

  8. Every time a car-buying thread comes up I just want to scream because there is so much misinformation. I work in the automotive industry so I see all the back end numbers. Buying a car isn’t a conspiracy and it certainly isn’t a conspiracy against women. Most cars have a pretty small mark up.

    • Anonymous :

      This is true. But as you know there are always additional charges that can be recommended/added on, car switches, trade in value, dealer financing etc.. that are a complex game for those who are unprepared. And it is absolutely true that women often are not treated as well during this process.

      I enjoyed last week’s This American Life (can listen to the podcast online) that deals with the slim margin on cars these days, and what it is like to sell them. Very enlightening.

  9. I am wondering if women, particularly single women, have more difficulty buying used than new – or maybe I just got really lucky with my dealership and salesperson. I decided beforehand what car I wanted, test-drove it on both highway and back roads (and scared the sh*t out of the sales clerk because he didn’t drive stick, ha), and bought it new from the dealer that quoted the lowest price to me. No difficulty or condescension whatsoever. Sales guy was no BS, just walked me through the loan and trade-back process, left me alone to read a magazine while the paperwork went through, then ordered the car for me from the nearest dealership that had that vehicle on the lot. I’ve had more difficult visits to the dentist.

  10. Anonymous :

    Agreed on the end of the month shopping, we leased our last car on the 31st and got a great deal! I also like to get a good quote from one dealer and then call another dealer to see if they will beat it (some will, some won’t) and potentially take that strategy even further until I know I am getting a great deal. Unfortunately this whole process can take time (months) and be very frustrating (“We can’t sell you that car for this price! Are you crazy?!”). I do all the negotiating for cars in our family, my husband thinks I am better at it because I have more stamina/patience to wait for a good deal.

  11. Mary Ann Singleton :

    I used a broker to buy a new car. He negotiated the deal for me, and even with his fees I came out ahead since I got a screaming deal on a new car (last day of the month, I had to be ready to close quickly and go to the dealership where he found a deal). The broker was super gruff but I already knew that from the yelp reviews – so I was happy to work with him despite him being kind of unpleasant. He did all the communication with the dealer, and I think he called in a favor to get me the color I wanted. When I showed up at the dealership I already knew what the deal was, and I declined any “extras” they tried to foist on me.

  12. LadyKay13 :

    I have the benefit of my family being in the car business, in some way, my entire life. My late father worked in the business for 35+ years. I actually recently had to go through this, as my husband had a minor accident which resulted in our car being a total loss. I did all of the research, calls, test drives, etc. My husband came with me for almost all of the in person stuff and I did find they started by looking at him and directing things to him. Until they realized *I* was the one that knew about cars then they slowly (and tried to tactfully) change gears. Some did better than others. If you go armed with information (price comparisons, consumer reports, questions, etc) they are less like to pull the “howdy lil’ lady” routine I find! Happy Car Hunting!

  13. My tips would be: (1) don’t buy a new car – they lose value too quickly and the high price is rarely justified; (2) don’t buy from a dealership – I’ve found better deals from private purchases (try eBay and Craigslist); (3) check the Bluebook value and use that to estimate the high end of what you should pay for the car; (4) take the car for a test drive before purchasing and have an independent mechanic look it over during that time; and (5) unless you’re really in a dire situation, don’t finance a car purchase at all – you can get a good used car for $5k or less, which you can probably save up before purchasing. Car payments are usually unnecessary debt and you can quickly get underwater financing a new car, especially if you’re rolling the remaining loan from your existing car into the new loan. It’s a terrible financial move – don’t do it.

  14. I just leased a car. Not to be too hard on the very good folks who helped me out, I had one salesman tell me on several occasions (meaning to emphasize the superiority of the dealership’s service capabilities) that they had a manicurist on staff. I applaud the effort to cater to female clients. But his managers were not giving him the right tools. Females can count, too. And we have jobs. And counting up on my (already manicured) fingers and toes, I’d have to be in for oil changes … um… an AWFUL lot before that offset the $250/month incremental cost of leasing his vehicle, vs. the virtually identical vehicle offered by his competitor. At which point, having been off work that frequently, to get to the dealership on time to see his manicurist, I’m sure I would be out of a job and unable to afford the lease!

  15. Anonforthis :

    This post is offensive. Buying a car is not hard. Good grief.

    Pre-owned is a good deal. My last experience was I walked into BMW dealer a few miles from my house from an Uber, said I wanted 2-3 year old M3, dude showed me 3, I picked one, signed papers and left with said M3. Dude was fine, got a good price, and .9% financing with nothing down.

  16. Mineallmine :

    I’ve bought/sold a lot of cars, and my best tip is do your research and don’t bring a male friend, or the sales rep will end up talking to him and ignoring you. You don’t have to be an expert, but make them talk to YOU, the buyer. If you see a saleswoman, particularly a ‘no nonsense’ looking one, it’s worth talking to her – Saturn used to have great woman sales reps, but at other dealerships I’ve had the experience that the woman just fetches her male colleague when I start asking technical questions. Those tend to be at dealerships that have pretty, untrained women out front to attract the guys and they’ve never treated me well as a buyer.

    Do your research, or at least know what exactly you want in a car, and walk in the dealer like you’re walking into a meeting – you’re in charge.

  17. Anonymous :

    I bought my last car through Costco and was satisfied. Costco does not actually sell cars, but they have relationships with dealers and you get a “Costco price” that is not negotiable. From my research, the Costco price was pretty reasonable. You could probably do better if you are good at haggling, but it was a low stress way for me to buy my car.

  18. I agree with many of the above – so I won’t repeat the tips. But another thing to make sure is to start looking at buying a car and go shopping when you don’t quite YET NEED a car. Be willing to walk away. I do all of our car buying, and my husband wasn’t even in the room for his car or mine. Once they found out I was doing the dealing, they got VERY intimidated by me. They found out that I wasn’t going to back down, or just fold. I walked out a few times, and finally got a price that was amazing. But you have to do your homework first too, so you know what a good deal and a bad deal is.

    Good luck – it’s never an easy process, but incredibly rewarding when you take your car home. :)

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