Let me get the crux of this review out of the way: the car buying service offered by the North Carolina State Employees' Credit Union (of which I am a member) rocks. Before I get to the details, allow me to provide a little background.
I've been driving a 1999 Mazda Protege since June of 2000. The Protege is an extremely reliable car, but mine was really starting to show its age: rust was visible in a few places, the pin stripes on the side were flaking off, and the car had gotten quite loud on the road (the wind and road noise were pretty unbearable). Having talked about getting a new car for a year or two, I finally decided to take action. In searching for a new car, I had a few essential criteria:
- It should be a four-door sedan
- It should have a quiet and smooth ride
- It should be a step up in quality from my Protege
I ended up test driving five vehicles, all in the same size and price class: the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry. All of these vehicles have their own strengths and weaknesses (e.g. the Mazda 6 was the sexiest on the outside, but had a rather loud and "active" ride), but I was able to whittle it down to two cars: the Altima and the Camry. I ended up choosing the Camry (though it was admittedly a tough choice; the Altima is a pretty nice vehicle).
Once I knew what I wanted, I started looking at local dealers' prices. My dad reminded me that our credit union had a car buying service, so I looked into it, mostly out of curiosity. Their process typically works as follows:
- You select the make, model, and year of the car you're looking for.
- You select the color and options you're interested in.
- You provide some contact information and submit.
Once the credit union has your information, they'll look for a car that most closely matches what you asked for. They'll then negotiate a price for that car, and will let you know what that price is. The turnaround time for this entire process was only two days (I submitted the request on a Monday and had a quote the very next day). My primary goal was to get an anchor price that I could use when negotiating with the local dealers.
The quote I received for the car I was interested in was way less than I expected it would be; nearly $5500 off the sticker price! Not only that, but they offered me nearly double what Carmax would have given me for my Protege! Needless to say, I was stunned at how competitive the deal was. Car shopping is an intimidating process and the negotiation phase was something I wasn't looking forward to at all. This service shortcut that headache altogether!
I decided to not even bother trying to negotiate for a better deal elsewhere. I'm sure there are people who could have gotten a better deal, but I decided that my time and efforts were worth something, and SECU's offer was very tempting. The car was delivered to my local SECU branch (they can deliver to your house, if you so desire), and most of the paperwork was handled for me. I essentially drove to my bank and swapped cars with the driver who delivered it (after signing the requisite forms, of course).
All in all, I would definitely use this service again. I'm so impressed with how easy it all was, and it took the most frustrating aspect of car buying out of the equation completely. If you're a member of a credit union, I highly recommend checking out this kind of service if it's available. It just might be the way I handle car buying from now on.