How To Choose A Car Dealership

How To Choose A Car Dealership

Last Updated June 13, 2023 | Andrew Boyle

Whether you’ve got your eyes set on the release of the S650 Ford Mustang, a 2017 Toyota Tundra, or you’re just looking for a new car, you first need to find a reputable dealership from which to purchase it. While this may seem like a daunting task, we’re here to help by breaking down the process of finding a dealership to give you the confidence you need.

The best place to begin your search is by asking family and friends, who drive a similar make of vehicle you’re looking for, for referrals. First-hand knowledge and experience from people you know and trust is more meaningful than any internet research. Make sure to get as much information as you can.

Whether you have a couple referrals from family and friends, or you’re starting from scratch, it’s time to do some internet deep diving. Start by looking for dealerships that are convenient to your location. You may be taking your vehicle there for parts and service so you’ll want something convenient to your house or work. Then look at reviews on the dealership. Check third-party sites like Google or Yelp for reviews. When looking at the reviews, take into consideration how long the dealership has been in business. Solid reviews over the course of 5 years or more, is a good sign.  The Better Business Bureau is also a source for additional information.

Shelby GT350R

Through your research, you’ve identified a dealership that checks all the right boxes. If you have a specific model you’re looking for, you need to make sure it is in stock. Most dealerships have their inventories online, however, the online inventories might not be updated often. It’s time to pick up the phone and get some additional information. Find out if that vehicle is in stock. Ask about how much you could get for your trade. Ask what typical payments would be for the vehicle you’re interested in. If the dealership can’t give you ballpark estimates over the phone and needs you to come in to answer your questions, it’s a huge red flag.

You made it this far, and you’re on your way to the dealership! As you enter the premise, take care to note the following:

  • Is facility clean and well organized?
  • Do employees project a professional image?
  • Do you notice a comfortable waiting area with clean restrooms?
  • Was a salesman quick to help you?
  • When a salesman does help you was that person friendly and helpful, listening to what you are looking for or are they ignoring what you want and pushing you to look at vehicles you aren’t interested in?
  • Was the particular vehicle and price you were interested in still available or is it suddenly no longer available?

These questions can either help you get more comfortable with the dealership or help raise some red flags that could be an indication the dealership isn’t necessarily looking out for your best interest.

In the end, you should always go with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, and you’re not getting a positive vibe, it’s always better to leave and look for another dealership than get sucked into buying a car you settle for rather than the one with the features you really want, with terms and conditions that are not favorable to you or with a service facility that isn’t professionally run.

Sources: How Not to Get Duped When Buying a Used Car, New York Times | How to Find a Great Car Dealership, CarGurus |

This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.