By Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor
Before we were willing to endorse car-buying expert Oren Weintraub, president of Authority Car Buying Specialists, we wanted to put him to the test.
We challenged Weintraub to buy a 2009 Ford Flex Limited for less than we could. We shopped around and got a price of $500 over invoice, which sounded pretty good for a just-released new model. Weintraub found a deal at $1,500 below invoice. This more than paid for the $695 fee he charged for his car-buying concierge services.
After seeing how much money he was able to save us, we decided that Weintraub might know a thing or two that car buyers should hear. So we sat down in a local restaurant and recorded this conversation with the 40-year-old former car dealer.
Edmunds: How did you get into the car business?
Weintraub: One of my best friends was working at a Dodge dealership so I applied for a job there, and I got hired. And I really just fell in love with the business. Later, I spent 12 years working at one of the top dealerships in the U.S.: Vista Ford in Woodland Hills, California.
How did you learn to sell cars?
There was no training. They just gave me a couple of videos to watch about the car and they said, "Go out and sell cars."
Was the negotiation process difficult to learn?
Very difficult and very uncomfortable in the beginning. I've seen hundreds, thousands of people in a negotiation just be completely uncomfortable, because most people are negotiating blind. It's just a very uncomfortable feeling, and it leaves you wondering, "Did I get a good deal?"
But you must know if it's a good deal.
We know every single aspect of how dealerships make money.
Why did you leave the dealership?
As the years went by it was hard for me to sit in front of these people who I had such a great rapport with and see them spend more money than they had to.
So it was a crisis of conscience?
It was a major conflict of interest for me.
What can you offer people who use your services?
It's very time-consuming for people to buy a car. So much is at stake. If you spent $4,000 more on a car that you didn't have to, where could that money go? I knew that there was a tremendous need for people to have someone like me look out for their best interests.
How much do you charge for your service?
Our fee depends on the price of the car you are buying. And then we have a different service for people who have already shopped and have numbers that want us to improve the deal. In that case we charge a percentage of the amount of money we are able to save you.
Can you give me an example of a deal you worked on recently?
A client was negotiating a deal for a BMW and she didn't like who she was dealing with at the dealership. She presented us the deal she negotiated, and we saved her over $6,000.
How did you do that?
They had inflated the purchase price and the price of the back-end products she wanted.
What is the difference between what you do and a car broker?
We're really more like a concierge service since we get the fee from the client. Buying a car is as easy as ordering takeout. You call us, you tell us what you want and it's done. Most of the time, the car will be delivered to you at your home or office.
Do you recommend having cars delivered to your clients?
Most of the time we can have cars delivered along with the contract for you to sign. We do have clients that either want the experience at the dealership, or some dealerships just won't deliver. So as part of our process to eliminate any mistakes, we review all contracts so when the client goes there for the golden moment, there are no surprises.
When you were a dealer, did you have much to do with car brokers?
I had dealt with many car brokers at Vista Ford, and I've seen many car brokers take advantage of their clients because their commission was not disclosed.
Where do most people go wrong in car deals?
The first place people really go wrong is making an impulse decision. You know, they go to the dealership and fall under the ether of the excitement.
If a person has a trade-in, how do you handle that?
We negotiate the trade-in value with the dealership, but we also have our own buyers for trades and we negotiate with them as well. Some people are hot for the car, some are not. So we really find who wants the car — we shop it for them. We find who's going to pay top dollar for the car.
How many employees do you have?
I have two in-house and I have three wholesalers [people who buy from private parties and sell to auctions or dealerships] that work with me. And every dealership in the United States is really...not my employee, but they work for me, because I can control where the deal goes most of the time.
Are you working deals yourself?
Yes. My client services manager and I are working deals every day. I'm really on call 24/7, because work is always on my mind. I'm talking to clients on the weekends and in the evening, but it's from my house or wherever I am. And I have to tell you, I'm the happiest I've ever been in my life, with being able to create this business where I could genuinely help people.
Anyone wanting help with car buying can easily find car brokers with a quick search of the Internet yellow pages. Car-buying concierge services, such as the one discussed here, are less common but a growing trend. Using the Internet to search will tell you if such a service exists in your area. Anyone wishing to contact Weintraub can easily e-mail him through his Web site.