Car Shopping Made Female Friendly

For many female shoppers, buying a car can be a terrifying experience.

They might be savvy businesswomen, great negotiators and smart with their money, but for some reason when they walk through those showroom doors a chill runs down their spines.

Duane Overholt, who worked for more than two decades at car dealerships in Pennsylvania and Florida, can attest to the travails that many women face when buying a car.

"Women are preyed upon. They are easy targets," said Overholt, who now works as an automobile fraud consultant.

Overholt said predatory dealers use all sorts of scare tactics to squeeze more money out of female customers. The message generally is: you don't know anything about cars, trust us.

Women are less likely to be ripped off on price than in the past because of Internet and other resources available to learn the true cost of veheicles, he said.

But too often, he said, women get suckered into buying extras, like an extended warranty or gap insurance, which is meant to pay the difference between the actual cash value your car and the outstanding balance on your loan or lease. He said dealers will also play games with the value of trade-in vehicles.

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Car Dealer Scams

Even long after a sale is made, the dealer will still target women for more cash. That usually happens in the service department where the message is: "You've got to get this service done and the best way to get it done is with experienced technicians, when the consumer can actually get those same services probably outside the dealership much cheaper," Overholt said.

He said some dealers will exploit women's fears about safety. There might be a superficial cut on a tire and they will play it like a major safety problem that must be resolved.

"Most men will throw the dice," he said. "Most women won't." The same can be said about brakes -- women are more likely to replace parts that men would take a chance on.

"Dealers right now are making the money on service -- they aren't making it on sales," Overholt added.

Partly in response to the trouble women have with car dealers, more services have cropped up to help them cope.

One new Web site,, is aiming to level the playing field, offering reviews of dealerships from the female perspective and certifying some businesses as "women-friendly."

Anne Fleming founded the site after her own experiences shopping for a car.

The former senior marketing director at a decorative lighting company was used to negotiating every day in business. But when it came time for her to buy a car, "I wanted no part of it," Fleming said.

So for $200 she hired a car negotiator who helped her save about $700 on a used BMW 325xi.

"Professionally I would negotiate the button off your shirt to get that get to the gross margin that I needed for my company," Fleming said. "But yet when it came to buying a car, I actually hired someone to do all that for me."

The absurdity of that really hit her one day when having lunch with her boss. After telling him about buying the new car, he said: "You manage a $30 million account, you travel the world by yourself, why did you give your power away?"

Then she read the book "Women Don't Ask" by Carnegie Mellon University professor Linda Babcock.

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