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By Renee Morad

“Car shopping is so much fun, said no one ever.” That’s how Laura Zuluaga, a director of operations for an engineering firm, described her experience on Facebook.

Last year, Zuluaga, 28, totaled her car in an automobile accident and was looking to purchase a Nissan Altima or Rogue for around $15,000. But after visiting six dealerships, the Orlando resident felt she wasn’t going to get very far as a female car buyer.

“The first salesperson I encountered acted very arrogant and basically told me that I didn’t know what I wanted,” Zuluaga recounted. “Another time, I brought along my husband to a dealership, and the salesperson completely disregarded me. Eventually, my husband told the salesperson that he should be talking to me about my wants and needs, not his, since it would be my car."

Laura Zuluaga, 29, of Orlando, Fla.Courtesy of Laura Zuluaga

After several bad experiences, she called SheCar, a woman-owned online auto dealership, which in July helped her purchase a Nissan Rogue for $5,000 below what any other dealership had offered her for cars that were older models, with more miles and fewer amenities.

Zuluaga is certainly not alone in feeling frustrated during the car-buying process. For example, when Jennifer Libin, a sales director for auto consulting firm Automotive Profit Builders in Framingham, Mass., walked into a car dealership a few years ago, she was ignored by the sales team and had to seek out assistance herself.

“I told the salesperson that I was interested in a specific vehicle, and he asked me if I was going to buy it,” Libin, 29, said. “I told him I wasn’t sure, and he told me to come back when I wanted to buy it. He never even unlocked the car for me.”

Roughly 65 percent of new vehicle purchases are made by women. Still, females often have a harder time at the car dealership.

“Women are generally treated very differently at car dealerships,” Libin said. “Salespeople often assume that someone else, like a husband or a father, is needed to purchase the vehicle, and women tend to have a serious distrust in the salesperson.”

Athena Staton, owner of SheCar, said women themselves also believe they need to have a man with them or to negotiate on their behalf when buying a car, despite being well informed and educated about the auto market. “Teach a woman to fish and then she turns to a man to reel in the catch,” Staton said. “We have a long way to go.”

Fortunately, there are simple tools women can use to get the respect, fairness and deals they deserve.

Trust your gut

If something doesn’t seem right, it likely isn’t, Staton warned. If you believe a dealership used a bait-and-switch sales tactic by advertising a deal that is nowhere to be found when you arrive in person, or if you have a feeling that a car has a maintenance issue that is being overlooked, trust yourself and walk away.

“If your internal alarm doesn’t seem right, don’t ignore it,” Staton said. “When your gut is telling you to beware, but your brain justifies by saying, ‘it’s fine, be nice,’ listen to your gut.”

Be upfront about what you want

Nakita Joshi leads the sales team of 45 ethnically diverse professionals at Downey Nissan in Downey, CalifNissan / Nissan

“Having an open mind when looking for a car is helpful,” said Nakita Joshi, sales manager at a Downey Nissan in Downey, Calif. “But what’s even more helpful is walking into the dealership with a checklist of what you really want.”

Joshi said this clears up any confusion about budget or must-have features and also saves time for both the customer and car salesperson. “Tell your salesperson what your budget is, and stick to it,” she added. If they don’t have what you want, then leave. You’ll find what you’re looking for elsewhere, Staton said. Above all, be confident in yourself and your ability to find a good deal.

Trust your dealership—and your salesperson

“The best thing to do is find a dealership that you trust and have confidence in,” Libin said. She suggested using a place that your friends and neighbors recommend. Check user reviews as well.

“There are two types of car dealership stories: horror stories and hero stories,” Libin said. “People think car dealerships are either the worst place in the world or the best place in the world. Finding a reputable one is key.”

It’s also helpful to find a salesperson you connect with. Joshi said that if you don’t click with someone right away, you shouldn’t be shy about requesting someone else to work with. “Not everyone has the same personality, and in order to have a good experience, you definitely need a salesperson you feel comfortable with,” she said.

Don’t hold back on the questions

When you walk into a car dealership, know that you are being told exactly what you want to hear, Staton warned. Dealers can identify so-called “hot buttons,” such as weakness, fear or desire very quickly, and will zero in on it to close a sale. Take insincere praise, for example.

A little flattery goes a long way, and some car dealers will use it shamelessly,” Staton said. “Be mindful about what is not being said and question every single thing you are told,” Staton said.

Know how you’ll pay for the car before you fall in love with it

“Talk to a bank or credit union, get pre-qualified and then stay below your max budget,” Staton said. It helps to know not only what you can afford, but what credit score you’re working with to determine whether you’ll get a good interest rate for auto financing. Joshi advised bringing along a copy of a recent pay stub to help you qualify for auto financing.

Buying a car can be filled with unexpected twists and turns, but remaining confident, savvy and transparent about what you’re looking for can go a long way. Remember, you’re in the driver’s seat of your own car-buying journey, and your car should be purchased entirely on your own terms and conditions.