Recommending a Car for Someone Else: An Enthusiast's Guide

It’s bound to happen sometime, we have friend or family member come to us and say something along the lines of, “I need a new car. You know cars, what do you think I should get?” Mr. Doug DeMuro is much wiser than I and has decided to opt out of this process. But let’s face it, as dangerous as these waters can be, most of us can’t resist taking a swim. In case I haven’t mentioned it for the billionth time, I do this for money (the shopping for cars thing, not the writing thing). I have learned some tricks over the years on the art of car recommendation that I will share with you.

Before we start, let me get something out of the way, this is not a car for YOU, this is a car for THEM. So as much as we want to say, “You need a family car, CTS-V” or “You don’t need a family car, get a Miata,” the appeal of these vehicles is limited to an enlightened few. That is not to say you can’t recommend Jalop worthy cars, but be realistic about it. Oh, and as realistic as a Jetta TDI wagon may seem, for the majority of the buyers out there you might as well suggest a spaceship.

So how do you do it?

First, listen to the initial question. More often than not they have already made up their mind, and just want a sounding board to confirm their choice. Since you are informed about cars, they want to feel good about picking what they did. So if they say, “I’m thinking about getting an Avalon Hybrid, what do you think?” The wrong answer is, “Are you sure you want a hybrid? Often the gas savings takes too long to offset the premium you pay for the electric motor.” (I lost a potential customer this way). The right answer is “Yeah, those are nice.” Of course this only applies to vehicles that are “reasonable” to begin with. If your grandmother comes to you with, “I’m thinking of getting a BAC Mono...” either she is the coolest grandma IN THE WORLD, or she is a little confused and really wants a Buick Encore.

If they haven’t made up their mind completely but have some type of clue and say something like, “I need a family sedan, what should I get?” feel free to indulge some options. Of course making legitimate, well informed, suggestions is sometimes going to be met with resistance. Luckily, Matt Hardigree has just the solution for our misguided masses. However, as much as Matt speaks the truth, you can’t always change perception. Therefore, if you are going to tread these waters do it carefully, if someone says “Are Hyundais any good?” do fill them in on how far the Koreans have come. If they say “I hate BMWs,” do not try to convince them to get a 3-series even if they want a German sports-sedan.

If they have no clue at all, it is interview time: “How many people will you be transporting regularly?” “Do you need four-wheel-drive?” Now is not the time to explain the difference between 4WD/AWD. I know you want to, just let it go. “What type of activities do you do?” “What do you want in a car?” (You can go on and on, but that should cover the basics).

Once you have narrowed down the vehicle category, it is time to get to the details. First up, “How much do you want to spend?” I also follow this up with, “How much do you want to put down, and what kind of monthly payment are you comfortable with?” I realize this seems redundant, but I can’t tell you how many times people have come to me wanting a $25k car for $2500 down and 250/month. I am a good negotiator, but not that good.

Next, “How long do you plan on keeping this car?” and “About how many miles do you drive per month?” These two questions along with their budget should narrow down the field significantly; it will also determine whether or not leasing is a good option.

Finally, “What do you drive now?” following up with, “What do you like about it, and what do you not like about it?” This gives you a clue as to their vehicular priorities such as: MPGs, performance, luxury, features etc...

So that about covers it. Yes, there are plenty more questions you can ask and this back and forth can go on for days, or even weeks (I have had that happen) so I tried to create a methodology for about a 30 min conversation. Final thoughts to keep in mind: it is not YOUR CAR, listen carefully, and give enough information but no too much. Lastly, don’t recommend them a car to buy, recommend them a few cars to test-drive and leave the final decision up to them.

At the end of the day maybe Doug was right, and we should not even bother or we should just tell everyone to buy a Lamborghini or a old Range Rover. They will either stop bothering us, or our roadways will become much more interesting. I encourage you to share your stories and tips below, or tell me I am completely full of it and have no business recommending cars to anyone.

Thanks for reading.