How to Buy a Limousine

LCT Staff
Posted on January 1, 2001

Whether you’re a first-time buyer or adding to your fleet, there are many factors to consider when buying a limousine. First, what is your specialty or niche? If you cater mostly to corporate clients, you’re probably in the market for something smaller and more conservative. However, if your specialty is handling large groups, you’re in the market for something completely different. Second, know your budget and what features you need in a limousine. Research your vehicle and financing options thoroughly before making your decision.

Researching Models One of the best ways to gather information and compare the latest models is to attend the trade shows. “I really enjoy the shows because you get to sit in the limos, look at the different styles and ask the guys questions about them,” says Gene Cookenboo, owner of Presidential Limousine. “When you buy a car, you don’t do it over the Internet — you go down to the dealership and look at all the different models. And it’s really great to go to a show and see what the Lincoln is going to look like, what the Cadillac is going to look like, and what the pricing is.” Trade shows offer the opportunity to meet the industry players and make comparisons. You’re given the chance to develop relationships with the coachbuilders that you’re interested in doing business with, and network with others in the industry to find out why they may prefer a specific coachbuilder.

Pricing Considerations Once you’ve zeroed-in on a couple of models, you can become concerned with pricing. “If you limit yourself originally to pricing, you don’t open your mind to what you really might need to accommodate your customer base,” says Pete Corelli of Lakeview Custom Coach in Oaklyn, N.J., an independent dealer that represents Krystal Enterprises and others. Corelli encourages buyers to first analyze their market and customer base.

After determining the type of vehicle you’re looking for, narrow your search down to two or three companies and do further research. Corelli emphasizes not to be swayed by the price if the vehicle doesn’t completely accommodate your needs. One option is choosing three products that will work equally for you — one of better quality, one in the middle, and one on the lower end of the spectrum. When you start working on pricing, decide what you can live without and what is crucial to your business, and you’ll still end up with a nice vehicle that meets your needs.

Do research on how the vehicle is constructed, warranty programs and available service centers. Corelli adds, “It’s very difficult for the buyer to find information on how the vehicle is constructed, so most of the time you say, ‘Okay, this company has been around for 15 years, what’s your warranty program?’” Once you feel comfortable with the quality of the product and the warranty program, then you can start discussing the price of the vehicle. Cookenboo advises prospective buyers to familiarize themselves with the trade magazines and industry newspapers available, and network with colleagues to determine what fair-market pricing is.

To Lease or Not to Lease Leasing can enable you to own something you might not otherwise be able to afford. However, it’s also important to take into account your own income tax situation. “From the buyer’s perspective, current tax laws definitely favor leasing,” says Dave Reynolds, vice president and general manager of Edson Financial. When purchasing a limousine, “a loan is a loan is a loan,” Reynolds says. Often, it’s simply up to the buyer to compare loans, and the best rate wins. This is not true of leasing, which often becomes complicated because of confusing contractual language and unexpected costs. “I would recommend that any lease or loan quote is always presented in a detailed format for careful review,” Reynolds says. “Ask questions if you are unsure of terms and conditions.”

Corelli agrees. “The price of the vehicle has nothing to do with it when you’re leasing,” Corelli says. “It’s important to ask what the lease figures are, if that’s the route you choose to take. Decide on the length of the lease you want and ask what it’s going to cost you monthly. It may be possible to get the product you really want with a minimal difference in monthly payment.”

The Dollars and Sense of Financing It’s always in the buyer’s best interest to get the financing set up before shopping for the vehicle. When you have “cash in hand” and approach the seller, that usually enhances your negotiating leverage. If you are established with good credit, financing is easy. For start-ups, or those with poor credit history, financing is getting increasingly difficult, notes Reynolds. “My best suggestion to buyers is to have a complete financial package ready to go for the prospective lender/lessor. Included in the package should be: A completed application, a one-page overview of the business, bank statements for two months, your latest tax return, and any financial statements available,” Reynolds says. He adds that start-ups should be prepared to accurately show revenue sources for the monthly vehicle payment. “Another smart idea is to shop around to at least two or three financing sources to make certain you’re not only getting a good rate but also a good structure and fair contractual terms and conditions,” he says.

Sedans: Is the Used Route For You? If the majority of your business is corporate-based, and you find yourself needing sedans more often than a stretch, an increasingly popular option is going the used route. It may be possible to pick up a sedan coming off a lease with low mileage and still under warranty. “I just bought six 2000 year models, and they range between 12,000 and 14,000 miles on each. To me, that’s barely broken in,” Cookenboo says. Jon Epstein, vice president of Royal Coachman in N.J., advises buying a used car from someone you know. “If you don’t know the person, you want to run a Carfax and and check the car out,” he says. “Carfax allows you to go online as a subscriber, put the VIN number in, and it will tell you if there’s any odometer rollback, title discrepancies, anything like that.” It’s also possible to get deals on program cars. Epstein adds, “Major rental car companies have a deal with the manufacturer where they keep the car for up to six months and they have a certain mileage allowance that they go by. After that time, they return it back to the manufacturer and then those cars pop up at an auction. Those are typically program cars.”

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