Forget the cologne. For this Father's Day, help Dad get what he really wants: a new car.
There are two approaches to Father's Day car shopping. The first is to plan a fun, no-pressure morning of back-to-back test drives that let Dad check out the cars that appeal to him. Cap it with brunch or lunch and a discussion of which car he liked best.
The second route is to surprise him with a car. This is riskier, though, as you'll see later in this article.
THE FATHER'S DAY TEST DRIVE
The goal isn't necessarily to buy the car on Father's Day. Sundays are busy at car dealerships, and you'd be smart to save the actual purchase for a weekday. To make the day a success, you'll want to line up a few things first:
DO ONLINE RESEARCH: Dad and his car-buying assistants should research the makes and models that best suit him. Narrow the list to about three cars.
CHECK OUT THE DEALS: See if there are lease specials, special financing or bonus cash offers on the cars that make the final list.
SCHEDULE BACK-TO-BACK TEST-DRIVE APPOINTMENTS: Call the dealerships ahead of time to make sure the vehicles Dad wants to drive are in stock. He'll want to test the car in the trim level and with the options he's after. Make appointments for the drives to ensure the vehicles will be ready when you arrive. The first should be as early in the morning as possible because it will get busier at dealerships as the day goes on.
By having two or three test-drive appointments on Dad's schedule, you have a built-in reason to leave a dealership that may be eager to talk price before you're ready. Plan at least a half-hour for each drive.
DO A FIT TEST: Is this vehicle going to do carpool duty and team hauling? If so, Dad and his shopping assistants should check out the cargo area with seating positions the way he'd want them during his daily driving. Will everybody fit? Is there room to carry sports and school gear? What about the dog?
CHECK THE CAR SEATS: Are there little ones in the family? Be certain that the cars Dad is considering can accommodate car seats. Bring them along to confirm an easy fit. When checking out a vehicle's rear seats, be sure to check the LATCH attachments and positions.
BRING ALONG THE RESEARCH: Whether they're in your phone or notes, have these handy. And just in case you do buy that day, a few quick phone calls to get price quotes from nearby dealerships will help with negotiations. Remind Dad and any co-purchasers to bring driver's licenses, proof of insurance and an approved car loan from a bank or credit union. Having a preapproved loan is a good idea.
DEBRIEF: Over lunch or brunch, Dad can share his impressions and narrow the field. During the week, the buying team can get competitive price quotes on the car that Dad's chosen and wrap up the deal.
THE SURPRISE APPROACH
To be honest, it's probably too late to have the perfect car in Dad's driveway by Father's Day. You don't want to rush a car purchase. But you can start planning now for next year.
Buying a car as a gift is tricky, even with lots of time to plan. In most cases, you can't return a new car that you've just bought. With that in mind:
MAKE SURE YOU CHOOSE THE RIGHT CAR: Find a clever way to figure out the features Dad would want in a new car. If you see a commercial for a car you think he'd like, ask his opinion about it. Test drives are the ideal way to see what he wants, but unlike the upfront approach described above, it's hard to hide your intentions.
HAVE A STRATEGY FOR FINANCING AND TITLING: In some states, it's not legal to buy a car in someone else's name. And if it's a title you would share with Dad, he would still need to be there to sign the paperwork. There goes the surprise.
In both situations, it is important to check with the dealership or your state's department of motor vehicles to learn the laws regarding finance and vehicle titles.
TELL THE DEALERSHIP TO KEEP YOUR PLANS A SECRET: This can help you navigate any titling and financing issues without spoiling the secret.
DON'T GIVE THE DEALERSHIP A PHONE NUMBER THAT DAD CAN ACCESS: You don't want him to accidentally intercept your secret plans. Get a temporary Google Voice phone number for your car-buying calls. Once you've sprung the big surprise, make sure the dealership gets a real phone number (probably Dad's) in case it needs to reach him.
DON'T EXPECT A DEALERSHIP TO SUPPLY A GIFT BOW: Dealerships stock them only during certain times of the year. If you want the big bow, there are companies that sell them. Make sure you order in time to wrap up the surprise.