As you may remember, I spent the first half of last week at the USAA headquarters in San Antonio, Texas. A bunch of bloggers were brought together to learn more about USAA, their mission and products. The centerpiece of the trip was the introduction (to us) of USAA's new car research, buying, financing, and insuring product, called Auto Circle.
For those of you who don't know, USAA membership is available to all people who have ever served in the military, plus their kids (and grandkids, as long as the kids in between have had a membership.) Even if you aren't eligible for membership, you can still use USAA's great banking products.
If you've been reading for a while, you will remember what an awful experience I had buying a car this spring. It was so unpleasant, and I am sure we paid too much, and it took up a ridiculous amount of my husband's scarce free time when we could have been doing something fun together. The purchase before that wasn't much better: Even after doing all the preliminary legwork, I showed up at the dealer with a preagreed price and a check, and it still took three hours. With a deployed spouse, three teeny kids, and a very pregnant belly, it was a hassle that I didn't need.
Auto Circle to the rescue! Auto Circle is a comprehensive tool to help you find the right car, find a dealer who will give you a good price, organize the financing and add insurance without spending weeks doing it all. In addition, many of the tools can be used on your iPhone or Droid, making the process even easier. (I am really wishing I had an iPhone now. Those things are amazing. But I digress...)
Starting at the Auto Circle website, you can choose to start with Find, Finance and Insure. The find feature will help you find a particular car, or help you do the research to figure out what car you might want. There are even cars that are called USAA Preferred, meaning that they meet certain standards for purchase price, reliability, insurance costs, fuel efficiency, and safety ratings. (And there are a lot of them, so it is not like they've picked just a few.) You can search for both new and used cars, so it isn't limited to just new cars. Once you've found a car that you think you might like, you can search for nearby dealers who are offering guaranteed, discounted prices to USAA members. You'll still need to test drive the car and make sure it is right for you, but a lot of the legwork is already done when you arrive at the dealer.
Once you've checked out the car in person, the next step is financing. You can use the Auto Circle app to quickly figure USAA's best financing for you, and compare it to your other options. You can even sit in the dealer and show them what USAA is offering on your phone - if that doesn't push them to negotiate, I can't imagine much that will.
If you are eligible for USAA insurance, the Auto Circle program will get the insurance set up smoothly, so you aren't driving around town in your snazzy new car without having it properly insured.
I am absolutely utilizing this fantastic tool the next time we have to buy a car. My time is too valuable to spend weeks researching, haggling and doing paperwork. The desired end state of car buying is to leave the dealer with your car and a smile on your face. Using this product greatly increases the chances that you'll reach that goal.
(I am required by FTC guidelines to tell you that I was a guest of USAA while I was in San Antonio.)