Tips for Buying at the Boat Show

How to prepare for the show

Story by Jeff Hemmel, Feb. 10, 2010
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This is boat show season, that time of year when people surrounded by snow and cool weather escape into a warm convention center or indoor stadium and dream of the balmy days of summer to come.

They certainly have their appeal. At a show, you can see all the manufacturers you’re likely interested in, all in one place. You can compare, contrast, and actually touch those models you’ve, up till now, only read about or seen pictures of.

But is a boat show a good place to actually buy a personal watercraft? Yes, if you go prepared and know what to look for.

Here’s a look at some of the more common boat show dilemmas…as well as some suggestions to help you score that deal.

Boat shows are full of eye candy for water lovers. It’s easy to get distracted with this many fun toys around.

Know Before You Go

If you’re serious about buying, research the models you’re interested in before you go. Take a pad, write down your questions, and note the specific models you plan to check out.

Set a Budget

You might go in looking for a budget ride, but there is always something bigger and better around the corner. Resist the temptation!

Be realistic about your current situation, and go into the show with a budget you plan to stick to…not a vague idea of what you plan to spend. The boat show is a distracting place, and cooler, more powerful choices are around every corner.

To ground yourself in reality, start by looking closely at your debt-to-income ratio. Ideally, it should be no more than 30-40%. The banks will be looking at it, so you should be prepared. Many banks will also expect a good down payment, probably around 20%.

Not sure where you stand? Those financial institutions will take some of the guesswork out of the equation. But in case you haven’t read the headlines, they’ve gotten tougher. Most expect a credit score of at least 720 to qualify for decent financing. Lower scores may still get approval, but expect to receive higher interest rates, and a larger required down payment.

Let’s Make a Deal

Motivated dealers might mean a good deal is there for the taking.

Heard the rumors that deals abound right now? It’s true. Just look at the 2009 sales figures, which show half the models sold last year coming from the previous model year.

Some manufacturers and dealers are even more motivated than others. We’ve heard of leftover Hondas going for as little as half their original retail price. If you don’t mind a boat that’s not the current year’s model, you may still be able to get a “new” craft for the price of a used model.

You may also be able to bargain for some extras. Don’t be afraid to try to get a wetsuit, PFD, or towable thrown into the mix.

But don’t expect the situation to last. Once the inventory situation adjusts to the current economic situation, the killer deals may be just a memory.

Only at the Show

There’s a good chance you’ll hear that a deal is “only good at the show.” Years ago, we’d call a dealer on that saying. But in today’s economy, it may truly be the case.

Off the record, one dealer confirms that manufacturers may cut a deal to encourage an individual dealer to attend the show. After all, the show is pricey to attend, not only to just be there, but also the manpower to move all those boats back and forth. There’s a chance the manufacturer may have cut the dealer a deal for that weekend, and that weekend only.

Shop around prior to the show, see what’s going for what, and make your decisions accordingly.

Pay Me Now…Or Pay Me Later

Check out the various incentives, but be wary of those zero-down or no-payment-till-whenever promotions. There’s a good chance they’ll cause you to end up holding on to your cash in the short term, but paying more in the long run, or for a longer period of time.

Considering an extended warranty? It’s really a judgment call based on the type of consumer you are. Odds are you won’t spend the equivalent in repairs, but all it takes is one major bill and you’ll be kicking yourself for not taking advantage.

Check out whether or not the warranty is transferable. If so, it may make your craft more appealing should you choose to sell later.

Likewise, consider how you’ll pay for it. A salesman may encourage you to roll it into the price of the PWC, and that may be the only way you can afford it, but realize you’re now financing that warranty, paying interest on it just the same as your watercraft.

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