13 Step Method For Buying A Car While Controlling The Sale And The Price

Commenter Keter posted a completely kick-ass 13 step guide to buying a car while maintaining total and absolute control over the sales process. It was so good we’re lifting it and posting it to the front page.

1. Pick the exact make and model of car you want.

2. Call around first anonymously (such as calling from work on your lunch hour), and get prices. Tell them you are calling everybody, and the best deal wins. Write down the prices you are given, and note any difference in packages.

3. Pick the dealership you think you want to do business with based on the results of this phone call. Price should not be the decider — demeanor and gut feel should be….

4. Go to the dealership you absolutely NEVER want to do business with. Nail down the details on the options — go for “loaded,” then whittle it down to find the approximate prices for each option. Make a detailed list with prices. Mark the options you must have and those can do without.

5. Do your research online and compare your pricing research with others and experts. Set an “ideal price” and an “I can live with it” price for the car you want with all the options you want, and again for the car you want with the minimum options you want. You now have a low and high figure for the car.

6. Go get cash or a a pre-approved car loan for something less than the upper amount. Put the cash or check in a blank sealed envelope. Find out ahead of time how to deal with the pre-approved loan if the negotiated amount is less than the amount on the bank check. You do not want to have to leave the dealership to get a new check for a smaller amount, so try to arrange something in advance for this contingency.

7. Call your insurance carrier and tell them you are buying a new car. Do as much of the paperwork ahead of time as possible and determine the hours they can service you so you can avoid delays or surprises at delivery time. (Any delays benefit the dealer.)

8. Go to the dealer you want to deal with — on a weekday, in the morning. Get dropped off or, ideally, have a friend or significant other go with you. (It always helps to have a witness.) Bring a sack lunch and drinks with you. You’re not leaving or letting your attention wander until you have a car.

9. Find the exact car you want. Use your list…this shows you’ve done your homework. Don’t be surprised if your salesman suddenly has to handle an emergency and hands you off to someone else. This is a good sign that you have the upper hand already.

10. Show them the envelope. Tell them you have cash/a pre-approved loan check, and three chances to get it from you if you can drive out by an exact time (by 3 PM is usually good), all paperwork done, taxes paid, and every other fee under the sun taken care of for less than the amount in the envelope. Do not give any hints about the amount, make them name heir price. If it’s way out of sight, don’t say anything. Just laugh and head for the door. They’ll chase you down and give you a much better number. If they don’t, go elsewhere.

11. Read everything. Twice. Have your friend do the same. Line out anything you don’t agree to or doesn’t apply, initial and date this and have the dealer rep do the same. Do not leave any blank spaces. Count the papers and make sure you get copies of all of them. Ask if there are any programs you need to opt out of to avoid being automatically signed up for them. Do whatever is required to opt out.

12. If at any time they give you attitude or BS, walk out. They will chase you down. Tell them they have only one chance left because they gave you attitude. Now they will deal. If they don’t, go elsewhere.

13. Try another city if yours is full of slime balls.

Good luck. I don’t buy new, but I helped friends buy using this technique, and it really works…but it works only if you truly are willing to walk away…and then refuse to bend when they try to put you off or change the terms. Stay civil, do not let any emotion in. You are on a mission, Marine!

The same technique works for buying a used car, but tell them that you will not talk price until YOUR mechanic looks over the vehicle and gives you a report on it. Watch how much the squirm. I also learned the basics of car inspection, and perform my own pre-inspections right there on the lot — 90% of used cars have a defect so serious they don’t pass 5 minutes of my inspection! The best one (if any) goes to the mechanic.

Have the mechanic lined up for the time you will be needing the car checked out. I prefer to have my mechanic pick up the car from the dealer directly. The mechanic should be one you have had good experiences with previously. NEVER use a mechanic who is near the dealership. I tell my mechanic “check this car like you would if your 16 year old daughter was going to have to drive it to Alaska and back — alone.”

Go back to the dealer with a list of all defects and an estimate to fix them. Negotiate a price adjustment. In some cases, you may agree to let the dealer do the repairs, BUT specifically put in writing that these repairs will be accepted only after a re-inspection by your mechanic and no crappy used or after-market parts will be used.

Figure on devoting at least a month and looking at 200+ cars to find a good used car.

I’ve bought three truly excellent used cars this way — all for less than $5000 — all required minor repairs prior to delivery, and all lasted more than 100K miles with minimal repair costs afterward.


Arm yourself with the knowledge in these related posts:
The Art of The Buy: Hide Your Time Wisely
The Truth About “Factory Invoice” Car Prices
HOW TO: Buy A Car Without Putting A Shotgun In Your Mouth
Dealerships Rip You Off With The “Four-Square,” Here’s How To Beat It
3 Confessions From A Former Used Car Salesman
Confessions of a Car Salesman
Now This Is A Car Salesman
How To Kick A Scammy Car Dealer In The Nuts
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. TPIRman says:

    Thanks, Keter!

  2. HDC says:

    Only thing to add is on step 2 is to narrow down your research in the call by going online first and checking the dealer’s inventory. See if there’s models you are looking for with the options you want. Most manufacturers have been unifying their inventory tracking online so you can see what’s available. But don’t hesitate to ask about inventory on the call as well since the dealer may have some fresh stock that has yet to be reflected online.

    Excellent list. And don’t ever buy Consumer Report’s car buying help kits. Total waste of money because everything you need can be easily had online for free.

  3. HrPingui says:

    Great Info!

  4. JKinNYC says:

    This is WAAAAAAAAAAY more complicated than it needs to be. Much simpler:

    1)Using the internet as your guide, figure out exactly the price you want to pay. Edmunds.com and KBB are helpful here in determining Invoice and other charges to dealers.

    2a) Call a couple dealers, offer your price and tell them to take it or leave it. If they don’t give you exactly what you want, leave.


    2b) Go to your local dealer and find the guy with all the volume awards. He works in bulk, not commission on individual deals, making him more likely to accept . Offer him your price and specs. He can take it or leave it.

    Repeat until satisfied. Less games and BS. As the above article states, always be willing to leave, even over $50.

  5. rbb says:

    Find the car club online for the make and model you want. There will generally be a forum with with plenty of advice on purchasing that car along with one or two members who actually sell the vehicles and will get you the best deal. One such club is http://www.tdiclub.com for VW diesels.

  6. ParkerTheDog says:

    This is an excellent list! However, I’m not so sure I agree with step #4. I think it could be skipped. I’d rather not deal with the hassle of having the dealer that I never want to deal with constantly calling me. And I’d feel guilty if I gave him/her a bogus phone number. I think the majority of step #4 can be done online, such as at edmunds.com.

  7. SwatLax says:

    If you know what car you want, I can vouch for Consumer Reports’ car pricing service: [ec.consumerreports.org]

    Costs $14, but you learn what the car is costing the dealer, and you can pad the price from there so the dealership can make the profit they need to stay in business. Then call around and see if they’ll get close to your price. Was in an out of the dealership in a little over 2 hours when I last did this.

  8. balthisar says:

    Simple: don’t buy dealer options, only factory installed options. Then their MSRP’s are already on the window sticker, and you’re that much closer to being able to bargain. Remember — no dealer options. Putting pinstripes on a MKZ looks tacky.

    How can 90% of used cars have such a serious defect? That’s akin to saying that 90% of the cars on the road have a serious defect. You not limiting yourself to looking at the sub-$1000 lot, are you?

  9. damba says:

    It’s even easier than has been described, with a lot less chasing around to car dealers over a typical large metropolitan area. Edmunds/KBB information, an email account and good credit is all you really need.

    IME, until you are ready to pick up the car there’s no real reason to physically visit or call a dealer by phone unless there’s something about a particular model/feature you are not familiar with. Most dealerships have an internet sales department, or at the very least a sales associate who deals exclusively with such inquiries. It’s a waste of time to play phone tag/sit on hold with various dealerships when you can simply email a them with your specifics. You define the terms of the deal and the winning dealership meets those stipulations. In some cases you can even do the whole financing process via email and fax as well.

  10. harshmellow says:

    No mention of trading in a car on this list. Conventional wisdom is that you don’t tell the dealer that you are interested in trading your car in. They WILL ask, believe me. Of course, you want to look up on kbb.com (or elsewhere) to figure the rough value of your trade-in. Once you have nailed down an agreed upon price for your new car, THEN you talk about trading in your vehicle.

  11. gacompguy says:

    2. If you are a member of a Credit Union, call them and see if they have a car buying service. Many do have them these days. Many will even match or beat dealer prices. You can also hit online buying services like Cars Direct ([www.carsdirect.com]) to get price quotes. Odds are a buying service will be a dealer price.

    6. If you’re looking for a loan, hit your Credit Union first!!! They can usually beat most of your local banks on the interest rate. Take that to the dealer and give them the chance to beat it… NOT MATCH it. Dealer loan rates are not always guaranteed… I’ve known several people that have had dealers call them and tell them that their financing fell through and that they would either end up with a higher interest rate, need to find their own financing, or bring the car back. Most of the time you’ll have fewer headaches with your own financing.

    8. If you can, visit the dealer a few days before the end of the month. Many dealers give their sales people incentives for hitting sales goals. Sales people will be more likely to give you a better deal if they are trying to get a bonus for hitting a sales goal or their quota.

  12. brendanm14 says:

    I have found that going through the dealerships Internet Sales Manager gives you a great price point for your discussions. Go to a cars.com or edmunds.com and pick out the car you want with options and they will email selected dealerships for you. Set up an email address for your car shopping and have them email you only (so you don’t have to use your personal email) You now have some solid prices in hand to go to the dealership with and work with the saleperson personally.

  13. LeopardSeal says:

    @JKinNYC: You’d walk over $50? Wow, your time must not be worth very much if you’d go elsewhere and go through the whole process again over that little.

    As for those that attempt to follow this “guide”, I can only say “Good Luck”, because you’re going to need it it. And I sincerely hope you never need anything from the dealer after the fact, because coming in with that kind of attitude may get you a deal, but not much else.

  14. Covert7 says:

    Anyone used http://www.fightingchance.com? We’re in the market for a new car and I’ve read a few good things about this service. Seems like a potentially good tool to have available, even if it does cost $40.

    I’ve done plenty of research online already and we’ve taken test drives to get down to the model we want so now it’s going to be about getting down to the numbers.

  15. storm says:

    This guide is overly complicated.

    Any car dealer worth its salt has an internet sales department. It’s pretty simple, really. Price your car on Edmunds with options, and demand invoice from every dealer in the state, by e-mail. Demand kbb trade value on your trade. Tell them the first person to offer you gets it.

    Eventually, you’ll get that offer, then you use it to get matches from a place that has your color, etc.

    I’m not sure all of this hardball about I need to be out of here by 3pm helps. Just get the best price.

  16. homerjay says:

    @JKinNYC: You’re right. WAY too complicated. I got a kick-ass deal on a new accord a couple months ago and I did it all over the phone. One you know what you want, ywou shouldn’t have to go there to finish the job. Your willingness to hang up is scarier to them than your willingness to walk out of the dealership.

  17. warf0x0r says:

    I got a good deal on a 07 civic ex and low financing, but the car had a scratch in it (interior) and I made them sign a slip for me to get it fixed. They replaced the scratched panel with a torn panel. Then when they replaced it a second time they put a dent in the car, which they fixed for free… They got my money for the car, but they’ll never see a cent for service and maintenance over the life of the car.

  18. iMike says:

    I think the approach is fine for buying a used car, but overkill x10 for buying a new one.

  19. satmandu says:

    Also, Best article picture ever…

  20. Turbo Driver says:

    Your bank or credit union has access to and probably keeps old copies (one or two weeks worth) of the Black Book guide by Hearst Publishing (google it). This, by far, gives you REAL prices- its market oriented, not ‘national’ like the Edmunds or Kelly books. I sat in a dealer with the Black Book Leasing book, priced a new Mustang GT convert in front of the salesman, and he took the price I gave him- he couldn’t argue with it. This is the price guide your bank/lender will use in figuring your loan value for the car; its based on DEALER COSTS.


  21. “6. Go get cash or a a pre-approved car loan for something less than the upper amount. Put the cash or check in a blank sealed envelope.”

    hahah, made it sound like a magic trick :) good tips though

  22. forever_knight says:

    uh, looking at 200+ cars and a month of time? figure in your hourly salary and see if it makes up for the savings. my guess is that for most, it doesn’t.

  23. shmulkey says:

    I used http://www.fightingchance.com and was very happy with them. They supply detailed pricing information and outline what is essentially a reverse auction process for flushing out the best deal without having to step foot in a dealership until you’ve got the deal nailed down. It’s pretty cheap (around $30 – $40) and included in the price is essentially unlimited phone consultation with the very nice and very cluefull guy who runs the site. I recommend them to everyone I know who is buying a new car.

  24. shmulkey says:

    @Covert7: I used http://www.fightingchance.com and was very happy with them. They supply detailed pricing information and outline what is essentially a reverse auction process for flushing out the best deal without having to step foot in a dealership until you’ve got the deal nailed down. It’s pretty cheap (around $30 – $40) and included in the price is essentially unlimited phone consultation with the very nice and very cluefull guy who runs the site. I recommend them to everyone I know who is buying a new car.

  25. Twill815 says:

    I have used fightingchance.com and it is wonderful. I bought a 2007 toyota 4runner for under invoice using the information from fighting chance. It’s definitely worth $40 if you can save thousands.

    I disagree with a lot of Keter’s advice. Why would anyone want to take a day off work and spend it in a car dealership? Bring a lunch??? There is no reason to be in a dealership for more than an hour or two. You tell them that if haven’t agreed on a price in one hour you’re leaving. I guarantee you will know the price you’re paying by then.

    With the amount of information available on the internet there is not reason to know the exact amount you want to pay for the car before you ever step foot in a dealership.

    Here’s how to get a great deal on a new vehicle…on the last Tuesday of the month email 10-15 internet managers of local or semi-local dealerships that sell the car you want with the option package you want and say “Please give me your best offer on this car, I will be buying this car by the end of the month from one of the numerous Brand X dealerships in this area. I am sending this email to several other dealerships and the best offer will get my business” or something similar. You will hear back from a few with offers and some offers will be very surprising in a good way. Dealerships need to meet monthly quotas and make more money meeting those incentives then on the profit of a new car. So some dealerships will be will to take a loss on a new car in order to meet their monthly incentives…

    advantage YOU!!

  26. dmcmaine says:

    COVERT7 – Yes, I’ve used FightingChance previously and was very happy with the experience. Basically, I narrowed down my options to a Honda Odyssey EXL and a Chrysler T&C Limited. The info they gave was good, I especially liked the Dealer Holdback info, the sales data and the “likelihood of getting a good deal” info. I ended up buying the Honda for $1600 under MSRP and was very happy with the process. I only went into the dealer to finalize the paperwork and take the car home, everything else was via phone and fax. This was almost 5 years ago.

    Regarding this post, I would add that most banks & CU’s should issue a “Not greater than” check when you preapprove. That makes the process much easier and can make for some interesting looks from the sales guy at the dealer when they realize that you might have been prepared to spend more than you ended up spending.

    Familiarize yourself with the various option codes for the model that you want. I simply faxed all the local dealers with the vehicle I was looking for, including colors and option codes. There was very little room for them to get creative when I was so specific about what I wanted. Know what you want, say what you want, be firm but be nice. Let them know that you’re not interested in wasting their time, you just want a very specific vehicle at a very fair price.

    The advice to call your insurance company beforehand is good, too, but for a different reason – you need to know how much more/less your insurance is going to be so that you can make a good financial decision.

  27. wonderlic says:

    I agree with those that say this is overkill. If you have the kind of time on your hands you need to follow these steps consider a second job so you can buy an even nicer car.

    I bought my last car on e-bay, sight unseen. Ebaying a car is not for eveyone, but it worked great, I got a much better deal then I could have elsewhere and it was an easy hassle free transaction. Two points to take away from the list that I agree with are be prepared to finance yourself and deal with the dealer’s internet slaes manager (if possible). Both these cut through the bullshit, especially the internent sales rep, because they get people who email them and say “give me a quote” and if they don’t or try to reel you in then they lose the potential sale, unlike the guy who’s just taking drive up traffic at the dealer.

  28. mistaketv says:

    Is this satire? Mysterious sealed envelope, weekday morning, multiple anonymous phone calls and dealership visits. Asinine.

  29. 4ster says:

    nthing the advice to NOT set foot on the dealer lot until you have the price down to the penny. If I am going to wait for hours for them to make a decision on an offer, I am going to get my grass mowed or my gutters cleaned while I do it. Sitting there in a plastic chair and waiting for a salesman to keep running to Oz to talk to the Finance Wizard? No way.

    Also, some of the best advice I have ever received is to know that if you make an offer and you can actually make it off the lot, your offer really was too low.

  30. bob9 says:

    “6. Go get cash or a a pre-approved car loan for something less than the upper amount. Put the cash or check in a blank sealed envelope.”

    This is one of the worst pieces of advice I have ever heard.

    For example, you get a car loan at 4.9% for 60 months. Yet the dealer (or their finance company GMAC, Chrysler Financial etc..) May have 3.9% for 60 months + a rebate or bonus cash.

    But you just applied for and got a check from the outside financing company and now you are paying more for the vehicle because you just turned it into a straight cash deal. Your loss, banks gain. Good Job!

    Also, please don’t try this at Scion or Saturn. You will waste your time moreso than the author wants you to.

  31. eaddict says:

    Good luck getting this to work where the cars come off the lot. When we looked at Honda Odysseys the dealer basically said take it or there is another person lined up behind us. Now, if you go for other brands, where the cars stay on the lots for a long time *cough* Chevy, Ford *cough* then you can negotiate. I did something like the above to get my Full Sized Chevy PU a few years back. Couldn’t do it to get a Camry or the Odyssey.

  32. nosirrahg says:

    When we bought my wife’s ’03 Accord we pretty much did all our dealing via email. I got info from several local dealers within about a 30-mile radius, and once I had my best price I even contacted a dealer 2-hours away in another state in case they had better pricing in another region; he said he might be able to beat the price by $100, but that wasn’t worth making the trip.

    One thing that helped was we knew exactly what we wanted in terms of trim level and options, so we knew we were looking at apples-to-apples comparisons. If you know exactly what you want on the front end, then it’s easier to be non-emotional and walk away if you have to; you just go look for the same car somewhere else. It’s when you aren’t committed to a certain car to begin with that they start to get you emotionally drawn into things, and it’s tough to back out.

    Two other items from back when I bought my 2000 Impala:

    1) I knew exactly how I wanted to option my car out, and I got online and found exactly what I wanted in a dealer’s inventory…600 miles away. But considering this was a city I travel to fairly often, that didn’t put me off, so I contacted the dealer and got them to quote me a price. I found out I could order the car locally for the same or less money, which is what I ended up doing, and I KNOW I’m much happier with the car having gotten exactly what I wanted versus being steered to something they might have had in their inventory at the time. If you’re the type of person who keeps a car for several years, I’d recommend looking into ordering exactly what you want/need.

    2) Financing-wise I went through an online service (that has since been folded into Capitol One auto finance) that basically pre-qualifies you for a loan, and sends you a “blank” check that’s good for a set dollar range. The check is valid for something like 45 days, and if you end up not using it for some reason you simply don’t use the check. I used this in 2000 and it worked great, as their interest rate was better than I could get locally. When we bought my wife’s ’03 we got another blank check, but the dealer was able to get us a rate that was better, so we went that route. I can’t vouch for Capitol One since they’ve taken over, but from what I can see online the program looks to be the same.

  33. Denada says:

    I just used my credit union’s free car buying service. Tell the buyer what you want, he goes out and finds the best price. He picks up the car, brings it to the credit union where you’ve already taken care of the loan and gotten a good interest rate. He shows you all the features of the car, you say “thanks” and leave with your new car and a nice little gift basket. Mine had car washing supplies and little chocolates in the shape of cars. The only way to buy a car imo. Zero headaches.

  34. enm4r says:

    Holy shit, I can’t believe some of the trouble people go through to buy a car. I bought my first car at 20, in a couple hours, with zero problems. I only have one tip:

    If you want a new car, BUY A PURE PRICED VEHICLE.

    You can’t get screwed if you’re not playing the game. The atmosphere will be friendlier, lower pressure, and you can make sure you’re comfortable with the vehicle.

  35. Buran says:

    Eh. I went through my Volkswagen enthusiast club and picked up my GTI for $500 over invoice, no BS. There’s a few people who are in the club who sell cars. Sure, I had to go pick it up, but I made a fun summer trip out of it and had a fun time visiting friends in that part of the country.

    The salesguy sold a fair number of cars to enthusiasts that way — he got educated buyers who he didn’t have to spend a ton of time assisting, and the buyers knew they were being treated fairly.

    (There’s little wiggle room in pricing on VWs these days, at least the Golf/Rabbit/GTI/New Beetle/Jetta class, so $500 over invoice is a very fair deal).

    Great guy. I’d have recommended him to others if he hadn’t switched to a Hyundai dealer. I asked him why and he told me that he didn’t have opportunities for advancement at the VW place. Too bad… he really was a fellow enthusiast. Maybe he’ll get back to VW sales someday.

    Moral: Be educated and work with one of the rare sales types who will treat you with respect, not try to rip you off. Hard to find? Sure. Worth it? Yep.

    If you can’t do what I did, try a car broker service or work with the fleet/internet dept.

  36. Jacknut says:

    One thing we’re doing when we look for a new car is to load up our trunk like we would for a week at the beach and then put everything in the trunk of the new car. With an infant, the amount of stuff you need is insane (Pack-n-Play, diapers, etc.). If it doesn’t fit easily, the car goes off the list.

    Interestingly enough, we hit upon this strategy because my Honda Civic has more cargo room than my wife’s Subaru Forrester.

  37. justwingingit says:

    I agree with the others who said the steps outlined are too complicated.

    Step 1: Decide what you can actually AFFORD, not what you want.
    Step 2: Find a car that fits your budget and that you can live with.
    Step 3: Offer the dealer, doesn’t matter which one unless you have some preference, the OUT THE DOOR price you wish to pay. If they don’t take it, walk out, go try another dealer.

    If you cannot get the price you want then maybe you’re not being realistic about the price or maybe the car is a hot model and no one is discounting it yet. The ‘net is your friend when it comes to seeing what cars should sell for.

    Always deal in out the door price numbers, not base, dealer prep, ADP, blah, blah, blah. Only the OTD number matters. If you want to pay $20k OTD they can charge you $1 for the car and $19,999 for dealer mark up if it makes them feel good but you pay the same OTD.

    Never ever be afraid to walk out if you’re not comfortable with the sale situation or terms. It’s your money, not their’s.

  38. Butch Huskey says:

    paying cash isn’t that big a deal in terms of a gaining you a discount, the dealership would rather sell you the car with store financing, so by paying cash you’re closing that revenue stream for them … so the usual response to “i’ll pay cash” is “who cares?” they can make more money selling the car at the same price to someone who finances from the store

    but …
    having your own financing before you hit the lot is always a good idea though

    i also recommend going through Edmunds and dealing with the Fleet or Internet Department … also avoid the “auto mall” , if you’re worried about spam from dealers use your junk email account … also be friendly, nobody wants to bend over backwards for a jerk but be ready to walk away

    i did a little bit of homework, was patient, emailed and called a lot, tried to get my local dealer to match what the guy 20 miles away was offering and then bought a “soft market” car but got it for under invoice and beat the price (by a whole $12) of some guy online who claimed to have gotten the same car for the “lowest price in the country”

    but do your homework on the internet first, save the impulse buying for Target

  39. Butch Huskey says:

    also check to see if your company offers any programs like Ford Partner (most due) or DCRewards (Chrysler Jeep) … you can usually beat that price on your own but it’s a good back up plan if you want some hot car

  40. jpp123 says:

    That seems overly complicated. My strategy – go to dealer, take test drive tell sales guy I will shop around but since he gave test drive he’ll get change to match price (as it happened they were no even close)

    Write down exact make/model/color.

    Call every dealer within 50 miles (in SF bar area that a a lot) and ask for “internet sales manager” – get quotes by email or fax – if it’s not in writing it doesn’t count.

    I got to my target price (dlr invoice) in 2 days and three days later was $4000 below that on my new Volvo last year. Since I had a final total by fax from the dealer I could go with the exact amount, sign the paperwork and drive off – time in dealership was about an hour and there was no hassle at all.

  41. chrispiss says:

    Most of these things are BS from my experiences. A lot of dealers know that they do in fact have the upper hand, and waving an envelope of money isn’t going to make them beg you to buy a car at a lower price. Most dealer’s won’t give you prices over the phone besides the retail price. You can ask all you want but they’ll tell you to come into the dealership and they’ll “see what they can do for you” or something to that effect. The best thing you can do is research what these cars go for, know that the dealers are willing to negotiate, pick a model, a price, and stick with it because in the end the salesman wants to make a sale, and as long as your price isn’t completely ridiculous they’ll come down and meet you there.

  42. csoakley says:

    Holy crap! I can’t imagine the hundreds of dollars worth of my time these steps would cost me. There are easier ways to do this for a new car.

    1. Get pre-arranged financing.
    2. Research to find out a fair price for the vehicle you want.
    3. Go to ebay and find the new car you want listed by a dealer on ebay motors with a ‘buy it now’ price at or below your target price.
    4. Test drive it. Buy it on ebay to lock in the price if you like it.
    5. Pay and drive away.

    The ebay price basically rolled in all of the rebates, incentives, customer cash, etc. I’ve heard of people getting screwed out of these because of some dubious rule or something. Not a problem for my purchase.

    The whole process took me 3-4 hours of my time. No stress, no sleazy dealer. The truck was in a separate part of the lot (it had been test driven once and had about 6 miles on it) because I dealt with the fleet/internet sales guy. He wasn’t pushy, offered me some options like a warranty, alarm, financing, etc. I decided to buy the bed liner from them and that was it.

    Note, the ebay price did not include tax, title, and license.

    I live in a large city so there were plenty of options. Smaller cities may not be so easy. If I had followed the steps from the article above, I’m sure I could have gotten maybe another few hundred off my price. But that would have taken me at least 2 or 3 valuable Saturdays and a few tanks of gas in driving around and comparison shopping. No thank you.

  43. Myron says:

    How about test driving the car? And if you do test drive the car do you give that dealership some slack on price in return for the test drive? That would be only fair.

  44. numindast says:

    I used some of the same tactics when I bought my used car from a dealership. I have a suggestion that hasn’t been mentioned yet, though.

    If your used car of choice won’t be covered by the original warranty, consider an aftermarket warranty. This is especially useful if you intend to keep the car for a long period of time. I’ll keep mine for at least 4 years beyond the loan period.

    In my case, the warranty cost $2,000 with no deductible and coverage until the value of the car at sale, or 100k miles, or till 6 years have passed. It’s already paid out over $5k for dealership repairs, some of which were not a big deal but some to get my car running again. It’s more than paid for itself.

  45. 4ster says:


    Oh. Hell. No.

    I test drove with Dealer A. I was going to buy from Dealer A, but the Finance Wookie never got around to returning my phone call about the OTD price. While I was waiting, I called another dealership who beat Dealer’s price. Plus, Dealer B had a better reputation for service anyhow.

    It’s all about the OTD.

  46. 4ster says:

    oops, should read, “Who beat dealer A’s price.”

  47. calldrdave says:

    Step number 10 from my experience and advise of sales friends in wrong. Do not go in with cash.

    Problem is some dealers make money off financing. They want to look at the whole package: car costs, extras, trade in, and financing.

    I’ve found it’s best to dissect the transaction. Don’t talk financing and “monthly payments.” When asked about how you pay for it, say “it depends on the offer.” If they ask if you will finance, say it depends on the terms. One time they offered zero percent. Zero precent is better than paying. Keep the focus on the actual cost of the car and let them think they’ll make money off the trade in and finances. One time I got a dealer REALLY angry at me when I wrote a check. “I thought we had a deal for financing.” I mentioned it wasn’t on that white piece of paper that I agreed to finance. He was reluctant to go through with the deal, which was fine with me.

    You 100% have to be able to walk on a deal. I don’t understand why people are so emotionally attached to a large hunk of metal. Hummer or Hynduai gets you to the same place. Getting emotional places into the dealer’s hand.

  48. bearymore says:

    I have to reiterate about internet sales. I did my homework, checked Edmunds, got the Consumer Reports information, etc. I established what I wanted and how much I was willing to pay. I then went through all the local dealers on the internet and by phone. The dealer I bought from sent me a list of all the relevant cars he had in stock, their equipment, colors, and prices. It came with an e-mail guaranteeing the prices quoted. The prices were more than competitive and exactly in line with what I wanted to pay (which I had not disclosed to the dealer).

    When I went in to make the purchase, I dealt with the fleet manager, was given the price quoted and was not pressured to buy any dealer extras. No phony sales manager approvals, no games, no bogus extra fees. This was my absolute best car buying experience ever.

    Of course this dealer was one of the first in the country to offer no haggle pricing, so I guess they were inclined to honesty.

  49. balthisar says:

    The really easiest thing to do is work for a car company, and get their price. The next easiest is to wed into a car company employee’s family, and get the same price. You could avoid the marriage by befriending an employee, and get his price plus a negligible markup.

    On a serious note, consider the time you have to invest in your dealings. Depending on your salary and the price of the car, you could cross the point where it’s beneficial just to pay sticker and get out of there (yeah, there really are people out there that don’t need to scrimp and save every penny, but I’m not one of them yet).

  50. JayXJ says:

    I’ve read several comments about what a person’s time is worth. That is sensible for a new car. However, on a used car, take the time. Yes, I spend a lot of type shopping, researching, etc… but I’m rarely surprised. If you saved yourself a few hours but the car jitters apart in 4 months you haven’t done yourself any favors.

  51. clearcut says:

    For a new car, I used the non-profit CarBargains.org. For $190 they did the negotiation and got several dealers to agree in writing to a price $X above or below invoice. They send you a copy of the invoice prices with all of the possible options. You call the dealer, pick out which vehicle with the options that you want, and you know the price.

    In my case the dealer had to get the vehicle from another dealer because I did not want the decked out display model. At the time this model was in short supply and relatively high demand.

    After weeks of fruitless negotiation emailing, talking to the “fleet” sales, faxing everyone, and executing all kinds of the other suggestions, the Carbargains price was $1,200 less than the best price I could secure.

    When the dealer tried to add on “Security window etching” for $250 I noticed right away that the price was wrong, searched through the numbers and had this bogus charge removed.

  52. foxmajik says:

    Going into a dealership with cash doesn’t give you the upper hand. Most dealers are looking for someone to give a loan to because they get a kickback from the bank for bringing in a new customer. When looking for lenders, most car salesmen generate a report that shows how much of a kickback they get from each lender, then they go with the lender that gives them the largest kickback rather than the lender that will give you, the customer, the best interest rate.

  53. clickertrainer says:

    Also, consider buying from your credit union’s auto sales program. They are non-profit, and deal with the dealerships for you. I traded two cars for one new one last year — took about 4 faxes and an hour at the credit union for paperwork. I got a much better price than the dealership offered, and didn’t have to play the game.

    I enjoy negotiating with dealerships though. I go late at night. I change my mind a lot. If they raise the price, I start asking for kooky stuff like special car mats, racing team jackets….hey it’s amusing and this is the one time in your whole life where you are utterly in control. What are they going to do, throw you out? Not likely. I actually made the weekly sales meeting one time — which means I was the worst deal they made that week!

  54. Maxichamp says:

    What if I just want a red car? Is that specific enough?

  55. LTS! says:

    The only thing different about buying a used car is that you should ALWAYS ask to have it reviewed by a mechanic you trust. Of course that sounds silly as who has a mechanic they trust, but most service places aren’t looking to screw you on that deal because unless you are a moron you won’t be heading there in 6 months if something breaks.

    As far as new cars, just offer a price you are willing to pay and be done with it. Don’t bother going anywhere until you are ready to buy the car, unless you are interested in the entire game process. I played the game in one dealer last year just because I was indeed bored on a Saturday morning. It was perfect and in the end I had plenty of free entertainment… can’t beat that.

  56. 12monkeys says:

    That kind of stupidity would get you kicked out of my dealership before you got half way through the steps.How about a 3 step process
    1)do your research
    2)offer some kind of profit
    3)don’t be an a-hole and treat the salespeople like you would like to be treated and you may get what you want.

  57. rphoenix says:

    One of the things I did when I bought my truck was to go to an online site and print out the price. I told them if they could match it or get close I would buy it from them. I then pulled out a stop watch and gave them 10 minutes. I walked out of one dealership, when they violated it. Everytime the sales person needed ‘to talk to his manager’ there was a 2-min limit. They hated me, but I got my price.

  58. akalish says:

    Re #2–don’t call around–send a request to a dealer online with the exact specs of the car you want (down to every last detail). Most manufacturers will send your request to several dealers that you can select from their website. Insist that you be emailed a quote back, and verify the amount of time the price is good for (although most places will state that when they send a quote because they say something like 5 days because they want you to buy asap). Tell them you don’t have a phone, you don’t want to talk to them, whatever–just get it by email. Then, when you make your decision, let the dealer know when you’ll be coming by for pickup and bring a printout of the email with you. You’ve got it in writing, and if you get a mouthful, you can just bring it out and threaten them with a suit of false advertising (misinformation?) if they don’t abide by the quote. Power to the people! :D

  59. Raddy21 says:

    As an Internet Sales Manager for a Luxury dealership, I can say this information is way outdated. Most dealerships have internet departments and as mentioned previously, the internet salespeople work off bulk and volume as opposed to squeezing money of each individual consumer. So just email them and get the best quote. Use edmunds True Market Value as a guide and be aware of any factory to dealership incentives (avail on edmunds.com) as use them to your advantage. Completely stress free and much less time consuming. Many floor salespeople will straight up hang up if you ask them for pricing over the phone, I’ve seen it happen time and time again as they work off of commission and will not sacrifice their pay to work for free.

    Only deal with internet depts unless you enjoy getting into fights, wasting time, and adding stress to your life.

  60. jeepster4 says:

    Sounds like a lot of trouble to go through to accomplish something simple. If you do a little on-line research and call your bank to get their interest rates, you will be ready to negotiate your deal. Offer the dealer a little profit. If you have a trade, check the wholesale value range on-line. Don’t go in with an attitude and I bet you’ll have a good experience with out a massive investment in time. Realize that we do this every day (Yeah, I sell cars) and you do this every few years.

  61. spanklin says:

    Ummmm… I can’t believe that this was only mentioned in passing by one commenter.

    Buy a Saturn. The no haggle policy is great, you look up the price on the web, and that is the price you pay and everyone else pays for that car.

    When I bought my first Saturn in 1995, I heard all of the comments from the “I bought a Neon and the dealer had to give it to me for below invoice and you’re a sucker for paying GM 12% profit” crowd, and my response was always (1) you got a Neon and I got a Saturn, and (2) I was in and out of the Saturn dealer in about 10 minutes with the car I wanted, with the options I wanted, for the price I had known I would pay months before I bought the car. That car lasted me 150,000 miles and 8 years with only minor mechanical problems before I traded it in on my second Saturn, which took about 10 minutes to buy, was the price I knew I would pay… you get the picture.

    Until other car companies adopt the no haggle policy, I’ll keep buying Saturns.

  62. Johann says:

    @12monkeys: HA! That’s rich. “Don’t be an a-hole and treat the salespeople like you would like to be treated.” With the car salespeople I’ve dealt with that “don’t be an a-hole” rule is pretty much a one-way street benefiting the salesman. Where are all the salesmen that treat their customers how they’d like to be treated?

  63. Trick says:

    Very complicated and seems to be written for someone who would be intimidated by a dealer, no matter how prepared.

    For those, there is really nothing you can do other than get someone who is not easily intimidated or confused over buying a car.

    I used the internet fleet managers at San Luis Obispo Nissan and Santa Barbara Nissan. SLO played games and wouldn’t lock down a price unless I came in. SBN gave a great price on the exact options I wanted.

    It wasn’t until SLO Nissan about the deal I am taking with SB Nissan before they came out with a price slightly lower… like $100. That wasn’t enough to overcome my suspicion that they were scammers.

    My truck was brought up the next day after I gave a verbal agreement to buy, it was exactly what I wanted, I was not pressured to buy anything as they knew I was going to write a check. They diddn’t even run a credit check. I arrived about 6:30PM and was out of the dealer at 8PM.

    All I did was tell the two dealers what I wanted and the price I thought was fair. No games, no hassles and no drama.

    Now that is the simple way to buy a car.

  64. jeepster4 says:

    @Johann: Most car salesmen are quite good at reading their clients..thats how we make our living. Folks that approach a sales person with an attitude usually get that attitude returned to them in some form or another. If you approach a major purchase unprepared and use all the “techniques” found in the many “how to buy a car” books and web sites, you will get the experience you deserve. If you follow 12monkeys’ three steps you will get the right deal quickly without all the hassle.

  65. littlebluebug says:

    Pffft. Way way way way way too complicated. Know what you want and what you are willing to pay, test drive before you buy, find a dealership where the people treat you with respect, don’t play games or take an adversarial attitude but be willing to walk away at any time, make deal, sign papers, drive off in new car, DONE. The idea of spending an entire day — a WEEKDAY at that — at the dealership is patently ridiculous.

    My best advice, other than going through the internet sales manager, is wait til the end of the model year or calendar year if possible — I was able to get a much lower interest rate than I would have otherwise thanks to an end-of-year promotion. An appreciation for the humorous/absurd also helps… I have had few experiences more amusing than watching the finance guy get more and more visibly flustered as he realized that I wasn’t the pushover he thought I was.

  66. Jackgym says:

    The last time I enquired about a price for a particular new car, the salesman said, $32,990, driveaway.” I said, “Well, how much if I leave it in the showroom?” Sarcasm is delicious!!

  67. swiftouch says:

    …or you could just buy a new honda and keep it for 20 years like i’ll probably do. i have a 91 honda accord with 223k miles on it and it just keeps going. Or you could do as this guy does and buy used cars, spending maybe hundreds of hours looking for the “right” vehicle.

    Why not instead, get online, find the car you want, print out the specs you want and the price you want.Take it to the dealer and say I want this. If you can’t give it to me at that price, i’ll go elsewhere. no haggle, and relatively no time spent in the presence of slime balls.

  68. dollyllama says:

    I can knock this down to 2 steps.

    One: Find the car you want. (Shop within the first 10 days of the month, a salesman told me it’s always slowest on those days)

    Two: Refuse to purchase the car that day.

    This is how I bought my last car. I wasn’t planning on buying a car, but the salesman showed me a great one, just exactly the make and model I wanted (not the color, but that was just cosmetic). They were asking $2500 more than I would pay no matter what. I had told him from the start I wasn’t going to buy a car that day and I didn’t waiver until they dropped the price by over $3500. And trust me, the original price of the car was well worth what they were asking.

    Just don’t waiver no matter how much you like the car. They tried the “this car won’t be here when you come back” line on me and I said “There’s millions of cars, they’ll be another”…stay cool, they are working you, work them back.

    Oh and if you can pay cash (I could and did) don’t tell them directly but hint at it. Something like “I wonder if it’d be better to finance or pay cash”. They love cash.

  69. smartwatermelon says:

    AAA (Auto Club) has a fleet pricing program. Call or go online to your local AAA club–you do need to be a AAA member, of course–and you will get the best fleet price from dealers vetted by AAA national. When you get to the dealership, you’ll deal with the fleet manager, not the regular sales guy. No haggling, no multiple anonymous phone calls, no secret sealed envelopes. I’ve bought three new cars this way.

  70. Mrmateo says:

    If you have the time dealing with the dealership yourself is the best way of getting a great deal…I purchased an 07 Lexus IS250 with MSRP of $38600 for a little under $31,000 including every possible option…navigation etc…..

    The key is to call the dealerships fleet sales manager and deal through them over the phone, this person is payed a flat salary not a commission like salesmen…therefore he has nothing to loose for giving you the best deal you can possibly get…be nice too…being an A-hole never gets anyone anywhere…their doing their job..let them know youve researched ahead of time that way they cant attempt to pull tricks on you…and finally before going through with the haggling…go to online forums….edmunds.com etc….and see what other people in the area are paying for that particular car so you dont seem like an idiot low balling the dealer and so you dont get screwed over recieving the best possible deal..

  71. mk says:

    or you could just ride a bike.

  72. hamilton33 says:

    Great article.

    And I find all the critical comments above amusing.

    “WAAAAAY to complicated! Here’s what *I* do…”

    Every one of these 13 suggestions could be the perfect technique in a different situation.

    But everyone who ever got a dealer to come down a few Ks is the negotiating king, and has no need to learn from anyone.

  73. Donnerschlag says:

    A few thins I have to add:

    I bought a 2006 Mazda3 Sport s Grand Touring late May last year at a very good price.

    What I did was call each dealer in my area and asked for their base model price and then the full package. Then I walked into each dealer picking my car and getting the price. I told the sales person at the end of the conversation that I have to talk it over with my brother (who is co-signing it).

    Another thing, tell them in the beginning to price the car with no down payment and tell them that you will choose the car depending on the price you are approved for.

    So I had the work order sheet of the car and all the things I wanted on it and had him sign next to the price with his supervisor. I then went to the other dealers and did the same and showing them the price sheet from the first dealer. So I had them compete against each other, this is the best thing cuz they want to make the sale and not the other guy.

    So when I finally got the lowest price for what I wanted I went to that dealer and talked finance with them. First thing to ask, are there any discounts on the car for memberships. They will usually have a promotion going at the time. For me it was Costo and Earnhardt Ford membership.

    The cost of my car was ~$22,500. I then talked to the finance manager to get me approved for the car. We talked with no down payment and the membership discounts.

    With my membership I got $1000 for the Earnhardt Ford membership and with the Costo I got +$250 of the manufacture listing price with was $2500 less than what was on the floor.

    So I was able to get the car that was priced at $22,500 to 19,000. That was a lot saved there.

    So not on the loan. When talking with the finance guy we worked on the numbers and I got my car approved for $400/month for the car at a 9.1% APR since it was my first car.

    When I was ready to sign for the car I called my bro and made small talk. After getting off the phone I told him that we had some money for a down payment and so they wokred that in the price. I had $6000 saved up so I put that down for the car paying off the tax first. This is VERY important. If you do not the total price when you pay off your car will be higher than what you planned, sometimes nearly $5000 extra.

    I got my car out of the door for only $19000 with $6000 down payment so all I have from the loan to pay is $15000 at $315/month at 9.1% APR.

    So remember have the dealers compete against each other, they will drop their price as much as possible to get the sale. Also alway buy your car at the end of the month, they will be desperate to sell a car to make their monthly quota.

  74. forever_knight says:

    anyone else than me hate the guy on the story picture? cross between a meth addict and door-to-door vacuum salesman. heebie jeebies.

  75. ShadowArmor says:

    In car buying, it is important to focus on BOTH bottom line AND monthly payment. Of course the monthly payment has to fit your ability to pay, but if you don’t also consider bottom line price, the dealer will have you paying that low low payment for 7 years at 12% interest! Know your budget, and don’t even MENTION a monthly payment until the bottom line price has been established.

    Also, ALWAYS have insurance quotes in hand. Many people get sticker shock by procrastinating, then finding out AFTERWARDS that their shiny new purchase comes with sky high insurance rates. Get your details lined up ahead of time so that when you close the deal, you can call and say “I’d like to activate the policy we set up”.

  76. texmark says:

    A useful note on handling financing…I go in with financing in hand, but I always give the dealership an opportunity to beat my financing if they can. After we’ve settled on the price, I sit down with the finance manager and tell him/her that I already have financing but am open to theirs if they can do better.

    Manager: What’s your rate?

    Me: My rate is…good. (Never tell them your rate.)

    Manager: (Realizing that I’m dealing with him/her as the salesperson s/he really is, pauses.) We can do good.

    I keep up with the calculations on my laptop. Since the finance person has at least five offers to choose from on the computer screen, they can usually beat my in-hand deal (even though I already had the lowest rate possible via BankRate.)

    But it’s important to keep up with the payment calculations as you do this, since they’ll usually try to squeeze in some credit insurance or other garbage. By keeping up with the numbers, you force their hands and the finance game-playing has a wonderful way of falling away. And you can probably shave another half-point off your rate.

  77. Trackback says:

    But it’s not the Prius, it’s this crazy looking concept car called the Toyota Volta, named after Alessandro Volta, inventor of the battery in 1800.

  78. suedehead4 says:

    I just helped a friend buy a new VW. I looked for a price on carsdirect.com then we went to a local dealership. The salesman told us they only make $1,000 on that car, they’re so hard to come by, blah blah. He gave us a price. My friend told him firmly but politely that he wouldn’t buy that day, but was serious about the car and would probably buy the next day. More pressure from the salesman about doing the deal right then. My friend reiterated that he was serious but just wanted to do a little more research on the internet and sleep on it. As soon as he mentioned internet, the salesman asked if he meant carsdirect.com and logged on to the site, which produced a price more than $1,000 below what the dealership was offering. Without me or my friend even saying anything the salesman said he would match the carsdirect.com price. My friend bought the car from the dealer the next day.

  79. Heavy says:

    The satisfaction and entertainment value of “sticking it to the dealer” notwithstanding, I see little economic benefit in taking all this time to buy a car–especially a new one.

    In reading the Millionaire Next Door, I learned a couple of valuable lessons: 1) your time is worth a lot and 2) decide how much you want to spend, preferably a sum you can afford, and get it over with.

    Even before I got to the step that involved PACKING A LUNCH and heading over to the dealer for the day to stage a sit-in (on a weekday at a time when you would likely be working), I thought to myself, boy this is a lot of time to invest. If you pay yourself a decent wage (what are you worth.. $10/hr, $20/hr, more?) you very quickly lose that $500 +/- bucks you think you’re wringing out of the dealer.

    Yes, we’ve all heard the stories about someone saving $5k with their in-depth, no holds barred approach to dealmaking. And, I do think buying a used car takes more effort to establish a seller that you trust. That all said, I see spending this kind of time to buy a new car a poor use of resources. Once you decide what you want and how much to spend, do some internet research for an invoice price, talk to a friend about a good dealer in your area, and go buy the car.

  80. tdktl says:

    “Figure on devoting at least a month and looking at 200+ cars to find a good used car.”

    – are you serious? You must be joking
    – I agree with “BY HEAVY AT 12:37 PM”, this is too much effort
    – even by the 15th car, you would have spent so mcuh time, effort and money that you’d better off buying a new car anyways, what on earth are you suggesting? I am suspicious that you may be working for some sort of petrol committee, because to look at 200 cars to buy one used car is crazy, probably thousands of dollars of petrol spent going around to look for these 200 cars

  81. MMotors says:

    When you can tell the Dealer the price you want to pay for your next locally available car, from the comfort of your home…that would be cool.

  82. Maciek Samulski says:

    Did any of you ever walked into a grocery store and try to negotiate on the price of bread or milk? How about gas at the gas station? I encourage you to read all the posts and ask yourself: who is playing the game? You or the dealer? Especially now, every sale matters and dealers are willing to negotiate deeper than ever to meet the price of the customer. However, think about the salesperson. They don’t get paid by the hour, usually selling a car at cost or below means that they’ll make $50-75 depending on the dealership. Let’s say they sell 15 cars a month. How much is that? Do the math. I am no longer involved in the car business however I had been for more than 12 years. What bothered me the most were people trying to take the shirt of my back. As for the gentleman that pointed at the beer can and said if I brought this you’d give me $1000. Keep dreaming my friend! And even if you got a job, who would ever want to buy a car from you?
    How much profit should a dealer make? Make a reasonable offer and you’ll get the treatment you deserve. Be a jerk, and guess what? Don’t be surprised they’ll try to rip you off or piss you off.
    I am not saying that all dealers are perfect and can’t guarantee the salespeople either, but one think I know. It’s not seventies anymore! There are many resources you have available to make an informative decision. If you don’t start the game they won’t play it (most of them) Good luck with your next purchase!