Some car dealers like to play games. They start with one price, and over the course of the next hour, that number changes more times than you can count. Buying a car is a big game, but if you know how to play it right, you can come out on top.
A good negotiation strategy will enable you to get the best price for your next car. U.S. News spoke to Ronald Montoya, a consumer advice editor with Edmunds.com, and consumer affairs expert Adam Goldfein to pinpoint how to broker the deal. Here's what they recommend:
Do your research. Take time to price out the car online before approaching dealers in your area. "It puts you in a better position and it gives you a reference point for negotiations," Montoya says. Knowing the invoice price helps, as well as knowing what others are paying for the car.
Consumers can give themselves a leg up in negotiations by knowing how much markup exists, Goldfein says. Edmunds.com allows users to build out a particular vehicle, then provides the range for markup on the car. "Typically, there's 6 to 8 percent markup, which is a surprise to many consumers," he says.
Shop online. "You're more likely to be persuaded and less likely to be logical if you're face to face," Goldfein says. "You're less likely to be emotional if you're shopping online."
Start by emailing local dealerships' Internet sales managers and asking for quotes. It's important that you ask for an "out the door" quote, which includes all fees and taxes. Some fees are negotiable, like dealer fees, but others are not.
Montoya cautions consumers against talking in terms of monthly payments during the negotiation. "You lose track of what the actual price of the car is," he says.
Negotiate with knowledge. Go into the negotiation armed with knowledge about how much the car typically sells for. You'll want to stay calm during the negotiation process, and stick to the price that you found online.
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Trade in. If you are trading in a car, do so at the same dealership where you're buying a new car. "If you have a trade-in, the dealer is more likely to sell the car you're buying for less," Goldfein says. "They have the secondary profit on your trade, and the dealer will look at the transaction in the totality. They think, 'I'm willing to lose $500 on this new car if I think I can make $2,000 on selling your trade-in.'" But before you trade it in, take the car to a CarMax first and get a quote for it, then see if the dealer will beat it.
Finance through the dealer. It's not to your advantage to pay cash, says Goldfein. "Contrary to what many consumers believe, you don't get a better price if you pay cash because the dealers want your financing."
Montoya recommends getting preapproved from your bank, credit union, or another private institution before you go to the dealership. That way, you'll know what you can afford and you can compare interest rates. "In some cases, the dealer may be able to beat the price you've been given," he says.
Rebates. Dealers offer a number of rebates, such as military rebates and college-graduate rebates, so ask your dealer. Dealers also offer other standard rebates, like mobility rebates if you need to attach a wheelchair. Some manufacturers will give you a rebate if you finance through the manufacturer's preferred lender. "What consumers have to be careful about is they have to make sure they get all of the rebates, not just one," Goldfein says.
The key is for the consumer to check the manufacturer's website under "current offers" or "special offers" before buying to see if any rebates or low interest rates are offered, Goldfein says.
Buy at the end of the month. Consumers have an incentive to buy at the end of the month, because dealers receive monthly incentives from manufacturers. The manufacturer will give the dealer a bonus if it can sell a certain number of cars by the end of the month. "The timing is extremely important," Goldfein says. "You shop in the beginning or middle of the month and you buy in the end of the month."