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Nailing Down the Best Deal When Buying a Car

Whether you've found the vehicle you want through your own research or have been steered to a dealership by a buying service, you're still going to have to do some negotiating before you drive away in your new car. Even "one-price" dealerships and those who "commit" to "lowest possible prices" through buying services leave some room for making more profit, and it's up to you to recognize and resist the pitfalls that await you. If you do, you may save thousands of dollars and really pay the lowest possible price.

Keep the following tactics and games in mind every time you find yourself in the process of buying anything expensive. Car dealers aren't the only sharpies out there, you know.

Take advantage of rebates

Many auto manufacturers offer rebate programs on new vehicles. Call the car manufacturer for up-to-date information on available rebates and keep an eye on the car ads on television and in local newspapers to spot special, limited-time offers. Rebates are often attached to financing packages or come with other strings attached, so check the fine print closely before committing yourself to purchasing a vehicle under one of these deals. Don't discuss rebates with dealers until you've negotiated the lowest possible price without one.

Always deduct the rebate from the price you actually pay rather than letting them send you a check after the sale. If the rebate is deducted from the purchase price, you don't have to pay sales tax on it. If you're financing the vehicle, avoid paying interest on the rebate by making sure they deduct it from the amount you have to finance.

Choose the best time to buy

In the good ol' days, the best time to buy a vehicle was in early autumn when dealers were eager to get the current year's cars off the lot to make way for new models. These days, new models are released all year long, and "next year's models" may arrive as early as the spring or summer of the current year. However, any time new models are announced the dealers are anxious to clear the showroom of older models, so they may be very willing to sell at a discount.

In addition to new-model time, you have other windows of opportunity to get a vehicle at a lower price. Car salespeople have quotas to meet and are judged by their performance at regular intervals. Arrange to negotiate when the pressure on them is at its greatest:

  • The end of the sales week, usually on Saturday. If your salesperson or sales manager has had a slow week, you could have cause to celebrate on Saturday night.
  • After the 25th of the month. At this point, the sales staff at many dealerships gets antsy about making their monthly quotas. As a result, they may be quite willing to shave a bit off their normal commissions to make a sale.
  • The end of the year. This is the last chance for good annual figures. If you can wait until the end of December, you may really give yourself a great holiday present.

Keep your cool

Never negotiate a deal when you're pressed for time.

Arrange to visit the dealership when you have plenty of leisure. Tell the salesperson you dealt with before that you are now ready to negotiate and will buy the car that day only if you get a satisfactory deal. Then pull out your Features and Options Checklist and state exactly what you want.

If a vehicle you saw previously had everything you desire and nothing you'd want to pay extra for, ask whether it's still on the lot. If not, find out if they have a similar model and go over it closely to be sure it fills the bill. If the car is equipped with options you can do without, tell the dealer right up front that you won't pay a penny extra for anything you don't need. If necessary, find out whether a suitable vehicle is available or whether they can special-order one for you. If they can, ask how long you'd have to wait to see (not buy) it.

Keep your old vehicle out of sight

Whether or not you want to trade in your old car, park it down the street and walk to the dealership. The salesperson will probably ask you early in the game whether you have a vehicle to trade in. Whatever the case, tell them no and refuse to discuss it further until you are in the final phases of negotiation. Arriving at the lowest possible price without a trade-in, before you allow the possibility of negotiating one, is very important.

To get the most for your old vehicle, you must have an accurate idea of its value.

Let them know they're not the only game in town

If you want to get the lowest price from a dealership, flaunt the fact that you're comparing their quotes with those you've obtained from alternative sources and dealerships. Refer to your notebook, checklists, and worksheets to see if their quotes for options agree with what you've heard from other sources, but don't let them see the actual data. It'll drive them crazy.

Also, keep asking, "Can't you do better than that?" Constantly tell them, "I can do better at so-and-so's," or "According to the such-and-such pricing (or data) service, the dealer's cost (or factory invoice) on this model is such-and-such." Doing that should eliminate some of the finagling right away.

Don't let them pressure you

Don't be swayed by sales pressure tactics. Dealers love to make you feel that ten other people are just waiting to get their hands on the only model you like. Sometimes they'll arrange to receive phone calls from a colleague down the hall: "The red Voomer? Yes, we have it. As a matter of fact, I have a possible buyer with me right now. . . ."

They may tell you that if you don't act today, the "special deal" they've proposed will no longer be offered. Don't believe it. To any good salesperson, closing a deal is the most important thing. If they can't do it now, they will be just as eager to make the sale on the same terms another day. If a vehicle with the options you want is no longer on the lot by then, they will turn heaven and earth to find a similar one for you rather than lose the sale to someone else. So, relax and refuse to be high-pressured into a commitment until you're certain it's the best deal you can get.

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