I tend to change my car as often as I change my shirt. Much to some local dealers’ delight, I’ve owned 10 different cars in 11 years, which is more than my 62-year-old father-in-law has owned in his entire life.
Through it all, I’m comfortable saying that I’ve only been screwed on a deal once (which is a story I’ll save for another time).
Here are eight rules you can follow to make sure you protect yourself from a royal screwing, dealership-style:
1. Shop around at dealerships and research online
When you’re shopping, go ahead and visit dealerships, but let the salesperson know immediately that you’re not buying today. When he approaches and says, “Hi, I’m Dick,” you say, “Hi Dick, I’m not buying today, but I’m shopping for a…”
After you’ve driven the cars that interest you, look them up on every car web site you can find. Start at CarGurus.com and read the telling comments people have posted about the cars you want. Edmunds.com has a great real-world pricing tool that tells you what other people are paying for the same car. Also research your current car’s trade-in value, and have a firm idea what you should expect out of your old ride. Once your choice is narrowed down, it’s time to…
2. Get your financing approved at a bank or credit union
For God’s sake please don’t walk into a dealership needing to rely on their financing. Get approved on your bank’s best rate first, so the dealership will have to try and beat that.
3. When you’re ready to buy, know exactly what you want
Your shopping is over by now. When the day comes that you’re ready to buy, your focus at the dealership should be simply getting the best deal on the car you want. But…
4. Don’t fall in love with any car on the lot
Cars are a dime a dozen, and there’s ALWAYS another one. Even if your emotions do get the better of you, never let the salesperson know it.
5. Don’t let the salesperson sell you a car based on monthly payments
Write down the price you want to pay for the new car, the amount you want for your trade-in, and your bank’s interest rate. Negotiate one thing at a time, starting with the price of the new car. Once you’re satisfied with that price, move on to the trade-in value and stay firm (this is where my deals have either fallen apart or come together). Keep in mind that it can be hard to keep the salesperson focused, because he’ll keep disappearing then trying to move you back to negotiating the monthly payment. Truthfully that shouldn’t even be an issue, because your bank has already given that to you. Talk monthly payments only after the new car’s price and your trade-in’s value are set and the dealer thinks they can beat your bank’s interest rate.
6. Be patient with the salesperson, but also be willing to leave the building
Stick with your numbers, and wait for the dealership to meet them. If it looks like they’re not going to, be prepared to stand up and say never mind. That can be hard after hours of negotiating, but when you start leaving you just might get called back before you hit the front door.
7. Don’t be afraid of the guy in the small room, but don’t let your guard down yet
After you’ve agreed on the deal, you’ll probably have to wait another hour or two to meet with a “finance manager” or “sales manager” who will try to sell you a variety of add-ons (paint protectant, undercoating, etc.). Refuse all his or her offers except for one: GAP coverage. This protects you from owing money in the case of an insurance loss, and it saved my butt once when my 6-month-old Honda Pilot burned up in a fire.
The coverage only costs a few dollars per month and is good for the life of your loan. It prevents you from having to come up with any difference between what you owe and what the insurance company says your car is worth. Plus, you can stop the coverage when you owe less than the car’s value.
8. Go show your friends your new ride
And tell them you got the deal of a lifetime!
How have you negotiated a car well under sticker price? We want to hear your story in the comment section! And feel free to share your car-shopping tips, too.