I once worked as a car salesman. I learned that you don’t need a full set of teeth to be a winning car salesman and the nicer a salesman is to a customer, the more that customer overpays. I also learned the car salesman’s playbook. And of course, I’m willing to share. If you want to protect your wallet when you’re buying a new car, here’s how to beat auto dealerships at their own game.
Even if you deflect the sleaziest sales schemes dealers dish out, you can’t get a good deal without some homework. Don’t step into a showroom without reliability, safety, and pricing information (try Edmunds). You should know the mark-up of the car’s sticker price and how much the dealer expects to profit. It’s almost impossible for the dealers to bluff when you already see their cards.
Auto makers and dealers do everything in their power to make car buying an emotional experience. They have you sit in plush new leather, soak up new car smell, and punch the gas and hug the turns on the test drive. The salesmen hope, by the time you talk price, you want the car so badly you’ll okay the first number thrown at you. But if ask for the dealer’s best price over the phone, you axe their edge. Lucky enough to snag a telephone quote? It will almost always beat a quote from the showroom. But be warned: Good dealers will smooth-talk you into making an “appointment” at the dealership without giving a price.
Hide your trade
If you plan to trade in your existing vehicle, don’t let the dealership know it until you have agreed on the price of the new car. Tell them you definitely don’t have a trade-in and then act like you changed your mind. The reason? Dealers use their profit margin on the new car price to make it seem like they are paying thousands of dollars more for your trade-in. Only when you handle the new car and the trade-in separately can you get good deals on both.
Talk price, not payment
“Payment” is a car salesman’s favorite word — and not just when it refers to his commission check. Dealerships love to quote cars in terms of the monthly payment, leaving the purchase price out of the equation until the papers are signed. In the negotiation process, dealers try to lower the monthly payment by extending the loan term rather than cutting the purchase price.
Negotiations are tests of will-power. Who will cave first? Dealerships make you wait to get you dreaming about your new wheels. Why not bite back? Car salesmen’s commissions are based on volume. They want to sell lots of cars fast. And unless you’re shopping for a rare model, there will be plenty of cars left tomorrow. With every day that goes by, the dealer will grow anxious wondering whether you changed your mind or found a better deal. Use time in your favor to get dealers to provide even more price concessions.
Go rate shopping
You wouldn’t negotiate with car salesmen without the car’s average price; you shouldn’t negotiate an auto loan without information, either. If you can, get your credit report before buying a car.
Apply for an auto loan online or from your local bank or credit union and take the approval with you to the dealership. You may get an even better rate from the dealer.
Worried about too many credit applications negatively affecting your credit score? Don’t worry: Credit bureaus now count multiple inquiries within one month as a single inquiry.
Ready to get out there and buy a car? Make sure you have all the information you need:
- Know how much you can afford before you shop — use our Car Affordability Calclulator
- Finance your car the smart way: tips for saving on your car loan
- Get free price quotes on cars at Edmunds.com
Earn and save more with our free course:
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