One of the most common questions we receive goes something along the lines of “How can I guarantee myself that I am getting the very best price on a car?” There are no guarantees–the car business is far too variable for that–but there are a few “moves” you can make which will give you the upper hand when it comes time to get prices on the car you want to buy.
Be knowledgeable. Don’t ever let a car salesperson be your primary source of knowledge–not on vehicles, and definitely not on pricing (or financing). Do research and make comparisons before you go to a car dealership. It’s tough to win when your “trainer” is your adversary in negotiations!
Be realistic. If your interest is in a vehicle with a $22,000 list price and a $20,200 invoice price for example, you are not going to be able to buy it for $17,000 unless there is a rather unlikely $3000 rebate on the vehicle. Realism goes hand in hand with the knowledge you gather and allows you to be much better prepared when you enter the showroom.
Be flexible. Getting hooked on a specific vehicle–right down to the color and specific options–can be very expensive. Don’t let an insistence on the “Moonglow Diamond Metallic” paint color cost you money. Dealers can often make additional concessions on vehicles that they have in stock as opposed to those they need to secure elsewhere.
Use online resources to get bona-fide quotes. Does getting a quote give you a firm point of reference? Absolutely. Instead of a hazy idea of what you may be able to buy a particular model for, you’ve got a specific price and a reference, in relation to the invoice cost, of the dealer’s profit level. You may find that the quoted price fits within your financial parameters. If not, you can modify your choice to better fit.
Keep your eyes open for rebates and incentives. All consumer rebates and all factory-to-dealer incentives have specific start and end dates–be aware of them so you don’t get caught arriving at the dealership 1 week after a $1000 rebate has expired!
Beware of “smoke and mirrors” Car salespeople are experts of distracting your attention from your gameplan. They will try to get you to focus on vehicle colors and options, leasing, sports scores, restaurants or anything they can think of to try to get your attention off of the price. Listen politely but don’t be thrown off. Your goal must be simple: to get the best price (including the financing)–on the best vehicle for your needs–from the best dealer for your situation. Anything else becomes unnecessary fluff!
Watch out for the “extra costs” that can add up. You can make an excellent deal on the basic pricing of the car and still pay too much if you overpay for financing, insurance, warranties and repairs and maintenance, all of which can drive up the total cost of ownership.