Buying a new car at a dealership doesn't have to be an ordeal. With some research, planning and a buying strategy, you can get the best deal on the car of your choice without feeling like you've been taken for a ride. Begin by defining your basic auto needs, including price range, size, fuel economy, performance and options. Then get down to some Internet or consumer magazine research to find makes and models within your price range, along with a listing of specifications and options.
Call your local bank or other lending institution to get pre-qualified for a new car loan. You can often obtain better rates and terms going through a private lender than through the dealership.
Sell your trade-in vehicle to a private party whenever possible, as you will likely earn more money. If it's more convenient for you to trade it, mention the trade after you've negotiated the best price for your new car. Don't forget to check published values for your trade-in, online or in automotive "blue books" obtained at bookstores or your local library, to ensure that you're getting a fair price.
Take a test drive to be sure the vehicle you've chosen is everything you expected, and don't be sold on looks or brand names alone. You'll have to live with this car every day for at least a few years so make sure it's something you actually like to drive and will meet your needs.
Ask the salesperson for the lowest possible price, and explain that the financing is already taken care of (if this is the case). If the salesperson asks what you would like to pay, or how much you can afford each month, reiterate your question. Get the quote in writing, thank the salesperson and leave.
Go to another dealership and get another price for the same car with the same features using the same tactics with the salesperson. It's OK to mention that you've been shopping around, and to share pricing information, as you try to get another dealer to match or beat your written quote.
Go home and sleep on it for a day or two, then make your decision. This avoids impulse buying, and will ensure that you've taken a bit of time to evaluate your choice without the pressure of being in the dealership.
Return to the dealership you've chosen and negotiate your trade-in, if applicable. When you've reached an agreement, leave a deposit for the vehicle and contact your bank. The lender will take care of any remaining paperwork and issue a check to you or to the dealership.
- Use car buying worksheets to list specifications and prices for comparison. A worksheet will help you keep track and sort through the deluge of information you're likely to encounter. The Federal Trade Commission has a worksheet you may use in its free online "Buying a New Car" publication.
- Take advantage of manufacturer's rebates and trade-in deals, but be sure to read the fine print. There is no such thing as something for nothing, and what sounds like a super deal may end up costing the same as no deal at all, or may even add to the final price.
- Shop around for service contracts and extended warranties just as you would a vehicle. The dealer's warranty may not always be the best value.
- Don't feel stuck with a salesperson who makes you feel uncomfortable. You have the right to speak to a sales manager and switch salespeople.
- Avoid leaving a deposit on any car. Dealers will sometimes claim that someone else is interested and you may lose the vehicle you want. This may or may not be true, but it puts you in a position to make an on-the-spot decision. There are always other cars if the one you want has indeed been sold.
- Read all contracts and sales agreements before you sign, especially if you opt for dealer financing, to avoid surprises and misunderstandings later.
- Once you take delivery, it's yours, so test drive and physically inspect the car before you drive it off the lot. Even in the best-run dealerships, cars are prone to dents and scratches which may not be noticed until you get the car home and show it off to your envious friends.
Matt McKay began his writing career in 1999, writing training programs and articles for a national corporation. His work has appeared in various online publications and materials for private companies. McKay has experience in entrepreneurship, corporate training, human resources, technology and the music business.