Monday, September 12, 2016

How to Negotiate to Buy a Car

Buying a new or used car is one of the last bastions of the negotiated price. In some countries, negotiation is fairly commonplace in retail stores, but in America virtually all products are sold at a fixed price. Some of us are simply not comfortable negotiating and most of us are not very good at it. 
As I have said in previous columns, the best way to buy a new or used car in on the Internet. You can do your research on which car is the best to suit your needs, get guidance on what kind of price you can expect to pay, and finally get quotes from several dealerships on that specific car. However, everybody is not “Internet savvy” and if you are not, you may find it necessary to walk into a car dealership and negotiate for the lowest price.

If you are not comfortable with negotiation, the best advice I can give you is to bring someone along with you who is. Car sales people and sales managers are trained experts in negotiation. This is how they make their living. Here are some tips for you if you decide that you want to negotiate the best price on a car. 
  • If you have a trade-in, keep that separate from the negotiation. Negotiate the best price on the car you are buying and then negotiate the best price you can get for your trade-in. Don’t fall for the old “over allowance” on your trade-in ruse. This is where the dealer makes up the price of car you are buying higher so that he can make you think you are getting more for your trade-in. 
  • Never buy a car on payments alone. Always negotiate the best price you can for the car you are buying and then calculate your best payment when you have negotiated for the best interest rate. 
  • Be sure you understand how the dealer arrived at his retail price. Federal law dictates that a Monroney label be affixed to every vehicle with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price. Many dealers mark that up with another label, often referred to as a “Market Adjustment Addendum”. This markup can be several thousands of dollars. 
  • Expect the first price you are given to be substantially higher than what you can buy the car for. Sales people and sales managers are trained to “start high because you can always come down”. Don’t be afraid to offer substantially less than the initial asking price. You should look at just like the car salesman does, but the reverse…”start low because you can always go higher”. If the salesman excepts your first offer, you probably offered too much. In fact, shrewd car sales people are trained to always ask for more money, even if the offer is good one. This is because they don’t want to “scare off the customer” by telegraphing to the customer that he “left some money on the table”. 
  • If the sales person asks you for a deposit before he will begin negotiating, determine whether the deposit is refundable. Florida law requires a nonrefundable deposit be disclosed in writing on the receipt. If this is printed on your receipt, insist that this be waived in writing on your buyer’s order. If the dealer will not agree to this, be warned that he may be able to keep your deposit if you change your mind about buying the car. 
  • Be prepared for a lot of “back and forth” when the salesman takes your offer back to the manager. When you get close to finding a mutually acceptable price, the manager himself will often come to talk to you. Don’t be intimidated stick to your guns even when they tell you this is “positively, absolutely the lowest price”. Even if you think you do have the lowest price, a great strategy is to get up, walk out of the showroom, and get into your car to drive away. This will often precipitate an even better price. When you try this, the worst case scenario is that you really do drive home, but you can always return and buy the car the next day for the last price they quoted you. They may tell you that you have to buy today, but nine times out of ten that is a bluff. The only exception is when there are factory rebates and incentive expiring. 
  • The last day of the month really is a good time to buy a car. The salesman’s bonus money is maximized, the factory incentives are in effect, the managers are desperate to make their quotas, and it is the one time of the month when the buyer has the best edge in negotiation. 
Caveat emptor “let the buyer beware” could have been written specifically for what you can expect when you walk into a car dealership to negotiate the best price. You are up against experts who negotiate for living. But, if you will follow my advice above, you should be able to hold your own and maybe even get a great deal.


  1. I have been buying cars for forty years. Only on a handful of occasions have I ever been asked for a deposit. The only time a deposit is reasonable is if the vehicle is not on the lot and needs to be shipped from a different dealer or is to be produced.

    Not too long ago I helped my daughter buy a new Subaru. The sales person asked for a $1,000 deposit so he could show the sales manager we were serious. I told him we were in the dealership, sitting down talking numbers. That is all the deposit he was going to get.

    There is simply no reason to provide a deposit of any kind when negotiating for a vehicle in the dealer's inventory or until the price has been negotiated for any vehicle not in inventory.

    Buyers would be wise to leave any dealer who insists on any deposit until after the deal is negotiated. That is an indication of a less than ethical dealership.

    There are far too many good dealerships available.

  2. Douglas, thanks very much for your comments. You're very smart to refuse to give a deposit for a car unless it's necessary to order or locate a car that's not in stock. When you find it necessary to leave a deposit, always insist upon a receipt and be sure the receipt does not state that your deposit is "nonrefundable".

  3. Hi Earl, great website and I watch all your videos on youtube, you rock! I understand your recommendation and many others say that always negotiate the price of the whole car price even if you are leasing, never focus on monthly payment, I get that, but for me, whom likes to have a new car every 2 or 3 years, since I never buy the car at the end of the lease anyway, shouldn't I focus mainly on the monthly payment? can you help me understand why my thinking is wrong here? Thanks!

  4. Your monthly payment is very important but it can be manipulated by the dealer. I'm not suggesting that you don't CONSIDER the monthly payment, just don't focus entirely on it. For example, longer terms will lower your monthly payment but making payment for 84 months instead of 36 costs you lots more money and takes you much longer to build equity; if you're leasing your total obligation to the lessor is much greater. You should be comfortable with your monthly payment but be sure you're not paying more for the privilege of a lower payment.

  5. Earl your videos and site are fantastic! How do we approach a dealer that stone walls and says we don't negotiate. They claim they price their vehicles competitively which they do but would not even entertain or counter offer. One tip I use is once I find a vehicle I'm interested in I screen shot the price each day for multiple dealers over the course of a few weeks and use that info to show their best price has come down multiple times however they are still not willing to haggle. Their current price is $250 higher than one posted a few weeks back and i asked the salesman and sales manager is that your best price? Both said yes, I then asked why was the price cheaper two weeks ago 13th of the month. This really threw them for a loop. After 30 mins they stated the dealership made their quota and changed the price accordingly. I find this very frustrating. I left the dealer. Do i have any wiggle room?

    Thanks Nick


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