Dealing with Car Dealers: Three Tips
The tricky, slimy car dealer has become a popular cliche in movies -- and a quick look at review sites like yelp.com reveals that there's plenty of 'em in real life too. Most folks look at the visit to the local car dealership as a necessary evil, and it isn't any more pleasant when you feel like you're getting railroaded into making an auto purchase. We might not be able to get you out of that trek to the dealer, but we can at least offer three crucial tips on how to make that trek as painless as possible.
1. Know the price range you're shooting for.
Get familiar with the auto you're thinking about buying, and all the particular features you want with it. Then check sites like Edmunds.com (finding out the True Market Value (TMV) for the car you're looking it is a good place to start) and the Kelley Blue Book to see how much cars with the specific features you want are being sold for in your area. This is your baseline price, and with some luck and persistence, you can bargain down from there to a better deal. Keep in mind, too, that if you're making monthly payments, you'll have to pay interest as well, so do some research on interest rates and options that work for you -- this will protect against the possibility that the dealer will try to finagle a monthly payment plan that's more to their benefit. Whatever happens, do not throw out your baseline price when you're beginning to negotiate with the dealer -- wait for the dealer to make his best initial offer before you start bargaining. Along those lines ...
2. Speak softly, and carry a big stick.
To the dealer, your best weapon is to be a blank wall. Don't say anything that gives away the price you're shooting for, or anything else that might provide an opening for the dealer to take advantage of you. For example, if you mention anything about monthly payments, the dealer might start throwing out the possibility of owning a newer model for only a "slightly larger" monthly payment, and off you go down the path of buying the car the dealer wants you to buy. Unless the dealer needs your driver's license for your test drive, don't give away any of your personal information (email address, phone number, etc.) either. Often it's the first thing they ask for when you enter the dealership, even before you look at a car! Unless you want to get inundated with spam mail for a very long time, it's best not to volunteer any info about yourself.
When it comes time to start negotiating a price, don't even bargain until the dealer has gone through every detail of the offer, and any question you might have is answered. Be polite but firm. If the dealer is giving you the runaround on a price or has to "consult with the manager," stand your ground and insist that you work it out on the spot. If you feel the dealer is stubbornly trying to steer you towards something you don't want, whether it's a higher price, a host of extra options you don't need, or a different car, remember the magic words: "No, thank you." Be prepared to walk away if you get the hard sell.
3. Skip the dealer altogether.
Many dealerships now have an "Internet Sales department" that allows you to bid and negotiate on the car you want without needing to step into the high-pressure environment of the dealership. All the rules above apply -- do your research on Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book first, get yourself approved for an auto loan if you need one, and then approach the dealership, asking for their "best quote." Stress that you want the "drive-away" price, which includes all charges and taxes. You can also mention the auto loan you're approved for and see if the dealership can counter with a better offer. As with the above tips, be prepared to walk away if you're not getting what you want.
Bonus tip: Know the enemy.
Want to see how crazy working in a dealership can get? Read this in-depth article from Edmunds on the life of a car dealer. No wonder some of them resort to lowball tactics...