How to Negotiate with a Car Dealer
By The Editors

Car buying in the age of the internet is simultaneously easier and more challenging than it has ever been. Here’s how to get a great deal on your next ride.

How to Negotiate with a Car Dealer


Ever notice how often a salesman gets in the way when you're trying to buy something?

Selling cars is not rocket science. If you think you know more than the salesman, you probably do.

Guys of a certain age remember going with their fathers to a car dealer to buy something new or used.

On the way there, and most definitely on the way back, you heard the sounds of anger and regret.

Or conversely, maybe you heard happy expressions of triumph, of Pops finally outwitting the car guy. Even if he didn’t.

Some men trusted car dealers, others did not. Some of the did-nots had a point, as the Lemon Laws passed in many states in the second half of the 20th century highlighted just how dishonest some dealers could be (“lemon” — describing something of lousy quality — started as a Limey term, fyi). 

The internet changed everything about buying a car.

The internet changed everything about buying a car. First came the leaked information about what dealers actually paid on their end. Then came more consumer-friendly data like whether or not a car had been in an accident, what major repairs it’s had, and what customers thought about local dealers via online ratings and reviews.

With all that, car buying is simpler now – and more secure for the customer – but you still need to do your homework and be willing to haggle on price to get your best deal.

You’ll find great information about car negotiations all over the internet – like here, here, here, and here.

Some basics:

  • Start with what you think is a fair price. This can come from online research of dealer invoices or comps on other car sites. The price you think is fair is your foundation.
  • Don’t go by “what do you want to pay each month,” as a dealer can manipulate MSRP, financing, and fees to make any car fit a monthly payment range. The math will make you dizzy. Stick with overall vehicle price.
  • Research vehicle, packages, options, everything, and know exactly what you want before you talk to a sales rep. That way you know before you go exactly what you want to pay.
  • But be open-minded about vehicles that might be close to what you want and a better deal (such as the previous year’s model).
  • Bring pre-approved car financing with you. That way the rep has no sway over what your terms would be if you used the dealer financing.
  • Bring a friend if negotiating isn’t in your wheelhouse.
  • Keep it friendly! If you’re obnoxious, trying to intimidate employees, or otherwise try to tip scales in your favor by your demeanor, all you’re doing is giving them an excuse to treat the lousy customer like crap. Be nice. It’s just business and it’s just a car.
  • If you refuse the TruCoat, get it in writing before the car is delivered and if they still jack you around, feel free to get up and walk away.