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a New Car Tips


Negotiating to Buy a New Car
(Updated November 3, 2014)

(For Used Cars Go to Negotiating to Buy a Used Car) 


  .  

Do you hate the thought of buying a new car because of the struggle you have to go through negotiating? This page provides you with all of the resources that you will need to make the process easy, comfortable (yes, comfortable) and financially rewarding. If you use the resources and approaches outlined below, you can turn buying that car into the pleasurable experience that it should be!

Here's what we will cover:

Planning the Negotiation for Your New Car
Starting the Negotiation from Home
Negotiating at the Dealership
Financing   
Selling Your Used Car

How to Negotiate if You Are Leasing
Questions - Feedback - Free Negotiating Book
 

Planning the Negotiation for Your New Car

Find Out What the Dealer Paid for the Car

The true dealer cost is made up of four components - Dealer Invoice, Advertised Rebates, Hidden Dealer Incentives and the Holdback.  So before we do anything else, we have to find out what the dealer paid for the car.

  • Dealer Invoice - Edmunds is a good on-line source to calculate Dealer Invoice pricing.  Using Edmunds is straightforward.  Choose the make and then the model of the car, click on the style that you want if there more than one, and then click on the "Price with Options" button.  It will give you the MSRP (Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price - the "sticker" price) and the Dealer Invoice for the car and for each option or option package available.  Print that page, you will need it later.  (Ignore the "True Market Value" price. That's just there to placate the dealers so they won't be too mad at Edmunds for giving away all their secrets.  You will be able to do better than the TMV price).

  • Advertised Rebates - There may be advertised "Cash Back" rebates for the car that you want. For example, the 2014 Ford Edge has a $500 advertised rebate which they must give to you if you buy the car, plus two additional advertised rebates of $2,500 and $500 if you finance with Ford Motor Credit.  You need to know what the rebates are in advance, since they will affect your opening offer to the dealer.

  • Dealer Incentives - Surprise!  There may also be hidden incentives that the manufacturer gives to the dealer. For example, the 2014 Cadillac ATS has a $4,000 hidden factory-to-dealer incentive.  You can only get this incentive if you know it is there.  Otherwise the dealer keeps the incentive. These rebates and incentives change from month to month so you need to get the most recent information.  Edmunds has a complete database both advertised and hidden rebates .

  • The Holdback - The Holdback is a hidden rebate that is paid directly to the dealer by the manufacturer for each car sold. Go to the Edmunds Data Base of Current Holdbacks and copy down the Holdback for the car you want.

Determine Actual Dealer Cost

  • Put the Cost Data Together
    Let's say that you have decided on a "Roadster Supreme" with an MSRP sticker price, including all options, of $26,000 plus $800 for delivery. Your research comes up with the following information:

Dealer invoice (Car plus Options) $23,000
Advertising charge* (350?)
Delivery 800
Rebate -1,000
Hidden dealer incentive -750
   
   
Invoice cost to the dealer $22,400

Holdback of 3%**

780

Final cost to the dealer

$21,620
  • *The Advertising Charge - Most dealers participate in joint advertising campaigns with other dealers in their local market. They pay for this advertising by assessing themselves an amount per car sold. The advertising charge is a real per car cost to the dealer (i.e., it is not overhead since it is paid only when a car is sold) and that is why it is included in the calculation above to get the final dealer cost. However, it is not listed as part of the sticker price of the car.  It is listed on the dealer invoice (which they may show you) although sometimes it is given a code and not called "advertising charge."  It tends to be in the $300-$400 range (anything above that may mean that they are showing you a false invoice.)
     
  • **The Holdback - The Holdback of 3% of MSRP (Manufacturers Suggest Retail Price) on this car is $780 which the dealer gets in a check from the manufacturer for each car sold.  This effectively reduces the dealer's cost for the car to $21,620.

The Anatomy of a New Car Negotiation

While most people perceive negotiating for a new car as an extremely difficult experience, if you look at it purely from a negotiator's perspective, you find something quite surprising. Negotiating for a new car is actually simpler than almost any other negotiation that you will ever undertake.

The essence of negotiating, and what makes a negotiation difficult is that usually, you don't know the other party's bottom line (which we call the Least Acceptable Settlement or LAS).  What makes a new car negotiation easy from a negotiator's point of view is that, based on the experience of a lot of people, we pretty much know how to calculate the dealer's LAS. 

As a general rule, you can expect that the minimum profit that the dealer will accept for a car is 3% .  Where the Holdback is 3% (as it is for all American cars except Lincoln and many foreign cars) the dealer's LAS will be the Invoice price of the car, plus Delivery, plus the Advertising charge, less any advertised or hidden Rebates (I+D+A-R). The dealer keeps the 3% Holdback.  In the case of the example above, the dealer would be able to sell you the car for $22,400.  Where the Holdback is less than 3%, you can expect the dealer will still need to make a profit of 3%. Therefore, if the Holdback is 2%, you will probably need to pay an additional 1% above invoice.

What makes the whole process so difficult is that car dealers are acutely aware of their negotiating vulnerability and use all kinds of mind tricks, game playing, and psychological warfare to convince you that you will have to pay a lot more than you actually need to. Your goal is simple - move them to their bottom line while ignoring or sidestepping all of their nonsense.

  • Document Fees - Almost all car sales contracts include a "Document Fee."  This is pre-printed in the contract and is for handling the paperwork and getting you your new license plates.  It used to be about $100.  Although $100 is overkill for the amount of work involved, mostly one held one's nose and paid it since it really wasn't worth fighting over.  Unfortunately, as buyers have become more effective negotiators, many dealers have tried to compensate by bumping the document fee up to $400 and even higher.  Demand to know what the pre-printed document fee (and any other fees that they might have stuck into the contract) are before you start negotiating.  If the document fee is $400, figure that at least $300 of that is pure profit.  That would mean that they could sell you that "Roadster Supreme" for $22,100.

Starting the Negotiation from the Comfort of Your Own Home

Use the Internet to Get Quotes on the Car You Want

Your first step is to get some e-mail quotes on the car you want before you actually go to a dealership to negotiate.  This allows you to start the negotiating process from home, which is definitely to your advantage.  Also, by getting an e-mail quote, you identify yourself as an Internet customer. Most car dealerships divide customers into two categories, those who use the Internet to do research and probably know what the dealer invoice is, and those who don't. By using an Internet service to get your quotes, you announce immediately that you are an "Internet Customer" and it will be the Internet salesperson who will e-mail you the quote and with whom you will begin the negotiation.

You should get a few quotes from dealers near you, since this will give you a good lay of the land and a range of choices (remember, any dealer will happily perform warrantee work and service your car regardless of who you buy it from).  I like Yahoo Autos because the dealers they send you to will actually give you a quote without a battle and their web site automatically selects the three or four dealers nearest to you.  Edmunds also has a very reputable quote service that you can use.

To Trade-In or Not to Trade-In

If you are going to sell your old car when you buy the new one, the first thing that you have to decide is whether you will trade in your car to the dealer or sell it yourself to a private party.  You will need to follow a different negotiating sequence depending on whether you will or will not trade in your car to the dealer.  If you are not going to trade a car in to the dealer, follow the sequence immediately below.  If you are going to trade-in your car, skip down to the trade-in sequence

Negotiating Sequence without a Trade-In

  • Starting the Negotiation on the Phone

    After you have submitted your request for quotes from Edmunds, you'll receive an e-mails with quotes.  Each quote should include a copy of the sticker for the car being quoted so that you can see what they are quoting against.  If it is not attached, e-mail them back and ask for it. Once you have the quotes, you are ready to telephone the Internet salespeople who sent you the quotes. I recommend that you initiate a phone call rather than waiting for them to call you so that when you call you are totally prepared. If they call you before you are prepared, just tell them that you will call back. (Occasionally the Internet salesperson will call you and give you the quote over the phone. That is okay. Just take down the information and tell them that you will call them back.)

    There are several things that you want to accomplish in the first phone call:

    1. Establish Yourself in Their Minds - Throughout this phone call a key objective is to establish yourself in their minds as a knowledgeable buyer. You want to be seen as firm, but also friendly and easy to do business with.

    2. Verify the Quotes - The quotes should include a copy of the sticker for the car being quoted so that you can see what they are quoting against.  If it is not attached, e-mail them back and ask for it.  When you get the quotes, go over them with a fine tooth comb.  Some dealerships will play it straight and give you a quote that makes sense.  Others will play games.  One quote that we saw had a sticker attached that was added up wrong. When you see printed numbers, you assume that the computer added them up correctly. Here they had doctored it such that the sticker total was $1,200 more than it actually was when you added up the individual components, thus making it appear that their quote offered a much bigger discount than it actually did. 

    3. Respond to Their Quote - You aren't likely to be able to actually negotiate a final price over the phone, in part because you don't yet know exactly which car you want (you might prefer a different car from the one that they quoted you) and in part because they are very unlikely to agree to go all the way down to their LAS over the phone. However, you can get the process started and lay down some key markers. You could give a general response such as:
       
      • "I reviewed your quotation and I'm not sure whether or not it is worth coming to the dealership if this is the best you can do."
      • "I've looked at your quotation and it really is not all that competitive which surprises me. I hope that you can do better than that."
      • "I'm pretty much of a price buyer and will need you to be a lot more aggressive than your quotation. Is that something that you can do or should I not bother coming in?"

      You will almost invariably get a response to the effect of:

      • "Well, we might still have some flexibility."
      • "I'll have to talk to my sales manager but I am sure that we can do something for you."
      • "We'll never lose a sale because of price."

      Or, if you wanted to take it further you could say:

      • "Well, I really appreciate the quote that you gave me. The problem is, I'm not really sure whether you want me as a customer or not, because what I'm looking to do is to buy that car at invoice."

      And again almost invariably they will tell you to come in.  Of course you're not home free yet. When you get to the dealership, they will try every trick in the book to try to jack the price up. But you are halfway there and you have not even left home yet.

    4. Maintain Pricing Confidentiality - One thing that I don't recommend is telling one dealer what another dealer's quote was.  It is ok to acknowledge that you are looking at several quotes.  However, when they ask "Can you tell me who quoted you what price?" your response should be "I treat everyone's quote as confidential and proprietary.  I won't share your quote with others, and by the same token I won't share quotes from other dealerships with you."  That will end the discussion and you will also actually gain respect in their eyes.

    5. Screen the Salespeople and Make an Appointment - Walking into a dealership can be a bit unnerving. There are usually salespeople hanging around the door, or even outside the door, just waiting to pounce the moment they spot you.  By starting the process on the phone, you can screen salespeople and dealerships.  Choose who you want to deal with and make an appointment with them.  When you arrive, just tell the salesperson who grabs you that you have an appointment.  (Remember, when it comes to warranty work and service, any dealership will be happy to work on your car regardless of where you bought it so you don't necessarily have to buy from the closest dealership.) 

  • Continuing the Negotiation at the Dealership

  1. Decide Which Car on the Lot You Want - Make sure you bring a pad and pen with you. Once you have decided on the car, carefully write down all of the pricing information on the car's sticker. This will include the base cost of the car, each option and the delivery charge. Under no circumstances let the salesperson rush you or keep you from doing this.

  2. Calculate the Invoice Price for That Car - Make sure that you printed out the invoice prices for the car and the options for all of the trim lines for the model that you are considering before you left home.  On the sheet where you wrote down the pricing information from the sticker for the car you want, write down the invoice prices for the car and the options, add the delivery charge, and now you have the invoice price except for the advertising charge. Again, under no circumstances let the salesperson rush you or keep you from doing this.  (If you are actually buying the car that they quoted you or you were able to get the sticker prices for the cars you are looking at off the dealer's website, then you will have already done this step before you even leave the house.)

  3. Repeat Your Offer - In your conversation on the phone, you have already said that you wanted to buy the car at invoice less rebates (leaving out the advertising charge for the time being), but at the time you didn't push it hard. Now you need to make it clear that invoice plus delivery less rebates is your firm offer for the car.  In our "Roadster Supreme" example above, that would be $22,050. In all likelihood the salesperson will ask you how you got that number, and you should explain it. They will then tell you that that's not the real invoice price, and in fact they're most likely correct. You have left out the advertising charge, the amount of which you don't yet know exactly. Ask them to bring you the invoice and show it to you to prove to you that you are wrong. You can go through the invoice to match up the price of the car and all the options and there should be one item left over. That will be the advertising charge.  (If they refuse to bring you the invoice, tell them that you will simply assume that the information that you have is the actual dealer invoice.)

  4. Don't Just Do Something, Sit There - Now it gets easy because you don't really have to do anything except wait. You know that you are going to buy the car at  the Invoice price of the car, plus Delivery, plus the Advertising charge, less any advertised or hidden Rebates (I+D+A-R). This is not terribly hard but you do have to maintain focus. Now you can skip down to the section on your negotiating tactics since you don't need the next section which is about how to negotiate if you do have a trade-in.

Negotiating Sequence with a Trade-In

  • Starting the Negotiation on the Phone

    After you have submitted your request for quotes from Edmunds, you'll receive an e-mail with the quote.  The quote should include a copy of the sticker for the car being quoted so that you can see what they are quoting against.  If it is not attached, e-mail them back and ask for it. Once you have the quotes, you are ready to telephone the Internet salespeople who sent you the quotes. I recommend that you initiate a phone call rather than waiting for them to call you so that when you call you are totally prepared. If they call you before you are prepared, just tell them that you will call back. (Occasionally the Internet salesperson will call you and give you the quote over the phone. That is okay. Just take down the information and tell them that you will call them back.)

    Next you need to factor in the trade-in side of the negotiation.  When you trade in your car, you are essentially conducting two negotiations at once. For the new car you are the buyer and you know the seller's LAS.  For the used car you are the seller and you do not know the buyer's LAS. (A quick note on terminology. The term Least Acceptable Settlement is used for both the buyer and seller. The LAS for the seller is the lowest price that they would sell at and the LAS for the buyer is the highest price that they would pay.) Your first task is to try to make an estimate as to the most that the dealer would be willing to pay for your car (their LAS).  The key components that will go into establishing the dealer's LAS are the market value for the car and whether or not the dealer will keep the car to sell themselves or will sell it at auction.

    Again, finding the market value for your used car is more difficult than finding the dealer invoice price for a new car.  N.A.D.A., Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds all report different numbers.  Taking an average of the three can be a good starting point. (Keep in mind that Kelley sells its "Blue Book" to dealers and that it often gives lower values for trade-ins.) 

    There are several things that you want to accomplish in the first phone call:

    1. Establish Yourself in Their Minds as a Knowledgeable Buyer - Throughout this phone call a key objective is to establish yourself in their minds as a knowledgeable buyer. You want to be seen as firm but also friendly and easy to do business with.

    2. Verify the Quotes - The quotes should include a copy of the sticker for the car being quoted so that you can see what they are quoting against.  If it is not attached, e-mail them back and ask for it.  When you get the quotes, go over them with a fine tooth comb.  Some dealerships will play it straight and give you a quote that makes sense.  Others will play games.  One quote that we saw had a sticker attached that was added up wrong. When you see printed numbers, you assume that the computer added them up correctly. Here they had doctored it such that the sticker total was $1,200 more than it actually was when you added up the individual components, thus making it appear that their quote offered a much bigger discount than it actually did.

    3. Try to Find Out what They Are Likely to Do with Your Used Car - Next, try to figure out whether or not the dealership might keep your car to sell. If your car is four or more years old, it will probably go to auction. If it is two or three years old, the dealership might want to keep it to sell themselves. Let's say, for example, that you are trading in a three-year-old Taurus. Call up some of the dealerships where you might buy your new car and ask for the used car department. Ask the salesperson whether they have any in stock. Have a conversation and listen between the lines. If the salesperson says "I only have one left. These cars sell like hotcakes," then there is a good chance that that dealership will want your car and may be willing to pay a decent price for it. If the salesperson says "I never get those cars, because they don't sell," then they certainly would send it off to auction.

      If they do send it off to auction, their LAS is going to be lower because there are so many steps and players involved. They have the expense of shipping it to auction and the auction house fee.  They have to buy low enough to assure that the price that they get at auction will still give them a profit. The price that they get at action will be far lower than retail because the dealership that purchases it has to pay an agent at auction who buys for them, has to ship it to their dealership, and then has to hope that they can negotiate a price with a decent profit on it when they sell it.

    4. Respond to Their Quote - You aren't likely to be able to actually negotiate a final price over the phone, in part because you don't yet know exactly which car you want (you might prefer a different car from the one that they quoted you) and in part because they are very unlikely to agree to go all the way down to their LAS over the phone. However, you can get the process started and lay down some key markers. You probably don't want to let them know at this stage that you are going to be insisting on buying the new car at their LAS (I+D+A-R). The reason is that once they recognize where you're going on the new car, they are going to try to get it back on the used car. Therefore, you will want to have a general discussion, just to get a feel for their approach, before you go into the dealership. You could give a general response such as:
       
      • "I reviewed your quotation and I'm not sure whether or not it is worth coming to the dealership if this is the best you can do."
      • "I've looked at your quotation and it really is not all that competitive which surprises me. I hope that you can do better than that."
      • "I'm pretty much of a price buyer and will need you to be a lot more aggressive than your quotation. Is that something that you can do or should I not bother coming in?"

      You will almost invariably get a response to the effect of:

      • "Well, we might still have some flexibility."
      • "I'll have to talk to my sales manager but I am sure that we can do something for you."
      • "We'll never lose a sale because of price."

      Of course you're not home free yet. When you get to the dealership, they will try every trick in the book to try to jack the price up. But you are halfway there and you have not even left home yet.

    5. Maintain Pricing Confidentiality - One thing that I don't recommend is telling one dealer what another dealer's quote was.  It is ok to acknowledge that you are looking at several quotes.  However, when they ask "Can you tell me who quoted you what price?" your response should be "I treat everyone's quote as confidential and proprietary.  I won't share your quote with others, and by the same token I won't share quotes from other dealerships with you."  That will end the discussion and you will also actually gain respect in their eyes.

    6. Screen the Salespeople and Make an Appointment - Walking into a dealership can be a bit unnerving. There are usually salespeople hanging around the door, or even outside the door, just waiting to pounce the moment they spot you.  By starting the process on the phone, you can screen salespeople and dealerships.  Choose who you want to deal with and make an appointment with them.  When you arrive, just tell the salesperson who grabs you that you have an appointment.  (Remember, when it comes to warranty work and service, any dealership will be happy to work on your car regardless of where you bought it so you don't necessarily have to buy from the closest dealership.) 

  • Continuing the Negotiation at the Dealership

  1. Decide Which Car on the Lot You Want - Make sure you bring a pad and pen with you. Once you have decided on the car, carefully write down all of the pricing information on the car's sticker. This will include the base cost of the car, each option and the delivery charge. Under no circumstances let the salesperson rush you or keep you from doing this.

  2. Calculate the Invoice Price for That Car - Make sure that you printed out the invoice prices for the car and the options for all of the trim lines for the model that you are considering before you left home.  On the sheet where you wrote down the pricing information from the sticker for the car you want, write down the invoice prices for the car and the options, add the delivery charge, and now you have the invoice price except for the advertising charge. Again, under no circumstances let the salesperson rush you or keep you from doing this.  (If you are actually buying the car that they quoted you or you were able to get the sticker prices for the cars you are looking at off the dealer's website, then you will have already done this step before you even leave the house.)

  3. Get an Offer - Get an offer on both the new car and on the trade-in.  Respond that the offer on the trade-in is much too low and then drop the trade-in from the discussion and focus solely on the new car until that negotiation is completed. 

  4. Make Your Counteroffer on the New Car - In your conversation on the phone, you already said that you wanted to buy the car at invoice less rebates (leaving out the advertising charge for the time being), but at the time you didn't push it hard. Now you need to make it clear that invoice less rebates is your firm offer for the car.  In our "Roadster Supreme" example above, that would be $22,050. In all likelihood the salesperson will ask you how you got that number, and you should explain it. They will then tell you that that's not the real invoice price, and in fact they're most likely correct. You have left out the advertising charge, the amount of which you don't yet know exactly. Ask them to bring you the invoice and show it to you to prove to you that you are wrong. You can go through the invoice to match up the price of the car and all the options and there should be one item left over. That will be the advertising charge.  (If they refuse to bring you the invoice, tell them that you will simply assume that the information that you have is the actual dealer invoice.)

  5. Don't Just Do Something, Sit There - Now it gets easier because you don't really have to do anything except wait. You know that you are going to buy the car at  the Invoice price of the car, plus Delivery, plus the Advertising charge, less any advertised or hidden Rebates (I+D+A-R). The key is to maintain your focus.

  6. Reopen the Negotiation on the Trade-in - Once you have a deal on the new car, then it is time to reopen negotiations on the trade-in.  Since you are unwilling to sell the car yourself, that means that you will take the best offer that you can get from them. However, it is essential that they not realize that you do not have the option of selling it yourself. Thus you need to be a good bluffer. You might say; "Unfortunately, your offer on the trade-in is way too low. Maybe what I should do now is go sell the car myself, and then when I do I'll come back and buy the new car."

    In all likelihood their first response, in order to test you, will be, "Okay, if that's what you want to do fine, but we can't guarantee that the price we have agreed on for the new car will be good when you come back later." This is when you'll have to start your soft walkout.  Then leave slowly, keeping the conversation going, and expect that there is a high likelihood that they will make concessions to keep you from leaving. You might actually have to go through this more than once to get them down to their bottom line.

    When they finally stop making concessions, or if they refuse to increase the price at all, you have a decision to make. If you think that the price that they are offering is the best that you will ever get, even if you were to actually leave and continue the discussion on the phone or go to another dealer, then take their offer and close out the transaction. If you think you could get more if you left and talked to them later or tried a different dealer, then do that. Of course, this means that in advance you have decided that you will be comfortable if you don't finish the transaction today and that you are willing to leave.

  • An Alternate Approach at the Dealership - If you want to spend a little more time, there is an alternate approach that you can take. Instead of making just one appointment, make appointments at several dealerships that are in close proximity. At each dealership, instead of getting an offer on both the new car and the used car, you tell them that first of all you need to know what they will pay you for the used car. Whatever number they give you, tell them it is too low and try to get them to go higher. When they stop going higher, or if they won't go higher at all, you say something like "I think that I really have to reconsider what I'm going to do with the used car. I'll get back to you," and then you leave. Of course, they will try very hard to keep you from leaving and will probably talk to you about what a wonderful deal they can give you on the new car. Just be steadfast, see if they will go any higher on the used car and then leave. You do this at each of the dealerships where you have an appointment.

    The highest offer that you have received from any one of the dealerships is probably the best you are going to be able to do. Call the dealership that give you the best offer and make another appointment, telling them that "Since you are offering me so little for my used car, I expect a great deal on the new car."  When you get back to the dealership, reiterate their offer on the used car and then tell them that "because they're offering such a low price with the used car, you'll need to buy the new one at invoice plus delivery less rebates." You then proceed to close out the negotiation as described in steps 4 and 5 above.
     

  • Your Negotiating Tactics

    1. Have a Laser Focus - You want to buy the car at their bottom line (LAS), which is the Invoice price of the car plus Delivery and  the Advertising charge less any advertised or hidden Rebates (I+D+A-R).  Your job is to stay totally, 100% focused on that outcome. Their job is to throw you off and use every trick in the book to convince you that what you want to do is not possible.  But of course it is possible. They sell hundreds of cars every month. Every week, week in and week out, some of those cars are sold at their LAS. They are used to it. It is included in their business model. They just want to keep the number sold at their LAS to the minimum possible.

    2. Set Your Mind to Be Calm and Patient - Patience is critical in a negotiation. The impatient negotiator always loses. Never fall in love with the car (or if you have, hide it well) and never be in a hurry.  Take your time.  Never feel like you have to buy a car on the spot. In fact, when you leave for the dealership, go with the mindset that there is a 25% chance that you will buy the car today and a 75% chance that it will require a second visit to the dealership with some telephone negotiations in between.

    3. Stay in Control - Salespeople are trained to "take control of the sale." There is no need to fight this, just go with their flow for the most part. Only you can control you. Be nice, be friendly, but be firm. Remember that you have absolute and total control over the only two things that matter, your pen (no one can make you sign a piece of paper) and your feet (you can walk out any time you want).

    4. Your Bottom Line - How do you set your bottom line? When you're buying a new car it is fairly simple. Your bottom line is based on the alternatives available to you. Since for most cars you can almost always find a dealership who will sell you a car at I+D+A-R, this should probably be the most that you are willing to pay.

    5. Don't Ever Let Their Games Make You Angry - Getting angry will just throw you off and be to their advantage.  Expect tricks and game playing.  It just goes with the territory.  If you like, take out a pad of paper, write Dealer Games at the top and keep yourself amused by writing down each thing they try.

    6. Time - Just relax and let all their tactics and machinations roll off you like water rolls off a duck's back. It may take an hour or so for them to become convinced that you really intend to get a good price, so bring a book or some work to do so that you won't be wasting time or feeling anxious.  It is not a bad idea to set a time limit. Tell the salesperson upfront that you only have an hour and then you have to leave. Or go an hour before their closing time. Or bring an alarm clock and put it on their desk.

    7. Walking Out - One of the key realities of any negotiation is that no one will make a deal with you unless they are convinced that you won't go any further. And sometimes the only way to do that is to walk out. But when you walk out, do what we call a "soft walkout."  You want to say things like "I'm sorry this doesn't seem to be working out," "Feel free to call me if you change your mind," and similar statements. Then leave slowly, keeping the conversation going, and expect that there is a high likelihood that they will make concessions to keep you from leaving. You might actually have to go through this more than once to get them down to their bottom line.  Of course, if they really won't go to I+D+A-R, then leave and go on to the next dealership.
       

  • Hardball but Not Unethical Dealer Negotiating Tactics
  1. Guilt Trips - "We have to make a profit, too, you know." "I have a mortgage to pay just like you do." "You are really being very unfair to us." "Do you really think that anybody could stay in business at the level of profit you're offering us?" Guilt trips are all part of the psychological warfare. Do not engage or argue. Just refocus the discussion back to the price of the car. You can say things like "I understand what you're saying but we really need to focus on the issue at hand here," or "I understand fully but it is your car and you will make the final decision as to whether or not to sell it to me."  This is also a good time to remind them of the Holdback.
     
  2. "Shop Around and Then Come to Us for the Best Price" - All dealerships get exactly the same pricing from the manufacture regardless of how large they are or how many cars they move. Once you have chosen which dealership to negotiate with, stay with them until you're convinced that they will not come down to I+D+A-R.
     
  3. Authority Limits. This is a standard ploy where the salesperson says, "I'll have to go ask the sales manager." What he is in effect saying is, "I don't have the authority to make a deal with you. I have to get permission from somebody else." This tactic is often combined with a good guy/bad guy tactic where the salesperson plays the role of the good guy and the sales manager is the bad guy refusing to accept your offer. There are several ways to handle the authority limit tactic. One is to accept it and simply treat the salesperson as a messenger. For example, you might play the broken record game, repeating your initial offer and telling the sales representative that he'll have to do better. When he says he can't, then you might tell him to "go talk to his manager." When he finally comes to a price that you can accept, tell him that you want the sales manager to confirm that he will stand by it. A second approach would be to demand to talk directly to the sales manager, bypassing the sales representative.
  4. Keeping You Waiting. It's a common tactic to keep the buyer waiting, hoping that it will make him or her anxious and nervous. The counter to this is to be totally prepared, bring a book or some work to do, or  make some phone calls. This shows that you are relaxed and unconcerned and will not be affected by their waiting game.

  5. Change the Negotiator. This is a variant of the authority limit tactic discussed above except that in this case, the salesperson now goes off to hide and the sales manager comes in to try to close the deal, in the process rejecting some or all of the concessions that the salesperson has made. This is a hardball tactic designed to throw you off stride. Ignore it. You were always negotiating with the sales manager anyway -- it's just that he now steps out to act in person. Nothing has really changed.

  6. The Offer Check. Some dealerships demand that you give them a check to show your "good faith." This is ludicrous. If they tell you that they won't negotiate unless you give them a check, get up and head for the door. Their policy will change fast.

  7. "I Can't Give You Anything off the Car Because of 0% Financing" or "Because There Is $1,000 Rebate."  Special financing and rebates come from the manufacturer, not the dealer. The invoice price to the dealer does not change, so what they can negotiate also does not change.

  • Unethical Dealer Negotiating Tactics

  1. "Sorry, but the Financing Didn't Work." This is by far one of the nastiest games that some dealers play.  They offer you financing that they know you don't qualify for (see financing below for some ammunition) in order to suck you in with a lower monthly payment. You take the new car, leave them your trade-in without having finalized the financing, accepting their statement that "we just have a few details to take care of and we'll get the rest of the paperwork to you shortly."  A week later they call you and tell you that the financing didn't go through because of your credit score and that really your payment is going to be much higher. At this point you have put mileage on the new car and your used car has already been sent off to auction. As a result it gets really ugly. If you choose to finance through the dealer, NEVER, EVER sign a blank piece of paper, or take your new car and leave your trade-in until every single aspect of the financing is completely signed, sealed and delivered.

  2. Reneging on an Offer. The basic rule in negotiation is that if you make an offer and the other party accepts it without qualification, you are pretty much bound to stick to that offer and that should end the negotiation. If on the other hand you make an offer and the other person makes a counter-offer, you have the right to withdraw your original offer and you are no longer bound by it. Expect that the salesperson never has the authority to make a binding offer, that only the sales manager can confirm a binding offer. Thus the authority limit game is not unethical because it is the dealership, and not the salesperson, that has the authority to make that final offer. It only becomes unethical when the sales manager himself, or the salesperson stating that he or she has now been given authority by the sales manager, makes an offer and then tries to renege on it. At that point it's a good time to head for the door. Usually they will come back and confirm the offer that they originally tried to renege on.

  3. Lowball Bait and Switch. This is clearly unethical. The idea is to quote you an unusually low price to get you into the dealership and then move to a higher price. The way this is sometimes justified is that when you get to the dealership, either the salesperson says that the sales manager wouldn't accept it, or alternatively, the salesperson "discovers" that he left something out and it's really more than he quoted. Or the quote will include rebates that you are not eligible for (active duty military or recent college graduate) or it will leave out "mandatory" paperwork, ScotchGuarding, vehicle prep or other fees (which you should never pay for anyway).  If you know your pricing from the section above, you should be able to spot the lowball the moment the salesperson pulls it. Your response is to review the options one by one to make sure they're all included, detail any rebates and ask about any mandatory fees. If that doesn't flush out the lowball, then tell the salesperson that you want the offer approved in advance by the sales manager before you leave the house and that if the sales manager won't do it you're not coming. That will also flush out the lowball.

  4. Losing the Keys to Your Car.  You don't see this as much these days but some unscrupulous dealers still will try to keep you at the dealership by either losing the keys to your trade-in or accidentally blocking your car so that you can't get out. When they ask for the keys to your car to evaluate it, just give them a spare car key, and if they should pull this trick, leave.  If they do this, they are totally unscrupulous and you want nothing further to do with them. Go somewhere else.

  • It's Not Over Until It's Over

  1. "I Would Like You to Meet Our F&I Manager" - You have a deal, you got them down to their LAS and you've signed on the bottom line.  You think that the negotiation is now over. As far as the dealership is concerned, it is far from over. Welcome to the world of backend sales. Every dealership has a Finance and Insurance Manager. They have two jobs. The first is to handle and make a profit on your financing. The second is to sell you a whole bunch of stuff that you don't need, at the highest possible profit. If you are not financing through the dealership, there is no need to have any interaction with this person. If they really get obnoxious about this, just tell them that you are not going to have any discussions with this person under any circumstances. If that means that they don't want to sell you the car, fine, they can just tear up the paperwork and you will go somewhere else. They will back down. If you are financing through the dealership, then you will have to talk to the F&I Manager. In the Financing section below is the information that you need to deal with the financing part of the transaction.

  2. What the F&I Manager Has for Sale

  • Add-ons You Should Not Buy

    There are a number of items that some dealerships try to sell you that you seldom if ever need, and that are almost pure profit for the dealer. Some dealers even call them "packs."  Here are a few examples.

  • Undercoating - Given today's manufacturing techniques, rust-through is a very rare problem. Furthermore, most manufacturers have 5-7 year warranties against rust and corrosion. Undercoating is something you almost never need and could in some cases even damage the car.

  • Scotchguarding ("Interior Protection Package") - If you feel you need to Scotchguard the fabric in your car, buy a can for a few dollars and do it yourself.

  • Paint Sealant - Again, today's manufacturing techniques make this an option that you don't need.

  • Dealer Preparation Charges - Never pay anything for dealer preparation. In fact, in most cases, the factory pays the dealer a specific sum for the cost of prepping the car and putting gas in it.

  • VIN Etching - Supposedly making it easier to recover the car if it is stolen.

  • Window Tinting - If you really want this, you can get it much cheaper from a third party after you buy the car.

  • Pin-Stripping ("Appearance Package") - Again, if you really want this, you can get it much cheaper from a third party after you buy the car.

  • Alarm System - Many cars come with an alarm system already installed.  Dealers sometimes even disconnect the factory systems to install their own.  If the car does not come with an alarm system and you want one, you can get it much cheaper from a third party after you buy the car.

Occasionally dealers will actually install some of these items when the car arrives on the lot.  They then put a "supplemental sticker" ("rip-off sticker") on the car and insist that you have to pay for the extra items.  I would stay away from any car that has a "supplemental sticker," and I would not do business with any dealer that puts them on all their cars.  If you absolutely have to have a car with a "supplemental sticker", maybe because it is a color you have not been able find anywhere else, try to find out what the items would cost in the after market and then pay the dealer no more than 50% of that.  That way the dealer will probably just get their costs back.  And no, they do not deserve any profit an these items since you do not want them and dealer is forcing them on you.

  • Extended Warranties. An extended warranty is insurance. The question is, do you need to pay for this kind of insurance? We generally buy insurance for risks that we cannot tolerate. We will buy collision insurance in case we have a bad accident, but we will accept a $500 deductible because we can tolerate the risk of a $500 expenditure. Are auto repairs, once the car comes off of warranty, an expense you feel you cannot tolerate? If you feel you absolutely must have an extended warranty, make sure that it is a factory-backed warranty and not a third-party warranty. Unfortunately, there have been some horror stories about third-party warranty companies going bankrupt, leaving customers holding the bag. Also, remember that the price of the warranty is negotiable like anything else.

  • Gap Protection - This is insurance on top of insurance.  The idea is that if your car was totaled or stolen, you might owe more on it than the car was worth and therefore more than your insurance company will give you.  This insurance covers the gap between the two.  Dealers will show you calculations indicating a very high gap.  This is usually nonsense.  To find the real gap use the Bankrate.com loan payment calculator which will show you your monthly payment and, if you click on the "Show Amortization Table" button, will give you a complete monthly calendar of payments that will show you for any given month how much principle you have paid, how much interest you have paid, and how much remains outstanding on your loan.  Look at the remaining balance at the end of one, two and three years and then go to Kelley and look up the "Retail Value" (which is what most insurance companies will pay) on older models for the car you have purchased.  This will give you a ballpark idea of the gap, if any.

Deposit to Hold the Car

Once you finally reach agreement and sign the papers, they will ask you to give them a deposit to hold the car. If you're buying it off the lot, they will need time to prep the car and complete the title work. It's not unreasonable for them to ask for a deposit to hold the car since they're taking it off the market. If you're ordering the car, they will also want a deposit to order it. The key here is to never, ever bring a check to the dealership. Offer to pay the deposit with your credit card (if they say they don't take credit cards, look surprised and say, "Your service department doesn't take credit cards?") Often the deposit will magically be reduced because they don't want to pay the credit card company the 2% fee on a large sum. Furthermore, if something does go wrong, it is much easier to get your money back through the credit card company than to get your check back.

Is Every Car Negotiable?

No. No matter what you do, you are not going to get a better deal on a Saturn. There are also some dealerships that advertise "No Haggle" pricing, although there are fewer of these dealerships than there were a number of years ago. With your knowledge of the dealership pricing structure, you can determine whether the prices offered by these dealerships are good deals or not.

Replaceability

Replaceability has to do with whether or not a car is in short supply. If people are lining up four deep to buy a hot car like the Prius and there aren't enough to go around, don't expect the dealer to give you much of a break, if any, on that car. In fact, some dealers will have an additional sticker on the window marked ADP (Additional Dealer Profit), or ADM (Additional Dealer Markup), and if you really want that car right now you may end up having to pay a lot for it.  Fortunately, this situation is relatively rare - for most cars, supply exceeds demand.

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Financing

You must have a plan for financing before you walk into the dealership. If you don't, you could negotiate a great deal on the price of the car and then lose a lot of your savings back to the dealership on the financing side.  You basically have three choices. You can finance through the dealer, you can use a bank or credit union, or you can obtain financing online.

In theory, there is no reason not to finance with the dealer if they can get you a good rate. In practice, however, if you have negotiated a rock-bottom price on your car, you can expect that the dealership will try to get some of that money back in the financing process. Therefore, using outside financing sources is usually better.

The exception would be to take advantage of special interest rate promotions offered by the manufacturer. Even here though, you have to be careful since they may write up the deal based on that low interest rate and then come back later to tell you that you didn't qualify for it.

If you do finance with the dealership, make sure that you verify independently what your monthly payment is going to be. Bankrate.com has an excellent loan payment calculator that you can use which will show you your monthly payment. Also, if you click on the "Show Amortization Table" button you will get a complete monthly calendar of payments that will show you for any given month how much principle you have paid, how much interest you have paid, and how much remains outstanding on your loan.

You can also use this to calculate whether it is better to take a low interest rate or a cash back rebate in those cases where you have to choose one or the other. Just go to the last month in the payment calendar and you will see the total interest that you will pay over the course of the loan. This will allow you to compare the promotional interest rate to the rate you could obtain through conventional financing, and you can then compare that to the amount of any cash back rebate being offered.

The Internet is also a good place to obtain an auto loan.

There is no danger to your credit scores if you go rate shopping.  It is true that if you apply for multiple lines of credit such as credit cards in a short time period, this will negatively impact your score.  However, according to the FICO website, "most credit scores are not affected by multiple inquiries from auto or mortgage lenders within a short period of time. Typically, these are treated as a single inquiry and will have little impact on the credit score."

One last thought. Your loan coupon book will often arrive after the first payment is due.  Make sure you find out how to make the first payment without a coupon to avoid penalties and a blot on your credit record. 

Selling Your Used Car to a Private Party

The Anatomy of a Used Car Negotiation

In the discussion on negotiating to purchase a new car, we noted that new car negotiations are unusual because we pretty much know the dealer's Least Acceptable Settlement (their bottom-line). When we are negotiating over used cars we are back to a standard negotiating situation where we do not know the other party's Least Acceptable Settlement. (A quick note on terminology. The term Least Acceptable Settlement is used for both the buyer and seller. The LAS for the seller is the lowest price that they would sell at and the LAS for the buyer is the highest price that they would pay.)

  • Advertising Your Car - Not that long ago, if you wanted to sell a car yourself, just about all you could do was put an ad in the local newspaper. While you can still do that, you now have online options as well.  Craigslist has become the world's largest online classified ad service and it is free.  All you have to do is create an account, read through their help section and then put up your listing.   AutoTrader is also a good place to advertise, but they do not provide free listings.

    1. Setting The Asking Price for Your Ad - Unfortunately, finding the market value for your used car is more difficult than finding the dealer invoice price for a new car.  Every used car is different, every market is different, and all the books and services that purport to tell you what your car is worth can only give you a ballpark figure. N.A.D.A. (National Automobile Dealers Association), Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds have extensive used car data bases. As you peruse these sources you will discover a wide variation in what they say your car is worth.  You want to list your car at a high enough price that you will have room to negotiate, but not so high that you will scare away potential buyers. Ideally somewhere between the private party sale price and the retail price is probably a good place to start.  However, look at the current craigslist listing for your car.  That will give you a sense of what your competition is and how they are pricing.

    2. Adjusting the Asking Price - Your asking price is like a market test.  If people respond to your ad, you are in the right zone.  If you are not getting any responses, you are too high for the market.  Cancel your ads and list again at a lower price.  Hopefully you will only have to do this once or twice at maximum to get into the sweet spot of the market.

    You can also sell your car on eBay Motors. You can use eBay simply as a classified ad by listing it for a fixed "Buy It Now" price or with a "Best Offer," or you can set up an auction for it (with a reserve price, which is hidden, below which you won't sell the car), or some combination of all of the above. If you already sell on eBay, selling a car on eBay Motors should not be a problem, although eBay Motors has some unique features and rules. If you are new to eBay, there is an excellent book called The Pocket Idiot's Guide to eBay Motors which you absolutely must have because there is a learning curve getting started with eBay Motors and this book will save you a lot of false steps.

    Once you have a prospect who is interested in your car, here are the key steps for your negotiation with a private party.

    1. Gathering Information to Make a Guess as to the Location of Their LAS - Use the first phone call with them to gather information that will let you make a guess as to the most that they might be willing to pay for your car (their LAS). You want to know such things as why they are buying the car, what it is going to be used for, how long they've been looking, what other cars are they looking at, what appealed to them about your car, etc.  Make it a very nice, low-key conversation with you just showing interest in them and what they need. You also want to use this first conversation to get them to agree to come over and look at the car. When they do that, they already have made an investment of time and effort and you can be sure that they have a real interest in your car.

    2. Don't Bid Against Yourself - Smart buyers will try to get you to bid against yourself. What this means is they will keep saying that your price is too high.  Every time you make a concession, they will just keep repeating that you have to go even lower. Buyers will sometimes even start this process on the phone by asking questions like "Can you go lower" or "Is your price negotiable?" Don't let this happen. The best response on the phone is "Everything is always negotiable." If they try to insist on your giving them a lower price on the phone, just tell them you can't do that until they have seen the car and made you an offer.

      When they come to look at the car they may again try to get you to bid against yourself and ask you for a lower price without making an offer themselves. Don't fall for this. Insist that they make an offer first. The advantage of getting them to put an offer on the table is that they have committed to buy if you accept their offer and this is an important milestone in the negotiation.

    3. Set Your LAS - Make sure that you know what your LAS is. Don't try to figure out your bottom line in the middle of the negotiation. Be clear in advance as to the lowest price that you will accept and make sure that you will be really comfortable letting a buyer walk away at a price that is lower than that.  If you are not in a hurry, you can set your LAS higher and allow the lowball buyer to walk away because you have the time to wait for a buyer who will pay a reasonable price.  If you need to move quickly, you will set a lower LAS and maybe sell to that lowball buyer since that price will still be well above what you would get as a trade-in from a dealer.

    4. The Fair and Logical Approach - If it is to your advantage during the negotiation to do so, you might print out the private party sale prices suggested by Edmunds and Kelley, and suggest that a "fair and logical" outcome would be an average of those two prices.

    5. Keep It All Very Friendly - Finally, never get emotional and never get angry. Keep the conversation friendly and relaxed. It's not personal, they're just trying to do what you're trying to do, which is to get the best possible deal.

    6. More Information on Negotiating - There is a lot more to being a first class negotiator than I can present here.  To get the full story, you are welcome to a complementary copy of my book Negotiation: The Art of Getting What You Want.  This book was originally published by Signet Books (Penguin) and sold more than 100,000 copies.  The second edition is completely revised and updated, and is now available as a free download.

How to Negotiate if You Are Leasing

Leasing is fairly straightforward in concept, but the details are quite complex. What happens when you lease is that you negotiate the price of the car with the dealer and then the dealer sells the car to the leasing company at that price. What you're basically doing is financing the depreciation of the car for the period of the lease. Therefore, if the car sells for $25,000 and the leasing company estimates that it's trade-in value at the end of three years will be $15,000, what you are doing is financing that $10,000 of depreciation over a three-year period.  (This can sometimes result in the monthly payments for a more expensive car being the same or less than those for a less expensive car if the more expensive car holds its value better.)

If you trade in your car every three or four years for a new one, leasing makes a lot of sense. Each time you get a new car you don't buy it outright, you finance the depreciation . You don't have to worry about trading in your old car because at the end of the lease you just return the car.  On the other hand, if you plan to keep your car for a much longer period, buying makes more sense since obviously it is less expensive to buy one car and keep it for 10 years than it is to have the use of three new cars over that same time period.

When you lease, what you need to negotiate is the price of the car, NOT the monthly payment! What happens is that when you finalize the lease, the dealer sells the car to the leasing company at the price that you have agreed upon. (The price of the car is called the capitalized cost or "cap cost").  You negotiate the price of the car exactly the same way you would as if you were buying it (see above).

Unfortunately, this is where it gets complicated. The leasing formula usually includes the vehicle sales price, sales tax, title and registration, cash rebates, down payment, trade-in value, lease financing rate, lease term, residual value, money factor (the money factor x 2400 = the interest rate), acquisition fee, disposition fee, purchase option fee, security deposit and occasionally other items. When you sign the lease agreement it only shows the monthly payment. It is extraordinarily easy for the dealer to "make a mistake" in their favor.  In order to keep from getting flimflammed, you simply have to be able to do the calculations yourself.

Several lease calculators are available on the web.  Money-Zine has a calculator that will do the job.  For a more comprehensive leasing software package go to Expert Lease ProIt is a very complete, reasonably priced package that includes a free Leasing Hot Line service which will provide answers to questions about the software or leasing in general. They will also help you analyze any specific deal that you are considering.

Finally, you do not have to lease through the dealership.  You can use an independent leasing company which will very often have lower fees and interest rates. LeaseCompare is a good place to start looking.  Their site is set up to give you quotes before you fill out any forms, which is a real advantage.  The also have an active user forum and provide live telephone support.

Improving Your Negotiating Skills

There is a lot more to being a first class negotiator than I can present here.  To get the full story, you are welcome to a complementary copy of my book Negotiation: The Art of Getting What You Want.  This book was originally published by Signet Books (Penguin) and sold more than 100,000 copies.  The second edition is completely revised and updated, and it is now available as a free download.

If you have any feedback or questions or would like to share your negotiating experiences, I would love to hear from you.

   

 

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