The Keys to a Good Car Deal

Buying a new (or new-to-you) car from a dealership can be a harrowing experience. Your money is on the line, your ego takes a beating, and you worry about getting stuck with a lemon. It doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some tips on scoring a great deal at the dealership.

The key to getting the car you love at the price you want is to put the car in second place. You’re not shopping for the automobile. Instead, you’re shopping for the deal. There are more than enough excellent cars out there that will meet your needs. You will find one, but you are shopping for a deal, which comes with the car you want attached to it.

Before you visit the dealership, take a deep breath. Car dealers try to inject urgency into the transaction, but you don’t have to play along. Your priority is to get the car you want at the price you want to pay. Consumer advocate and former car salesman Michael Royce notes, “The car salesman’s goal is to sell you a car or a truck that is in stock at the highest possible price today.”

Be flexible. Focus your car search on several possible choices. If you know you want a reliable sedan, look for two or three different makes and models, because being flexible about the car increases your chances of getting a good deal. If the Nissan dealer knows you’re comparing his Altima to Accords and Camrys, he’ll make more allowances than if he’s just competing with his buddy at the Nissan dealer in the next town over.

Research before you buy. Doing your homework means you read reviews of the car, you check out Consumer Reports and other reputable sources, and you consider the features you want. Royce recommends getting free price quotes from local dealers via the internet or from reputable sources like Edmunds. Check out the CarFax once you’ve narrowed your choice to a specific car if you’re buying a used car.

Remember that you have the power. Don’t feel intimidated by the car dealer. You’re still in charge when he or she sends over a manager to talk to you, which is standard operating procedure in car dealerships. The bottom line is you don’t have to please them or persuade them to sell you a car. They have to please you by giving you an attractive deal.

Practice saying no. Once you’ve agreed on the price, you’ll meet the F & I guy (Finance and Insurance). This person may also be called the business manager. His or her job is to have you sign the paperwork, but there’s more to it than that. This is the upsell department. Would you like to have the upholstery treated to avoid stains? An extended warranty? Insurance to pay off the car if you die? Royce says, “Car dealerships often make more profit from the financing of the vehicle and the sale of ‘extras’ sold in the business office than from the actual sale of the vehicle itself.” Anything you agree to with F & I will cost you money. Don’t be afraid to say no.

You might have to walk. Embrace this possibility. You may have to say, “This deal won’t work for me.” You might have to get up, gather your papers, and leave. Nine times out of ten, the deal will suddenly get sweeter. If it doesn’t get sweeter to the point where you can return to the table, it’s okay. Leave in good conscience, knowing you’ll likely get a call in a day or two from a humbled salesperson who is ready to listen to you. The worst case scenario is you’ve eliminated a dealer who won’t work with you anyway and saved yourself time.

Fall in love with the car after you buy. Remember that the deal has to be right, so keep your emotions in check until you’ve gotten the deal you need.

These tips can help you to get the deal you want and find the car you can fall in love with within your budget. Happy car shopping!

This article by Nancy Rusk first appeared on The Dollar Stretcher and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.