You don’t have to be a car enthusiast to be a well-informed, hard-haggling customer. Doing your homework before you hit the dealership and comparing quotes from a few lenders can make a real difference in your car and your wallet.
1. Buy a car at the end of the month
Plan your purchase, but don’t sign on the dotted line until near the end of the month. Many car dealers operate on monthly sales goals and may be more likely to offer discounts and free extras around this time to help meet their quotas.
2. Be serious about safety
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) safety ratings are no joke. These ratings determine how likely you are to be injured or killed in an accident — even opting for a car with a slightly higher rating can make a difference in keeping you safe. And it can also affect your car insurance premiums.
If you’re after a more cost-effective ride and want to stay safe on the road, avoid settling for less than a 4- or 5-star rating.
3. Do your homework on the car you want
Learn about your chosen car’s typical drive-away price before you buy, as well as which extras are tacked on and how much they’re really worth. This gives you a baseline against which to haggle.
Online reviews and sites like Kelley Blue Book can help you find out if you’re getting a good deal.
4. Know the haggling dos and don’ts
- Do keep your expectations realistic. You probably won’t haggle much off an already-discounted price.
- Do keep it friendly and polite. Good manners go a long way — sometimes a deal simply comes down to how much a salesperson likes you.
- Do leave your phone number, even if you walk away. They might come back to you with a better offer.
- Don’t be afraid to walk away. If they’re not budging, find someone who will.
- Don’t try low-balling them unless you’re ready to climb back up the price ladder.
5. Make dealerships compete with each other
A salesperson might turn down an offer without hesitation, but would accept the very same offer when asked to match a competitor’s price. There’s always a better deal out there somewhere — and salespeople know it. Shop around at a few dealerships before buying and let them compete for your business.
6. Always do a test drive
There’s no substitute for a test drive. If you’re still deciding between different makes and models, test drive them all if possible. Never buy a car without test driving it first. And if you’re buying a used car, it’s also a good idea to have it looked at by an independent mechanic you trust.
7. Beware of unwanted extras
Think twice before agreeing to any add-ons or extra features a salesperson tries to throw at you — like an extended warranty, rustproofing or paint protection. These are often already included elsewhere in your contract and can be a sales trick to increase the cost of your car. Really think about the extras you actually want and try to resist walking out with something you didn’t.
8. Check the car’s fuel consumption
Look at the car’s fuel consumption to get a reasonable idea of what the operating costs might be. Saving $1,000 now might not be worth it if you’ll be paying more at the pump for the next decade.
9. Compare insurance costs
The cost of car insurance changes a lot depending on what you’re driving. If you’re on the fence between two models, compare car insurance rates for each to determine which might save you the most in the long run. Cars that don’t have the most up-to-date safety features or strongest NHTSA safety ratings can be considerably more expensive to insure.
10. Make sure all the boxes are ticked before you buy
Before signing on the dotted line, ask yourself if you’ve:
- Read and understood the terms and conditions. Make sure you know exactly what you’re signing up for.
- Visited multiple dealerships. If you haven’t, then you’re likely not getting the best deal.
- Know what is and isn’t included. Be certain the car has all of the features you wanted and that you aren’t paying for unwanted extras.
11. Compare all of your loan options
You have a lot of options when it comes to paying for your new car, including taking out a car loan from a bank or online lender or financing directly through the dealership. It pays to understand how they differ and what makes one loan more competitive than another. Read up on dealership financing versus third-party car loans to find the option that best suits your needs.
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It’s often said that car salespeople can smell an uninformed customer when they walk in and will start circling them like sharks. So prepare yourself ahead of time, and be willing to walk away from a deal that isn’t right. Comparing your car loan options before hitting the dealership can help ensure you don’t get fleeced on the financing.
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