How to Talk Down a Car Dealer

Follow these tips and you'll never pay full sticker price

Negotiate with Car Dealer
•••  Getty Images/ CSA Plastock

Whether buying a new or used vehicle, always negotiate the price. Follow these tips and you can expect to save money on your next car or truck purchase. Never, ever pay full sticker price!

Take Your Time Buying a Car

Don’t rush into a dealership full of excitement and make it clear you want to drive off the lot with a new vehicle. Take the time to research the type of car you want to buy and can comfortably afford. Check up on the dealerships in the area, too. Plan on being able to “walk away” from a bad deal and follow up later in the week to see if the dealership can meet your terms.

The more time you allow yourself to make this big purchase, the more negotiating power you have.

Arm Yourself With Information

If you’re buying a car that normally costs the dealer $25,000 to purchase, there’s no way you’ll walk away with it for $20,000, no matter how hard you haggle. Just as you want to get a good deal, the dealer is looking to make money. You need to know what the vehicle is actually worth. Before you even think about going to a dealership, look up the Kelley Blue Book value for any models you are considering.

If you fall in love with a different model on the lot, take a second to steal a quick look at its value on your smartphone so you know what is reasonable before you start negotiating prices.

Dealers make money from the extras you purchase as well as any financing you borrow through them. Except during periods of heavy promotion, to get the best interest rate on your car loan, it's often better to work with a bank or credit union. If you do decide that dealer financing is the way to go, make sure you look up the going interest rate before you think about signing.

Learn the Games Car Dealers Play

While car dealerships may have an unsavory reputation, most salespeople are just trying to make a living in an industry where having to hit quotas and upselling are the norm. Stay firm in negotiations, but remember you’re dealing with another human. Avoid being unnecessarily rude.

When you make an offer close to the wholesale price, the dealer will likely try every trick in the book to make you feel bad or uncomfortable for “lowballing” them. But sit tight: It’s not about you. Be reasonable and firm with the dealer, and if they try to take advantage of you, remain calm. This is how the game is played. Remember: You’re the one offering money, so you ultimately set the terms, not them.

If you have trouble sticking to your guns, or your friends have said you can be a pushover, bring a more assertive person with you to help steel your resolve. 

Make a Reasonable Offer and Stick to It

Once you’ve picked a car you like, make the dealer an offer. Tell them that if they can hit that figure, you’re ready to sign on the dotted line. Be sure to let them know that you're not budging. Be polite, but firm. If the dealer makes an offer first, use this same tactic with your counter-offer. 

Practice Saying, "No, Thank You"

Go to a mirror. Take a deep breath. Now, say strongly and calmly, “No, thank you.” You’ll need to say this a lot if you want to get a good bargain at the dealership. Extended warranty? Heated seats? Extra tires? If you want to save money, you must say, “No, thank you. No, thank you. No, thank you!”

How Much Can You Reasonably Expect to Save?

It is not unreasonable to save a few thousand dollars from good negotiations. Of course, you are very unlikely to get the dealer to go below the wholesale price. If you do your research, stay calm, and remain reasonable, you’re likely to reach a figure that is respectable. With a little work and patience, you can be confident you can save some money—and walk away with a great vehicle in the process.

Article Sources

  1. National Automobile Dealers Association. "Understanding Vehicle Financing," Page 4. Accessed April 5, 2020.

  2. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). "Know What Is Negotiable." Accessed April 5, 2020.

  3. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). "Do I Have to Negotiate My Vehicle Purchase At the Same Time As I Negotiate How Much I Get For My Trade-In or the Terms of a Loan From the Dealer?" Accessed April 5, 2020.