How to Talk Down a Car Dealer

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

You’ve decided to purchase a new vehicle and are excited and ready to check out some vehicles at your local car lot. But before you do, it’s important to do some research if you’re looking for the best value for your money (and who isn’t)?

If you only remember one thing from this article, remember this: you should never pay the sticker price for a vehicle.

Whether you are buying a new or used vehicle, you should always, always negotiate the price. If you follow these tips, you can expect to save major money on your next vehicle purchase.

Take Your Time Buying a Car

Whatever you do, don’t rush into a dealership and make it clear that you want to drive off the lot with a new vehicle. Take the time to research the kind of vehicle that you want to buy (and the car that you can comfortably afford) in advance, as well as the dealerships in the area. 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 longer 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 it normally costs the dealer $10,000 to purchase, there’s no way you’re going to walk away with it for $8,000, no matter how hard you haggle. If you’re looking to get a good deal, you need to keep in mind that the dealer is looking to make money, and you need to make sure you know what the vehicle is actually worth. Before you even think about going to the dealership, look up the Kelley Blue Book value for any models that you are considering so that you know what is reasonable. If you fall in love with a different model on the lot, take a second to steal a quick look at its value before you start naming or considering prices.

But dealers don’t just make money off of the sticker price: they also make money off of the extras that you purchase. The dealer also makes money if you decide that you need to finance your car through them. It’s a good idea to learn how to get the best interest rate on your car loan, and even try to get a loan through a private institution, which often will have a better rate than the dealership would offer you. If you do decide that dealer financing is the way to go, make sure that you look up the going rate before you think about signing.

Learn the Games Car Dealers Play

While car dealerships may have an unsavory reputation, most car salesmen and saleswomen 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 that you’re dealing with another human and avoid being unnecessarily rude.

When you make an offer close to the wholesale price or counter a crazy price with a reasonable one, 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 as played and remember: you’re the one offering money, not them, so you ultimately set the terms, not them. This isn’t the Godfather: there are no offers you can’t refuse!

If you have trouble sticking to your guns, or your friends have ever accused you of being a pushover, it might even help to bring a more assertive friend with you to help steel your resolve. 

Make a Reasonable Offer – And Stick to It

Once you’ve picked a car that you like, make the dealer an offer and let them know that if he can hit that figure, you’re ready to sign on the dotted line. But be sure to let them know, politely, that you’re not budging.

If the dealer makes an offer, use this same tactic with your counteroffer. 

Practice Saying No Thank You

Take a good look at yourself in the mirror. Take a deep breath and 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’ll need to say, “No thank you, no thank you, no thank you!”

How Much Can You Reasonably Expect to Talk Down the Dealer?

It is not unreasonable to expect to save several thousands of dollars from good negotiations. Of course, you are very unlikely to talk down the dealer below the wholesale price. If you do your research, stay calm, and stay reasonable, you’re likely to reach a figure you can be proud of. With a little work and patience, you can be confident that you can save some money – and walk away with a great vehicle in the process.