These insider tips on what to do before you visit a dealership—from Mike Austin, editor-in-chief of Autoblog—will get you revved to hunt, haggle, and drive off into the sunset.
Look Up the Wholesale Price.
The actual cost dealers pay for the cars in their showrooms (insiders call it the “factory invoice price”) used to be unattainable information. Now you can—and should—Google this stat, so you’re armed when a dealer cries, “I’m losing money on this deal!”
Get Dealers Bidding for Your Business.
Whether you’re shopping for a new or used car, go to TrueCar.com and find the model you’re thinking about. The site gets a bidding war going among local participating dealers (the dealers pay to be part of this service; it’s free for consumers) and sends you up to three offers. Even if you’d rather shop in person, having an offer in your back pocket will give you a sense of how far you can go in negotiations.
Make a Stop at the Bank.
A dealership is just one place to look for a car loan; get rates from your credit union or bank before you shop. Coming into the showroom with financing offers is, in a sense, like walking in with cash. That should give you negotiating power—and at the very least will give you a comparison point for the dealer’s financing offer.
Smarten Up About Your Trade-In.
Consult more than one source to make sure you have a solid sense what your soon-to-be-former car is worth. Edmunds.com, a trusted resource for auto info (the company has been around for 50 years) and the Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com) let you easily see the approximate value. For a more specific number, visit a CarMax near you (there are 150 nationwide). At no cost, this used-car retailer will check out the vehicle and give you a hard offer on a trade-in. Then you’ll be ready to get tough if a dealer lowballs you on the worth of your car. While you’re doing trade-in research, investigate cash-back offers on the vehicle you’re planning to purchase. At edmunds.com you can input the precise make, model, and details of the new car and learn what rebates are available.
Shop Where Everything is Cheaper.
While the Kelley Blue Book is the standard source of used-car prices, Austin says local listings may be more relevant. Whether you’re planning to purchase from an individual or a dealer, cast your shopping net a bit wider than the immediate area—especially if you live in a large city or a particularly desirable spot. Just a day trip away, you might be able to get what feels like a steal.