Car Buying Tips: Negotiation Skills

Even with year-end closeouts and income-tax sales, you can get a better deal on the car of your dreams. Here are some tips on how to more successfully negotiate a fair price.

Even with the year-end closeouts, income-tax-refund sales, and other savings, you can still do better than the salesman tells you.

As a potential buyer, you have the advantage: the salesman wants you to drive away in his car so that he can make money off the deal. If you go elsewhere for your new ride, he or she loses out.

For that simple reason, most salesmen will go to great lengths to negotiate with you. This doesn't apply to places like CarMax, where their sticker price is as good as it's going to get. Other than these places, however, the final price depends on you.

When you pull into the lot, take a deep breath and act casual. Remember: you can always go to any of the other lots in your city. You don't have to buy from this one: keep that in mind even before you get a salesman's attention. Being pushed into buying something won't make you happy - and it isn't necessary for both buyer and seller to be satisfied.

Take a look around and find something that you want to check out in closer detail. You may or may not test-drive it, but feel free to look. That's why you're there, so make the most of it. Look at a few different vehicles: limiting your options from the start isn't a great idea, because you may find something a few cars down that you like even more than what first caught your eye.

Even if you're buying a brand-new car, there's still room to negotiate. The salesman knows this: it's your job to know it as well. Don't believe for even one second that the manufacturer's suggested retail price is the lowest selling point - especially if the salesman really, really wants to get rid of a particular car. It could be the end of the year. He could have a new shipment coming in just a few weeks. This could be a slow week, or even month. If he's desperate enough, he'll sell it to you for several thousand less than the price slapped on the windshield.

When you meet the salesman - who will probably come out of the air-conditioned showroom to say hello - let him know up front that you're going to bargain. This lets him know that you won't be an easy sale, and will therefore put him in a better frame of mind to negotiate with you.

It will also make things easier for both of you when it comes time to talk paperwork, because you'll have a little bit more understanding of where the other one sits on the matter.

Once the easy part - finding a vehicle you like and deciding that this is the make and model you want - is over, it's time to get the best possible price, without spending three hours sitting at the salesman's desk.

Here are a few tips for making that go a little smoother.

-Point out what's wrong with the vehicle. This is especially true of used cars, but it can apply to new ones as well. For example: if you notice a scratch in one of the doors, make sure you bring it to the salesman's attention. He should either A) have it fixed before he sells it to you; or B) knock the price down a couple of hundred bucks.

-Look at the blow-by-blow listed on the paper attached to the window. This tells you things like gas mileage, whether the vehicle comes with a warranty or not, et cetra.

It also breaks down, piece by piece, what you're buying and how much you're paying for the privilege.

Pay attention to outrageous prices for things such as floor mats, custom stereo systems, and the like. If you don't want to pay six hundred dollars for a CD changer (you can always get a better one elsewhere, and much cheaper), make the salesman take it out before you sign the paperwork. You can also negotiate the floor mats: perfectly good ones can be had at any auto parts house for twenty bucks.

-Don't act overexcited about the vehicle, even on the test drive. Try out everything to make sure it's acceptable (even the seat adjustments and other little things), but don't get giddy with joy over it. That's when the salesman knows he has you where he wants you, and the slaughter will commence shortly afterward. They care more than they let on: they have to.

Instead, enjoy the ride, but ask lots of questions about the vehicle. Bring up things like government safety ratings, gas mileage, insurance premiums, and the like. Make the salesman work for this one: he'll appreciate the extra effort and the challenge, and you'll come away from it knowing more about the vehicle than you'd ever find out from its owner's manual.

-When you finish with the test drive, give the keys back - even if you're madly in love with the car and don't want to let them go. Tell the salesman that you'll think about it, then thank him for his time and leave. No matter what he says, you need to walk out the door. This lets him know that you aren't going to be an easy sale, which will make him that much more willing to negotiate - especially if he's having a bad month and needs the extra money in his pocket.

When you get home, look up the Blue Book value of the vehicle. This means you'll have to take note of the mileage and any features that come with it, but that's only a little work for a big reward. Now that you know exactly what it's really worth, you'll be sure not to go over that amount - and, hopefully, get under it by a few hundred dollars or more.

-Repeat the Great Key Return at least one more time. It's been done before, but not by everybody: it's enough to make the salesman think about what you're doing, and why. You're giving him the message that you are serious about bargaining for this vehicle, and that you aren't so desperate you'll take the first offer he makes.

-Speaking of offers: salesmen rarely give the best offer first. They're willing to come down at least once. Automatically reject the first figure, and explain to the salesman that you know he can do better than that.

-Don't forget to ask about manufacturer rebates, clearance sales, and other discounts. Depending on the value of your trade-in, you may not even have to consider putting any money down on the car, which works out perfectly for you.

-Read the contract in its entirety before you sign it. They aren't going to put any ridiculous clauses in there, like a requirement that you must pay an extra five-dollar handling fee with every payment that falls on a full moon. But you need to know the exact dollar amount you'll end up paying, including finance charges and other fees.

When you sign the papers and take the keys, you'll be happier with the knowledge that you've gotten the best deal possible. And the salesman will have earned your trust, which just might lead to another sale in the future.

© High Speed Ventures 2011