After nine years of commuting, carpooling, field-tripping, road-tripping, and day-tripping in my trusty old SUV—not to mention more than a few spilled milkshakes, muddy feet and sandy beach towels—I was ready to get back to that clean “new car” smell. And when the alternator in my SUV went out for the third time in six months, I knew it was time. I needed a new car.
But I wasn’t sure where to start. How could I save money and guarantee that I would get the best buy? I am not a fan of negotiating, especially with experienced car salespeople. It’s stressful and time consuming and I always end up caving in to all kinds of extras that I never wanted in the first place. In order to avoid the negotiating, I needed a new method. So, after hours spent researching online and asking advice of friends and relatives, here is my process for getting the best deal on a new car…without the haggling.
- Figure out what you want. Before you do anything else, decide what make and model you want, including exterior and interior colors, type of upholstery, and which amenities you feel you absolutely cannot live without. Visit car websites and read blogs and articles to make sure that the car you are interested in has favorable reviews. If you are the type of person that really needs to touch and see a car in person, go to a dealership and sit in the car. Spin the dials and turn the knobs. Adjust the seat and the rear view mirror. See how it feels…just don’t engage with a salesperson and do NOT go for a test drive! Once a salesperson has invested time and energy in your process, it can change your determination to get the best buy without haggling. Stick with “I’m just looking around,” for now.
- Figure out the best price for the car you want. The prices for certain cars/models are not negotiable. Luxury vehicles, brand new models of extremely popular cars, and limited editions of high-demand brands are probably not going to have much wiggle room on price. But usually, the more common and affordable cars (the ones that the vast majority of Americans purchase) have prices that can be negotiated…if you are savvy about the buying process. The good news is, this process still works for just about any new car.
- Visit the auto manufacturer’s website. “Build” your car exactly the way you want it, with all of the features, options and colors you’ve chosen. The manufacturer’s site will then display the full retail price for this car.
- Next, visit carsdirect.com (or another online car broker if there’s one you prefer). Enter the exact model you want, just as you specified on the manufacturer’s website. The broker’s site will give you a price right then and there for the car, exactly how you want it. This price is usually lower than the full retail price. Carsdirect.com will also send out your request to a number of local dealerships, who will submit their best prices to you.
- Compare prices. That’s it. Compare the various dealerships’ prices. Use whichever is cheapest. No haggling necessary. And you’ve got the car you wanted, for the best price around.
What if you have a trade-in?
- Figure out the value of your old car. If you have a trade-in, you’ll want to be armed with the information on the value of that car as well. Check out the N.A.D.A. (National Auto Dealership Association) Official Used Car Guild (www.nada.org) to get the approximate value of your used car. Either use this information to work with your dealership against the price of your new car, or sell the used car on your own. You know how much it’s worth.
How should you pay for your new car?
- Figure out your financing options. If you can, pay cash for your car. If you end up getting your car through a dealership, one tactic we like to use is arriving at the dealership with one check — and one check only — already made out for the out-the-door price you were quoted by the internet sales department. This will eliminate the dealership’s attempts to “upsell” you an extended warranty, rustproofing, undercoating or other non-necessary add-ons. An extended warranty can always be purchased online directly from the manufacturer if you truly desire one. If you need to finance your car, do some research on what banks are charging for new car loans, so that when the dealer begins to discuss financing, you are well-equipped with the facts.
And, a few extra tips when buying a new car:
- Pick the right time. Historically, prices for new cars are lower in the fall and winter months, but during those times of year, inventory can be limited as well. Usually, the worst time to buy a new car is in the spring, when the new models have just been released and more shoppers are out and about with that tax refund check in hand.
- Choose a dealer you like. It’s important to remember that you’re not just selecting a car, you are selecting a dealership with whom you will most likely have a long-term relationship. Make sure these are people you want to interact with for years to come.
I love my new car. And I love it even more because I got an amazing deal…and I didn’t have to haggle.
This article was originally published September 2016. Updated June 2020.