How to Negotiate the Best Price on a Car

What you need to know before walking onto your next car lot or showroom.

Front of 5 new cars lined up. Same car, different colors.

For many buyers, negotiating with a car salesperson is a terribly fraught and often unpleasant process. And that has little to do with the personality of the salesperson; many people simply cringe at the thought of paying too much. Others are ill at ease with the entire process of negotiation.

Some car dealers have taken note of this discomfort and turned it into a competitive advantage, by offering non-negotiable "true" pricing that's clearly listed on the vehicle.

Yet the older sales model is still the default system by which most of us purchase an automobile. That makes solid negotiation skills almost a pre-requisite for getting the best deal available.

So let's discuss what you need to know before walking onto your next lot or showroom.

Do Plenty Of Research

This is perhaps the single most important thing you can do to assure yourself a fair price. Before visiting a dealer, identify the vehicle you're interested in purchasing, then check the listed value of that vehicle at Kelly Blue Book or one of the many other online resources.

If the car you want is being retailed for an average of $24,500 in your area, that's very useful information with which to come armed. First, it assures that you won't wildly overpay. Secondly, it shows the sales staff that you've done your homework, and won't be an easy target.

Don't Be Afraid To Shop For A Better Price

Many people pass on the opportunity to take a dealer's best offer and shop it around at other lots. After spending hours with a salesperson, it almost seems rude to walk away without buying.

This is a mistake. The salesperson knows full well that buyers feel this guilt -- and will use their feelings to drive a better bargain. In the end, the salesperson isn't a friend or family member. However nice this person seems, this is nothing more than a business transaction, and should be treated as such.

Don't Allow The Salesperson To Control The Interaction

Salespeople on a car lot are professional negotiators. They know every trick in the book when it comes to dictating the terms of a negotiation. In order to hold your ground, explain precisely what you want and resist any tactics to sell you unnecessary features, financing or warranty packages. Be willing to stand your ground and maintain your position, even if the salesperson isn't budging.

Be Willing To Walk Away

This brings us to another key but often ignored piece of advice -- don't hesitate to walk out the door. Sometimes it takes the prospect of losing a sale to galvanize the salesperson into action. If you depart and there's no follow up, that's a good indication that your offer is too low for the car to be sold profitably.

The Bottom Line

There doesn't have to be a winner and loser in every negotiation. Yet if you go in unprepared, the odds are good that you'll fit the latter description. Do your research, set the terms and be willing to walk away -- and you'll more than hold your own in any vehicle negotiation.