How to negotiate a car price at the dealer

Some people are better at negotiating for things than others. Take the Priceline Negotiator for example, you’ll never be quite as good as him, but we’re talking cars, not airfare.


Getting the best price on a used car comes down to important factors that you can control. Here are a few tips that will get you more car for your cash.

1. Research

One of those things that you can control is how informed you are about the market. There’s this little thing called the internet that makes it super easy to find information. Use it! On, we’ve got tons of resources at your disposal. For example, we put together this handy writeup of what you should know before even thinking about buying a used car.

2. Phone negotiation

A conversation over the phone is rarely as productive as a conversation in person. For one, you can’t assert your dominance through aggressive body language and terrifying facial expressions. There goes the Gordon Ramsay-strategy.


But seriously, another buyer comes in and offers a comparable price, the dealer sure as sugar isn’t going to say no because you came to an agreement over the phone. Regardless of how much time you spend on the phone with the dealer or how many times you tell him you want to buy the car, you haven’t locked it in until the check has changed hands.

Bottom line, it is fine to call the dealership to ask questions about the car, or to figure out when you’d like to come in for a test drive, but when it comes to negotiating the price and finalizing the deal, get off the Lay-Z-Boy and get into the showroom. The dealership is more likely to take the low price you want if you are standing there waving the check around in the manager’s face. And no, I do not mean that literally, but if you try it, let me know how it turns out.

3. Show, don’t tell

It’s one thing to tell the salesperson that the dealership down the street has a better price on a comparable vehicle. It is another thing to show them. If you are part of the 99.99% of Americans who have a smartphone, you can pull up the vehicle on and show the guy/gal. The website is mobile-optimized for a reason, so take advantage of it while you are at the dealership.

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4. Time is money

Most dealerships run on a schedule and they’ve got quotas to meet every month. There are strong incentives to hit those quotas. If it is close to the end of the month and the dealership needs to make a few more sales to hit their quota, you can leverage that. You could also strategically purchase your next used vehicle based on the best and worst times to buy a car.

5. Wear your poker face

Lady Gaga never forgets her poker face and you shouldn’t either. It’s important to buy a car you love, but there is no reason for every member of the dealership staff to know how much you love it before the deal is done. You should be as calm and collected as Clint Eastwood in [insert name of Western]. A salesperson who is worth their weight in coffee and donuts will analyze each prospective buyer as soon as they walk in the door. Don’t make their job too easy. Nobody needs to know you’ve got pocket aces.


The good news is you did your research. You know what the right price is for the vehicle and you didn’t use KBB as your only valuation tool.

6. Pick your battles

Price negotiation is a war that is fought on many fronts at the dealership. On top of the vehicle price, you’ve got to worry about the cost of additional fees, taxes , financing rates and the price you’ll be getting for your trade-in. Here are the six common dealer fees you’ll experience and while it is easy to get hung up on one or the other, you don’t have to win every battle in order to win the war. Rather than getting bogged down on one single front, think about the bigger picture.

Trade-ins in particular are one area that car shoppers tend to put too much focus on. As far as human-object relationships go, the feelings between a car owner and their vehicle tend to be pretty intimate. For this reason, owners tend to overvalue their old rides and they use up too much of their negotiating power on getting the right price for the bucket of bolts that they are trying to get rid of in the first place.

It isn’t worth squeezing the sales staff for an extra hundred bucks for your trade-in if it inhibits your ability to get the price down on the big ticket item of the day – your new car. That being said, if you and the dealership are on completely separate pages, you always have the option of trading in the vehicle somewhere else or selling it yourself.  Here’s how to do both.

7. Financing vs. paying cash

The folks at the dealership are going to push you to finance since the interest costs and finance fees add up to thousands of dollars in the typical car purchase. In other words, cash isn’t king at a dealership, folks. While dealerships make big money on financing, the option to finance helps car shoppers without big savings accounts. After putting down 10-15%, the car buyer is required to make manageable monthly payments for a pre-determined number of months.

8. Patience is a virtue

No matter how prepared you are, buying a car takes time. This is, at least in part, by design. Many dealerships will leverage time you have sunk into the process in order to push through an unfavorable deal. Nobody wants to spend all day at the dealership, and once you have invested a few hours rifling through the old magazines in the waiting area, it is likely that you will bite the bullet and take a higher price just so you can get out the door.

This is an age old trick. The salesperson will keep you waiting while he is looking for the keys to the vehicle, while he is checking with the manager on a price, or maybe while he is thinking about what he wants for lunch or dinner.

If you feel that the dealership staff is engaging in “stall tactics,” you can take back control in one of two ways. The first option is to exercise your patience. Sit tight and keep your poker face on, no matter how antsy you are in your pantsy. Unless you are Donald Trump, another hour at the dealership is worth another grand in your pocket.

The second option is to leave the dealership. When the salesperson fails to return promptly from a quick visit to his manager’s office, go to the office and tell him or her that you are leaving to check out a comparable vehicle at the dealership down the street. Just say, “let me know when you’ve got an answer for me on that offer” and turn around and walk out. There is a good chance that you’ll get an answer before you reach the door.

Ready to take the next steps? These other articles might help.
– New vs used cars
– Car reviews by make
– Car reviews by body style

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Written by Sam Jackson