Let’s start with the basics. The best time to buy a car for the most part (in order) is end of year, followed by end of quarter, followed by end of month. Although there may be other sales and dealer incentives, most sales people are trying to make a quota at these times and may have a quantity incentive that makes sense for them to sell to you the car at or close to invoice. Speaking of invoice price (what the dealer paid the manufacturer), you should always be negotiating up from invoice, not down from sticker. You can find the invoice price on the car and options you are interested in at Edmunds.com.
It’s very important to decide on the specific car you want before you try to get the best price, otherwise there are too many moving variables. Cars are a commodity. Once you know exactly what you want, then you can focus on the lowest price without having to deal with bait and switch. When you have settled on a choice, create a little competition. If you contact a dealer over the internet, they will usually give you their “best price” right away because they believe you have decided on the car you want and now price is your deciding factor. One way to get quotes from many dealers at once is to use Autobytel which is a free service. The internet sales person for each dealership will then send you a price and instruct you to come to them when you visit the dealer. They will then hand you over to a salesperson without the usual games and fanfare. Most will honor the price they e-mailed you, but if they don’t or try to play games, just walk away immediately because you shouldn’t trust them. You should also create a fax listing the car you want to buy, color and specific options. Put a note that you want to buy it within the week and then fax it to 4-5 dealerships. This has worked well for many of my friends, often there is a salesperson who needs to pad his/her stats who will offer you a great deal because they don’t have to do much work.
Also, don’t get fooled thinking that you got a great deal on your trade in, this is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Salespeople usually bump up the trade value and then don’t give you as much of a discount on the new car as they would have. Even if you are going to trade in your car to the dealer, don’t mention you have a trade in until after you have agreed upon the price of the new car. You can tell the salesperson that you are planning to sell privately and then once you have a price for the new car, tell them you changed your mind and you think you want to trade it in. Ask them what they will give you, I can promise you that this number will be much lower than if you muddle the two transactions together. Usually, you get thousands more by selling your car privately. Craigslist is great option, I sold my last two cars on Cragislist for about $2500 more than the dealer offered me each time.
For other money saving techniques, check out our Tips & Tricks Page.