Commenter Keter posted a completely kick-ass 13 step guide to buying a car
while maintaining total and absolute control over the sales process. It
was so good we're lifting it and posting it to the front page.
1. Pick the exact make and model of car you want.
2. Call around first anonymously (such as calling from work on your lunch hour), and get prices.
Tell them you are calling everybody, and the best deal wins. Write down
the prices you are given, and note any difference in packages.
3. Pick the dealership you think you want to do business with based on the results of this phone call. Price should not be the decider -- demeanor and gut feel should be....
4. Go to the dealership you absolutely NEVER want to do business with.
Nail down the details on the options -- go for "loaded," then whittle
it down to find the approximate prices for each option. Make a detailed
list with prices. Mark the options you must have and those can do
5. Do your research online and compare your pricing research with others and experts.
Set an "ideal price" and an "I can live with it" price for the car you
want with all the options you want, and again for the car you want with
the minimum options you want. You now have a low and high figure for
6. Go get cash or a a pre-approved car loan for something
less than the upper amount. Put the cash or check in a blank sealed
envelope. Find out ahead of time how to deal with the
pre-approved loan if the negotiated amount is less than the amount on
the bank check. You do not want to have to leave the dealership to get
a new check for a smaller amount, so try to arrange something in
advance for this contingency.
7. Call your insurance carrier and tell them you are buying a new car.
Do as much of the paperwork ahead of time as possible and determine the
hours they can service you so you can avoid delays or surprises at
delivery time. (Any delays benefit the dealer.)
8. Go to the dealer you want to deal with -- on a weekday, in the morning.
Get dropped off or, ideally, have a friend or significant other go with
you. (It always helps to have a witness.) Bring a sack lunch and drinks
with you. You're not leaving or letting your attention wander until you
have a car.
9. Find the exact car you want. Use your list...this shows
you've done your homework. Don't be surprised if your salesman suddenly
has to handle an emergency and hands you off to someone else. This is a good sign that you have the upper hand already.
10. Show them the envelope. Tell them you have cash/a
pre-approved loan check, and three chances to get it from you if you
can drive out by an exact time (by 3 PM is usually good), all paperwork
done, taxes paid, and every other fee under the sun taken care of for
less than the amount in the envelope. Do not give any hints
about the amount, make them name heir price. If it's way out of sight,
don't say anything. Just laugh and head for the door. They'll chase you
down and give you a much better number. If they don't, go elsewhere.
11. Read everything. Twice. Have your friend do the same.
Line out anything you don't agree to or doesn't apply, initial and date
this and have the dealer rep do the same. Do not leave any
blank spaces. Count the papers and make sure you get copies of all of
them. Ask if there are any programs you need to opt out of to avoid
being automatically signed up for them. Do whatever is required to opt
12. If at any time they give you attitude or BS, walk out.
They will chase you down. Tell them they have only one chance left
because they gave you attitude. Now they will deal. If they don't, go elsewhere.
13. Try another city if yours is full of slime balls.
Good luck. I don't buy new, but I helped friends buy using this
technique, and it really works...but it works only if you truly are
willing to walk away...and then refuse to bend when they try to put you
off or change the terms. Stay civil, do not let any emotion in. You are
on a mission, Marine!
The same technique works for buying a used car, but tell them
that you will not talk price until YOUR mechanic looks over the vehicle
and gives you a report on it. Watch how much the squirm. I also learned
the basics of car inspection, and perform my own pre-inspections right
there on the lot -- 90% of used cars have a defect so serious they
don't pass 5 minutes of my inspection! The best one (if any) goes to
Have the mechanic lined up for the time you will be needing the
car checked out. I prefer to have my mechanic pick up the car from the
dealer directly. The mechanic should be one you have had good
experiences with previously. NEVER use a mechanic who is near the
dealership. I tell my mechanic "check this car like you would if your
16 year old daughter was going to have to drive it to Alaska and back
Go back to the dealer with a list of all defects and an estimate
to fix them. Negotiate a price adjustment. In some cases, you may agree
to let the dealer do the repairs, BUT specifically put in writing that
these repairs will be accepted only after a re-inspection by your
mechanic and no crappy used or after-market parts will be used.
Figure on devoting at least a month and looking at 200+ cars to find a good used car.
I've bought three truly excellent used cars this way -- all for
less than $5000 -- all required minor repairs prior to delivery, and
all lasted more than 100K miles with minimal repair costs afterward.