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Negotiating a Deal

Arriving at a dealership or meeting with a private-party seller unprepared is one of the main reasons people overpay for both new and used cars. If you want to save money, buying a car should not be a spur of the moment decision. As you’re shopping around for a car, you can shop around to find the right dealership or online car sales service. 

Be Prepared

Educate yourself about the vehicles you're interested in, and know what kinds of options and trim levels are available. Knowing the cost of each trim level, options and packages is very important because depending on the car, these add-ons can add up to the cost of a whole other new car. is a great tool to price your vehicle. Their pricing guides allow you to configure a vehicle you’re interested in buying by make/model/trim and down to the options and packages giving you an idea of what the final cost of the vehicle will be 

All dealerships pay the car manufacturers the same price for the cars they sell, but dealerships with a better customer satisfaction index (CSI) rating often receive bonuses that allow them to offer customers even better prices and deals. Remember, not every car dealership is loved by its customers. There are several sites, from to specialized auto dealer rating sites, which show customer reviews of car dealerships. 

Get Pre-approved

Dealers typically want to merge all of the components of a car deal into one big transaction. That's a confusing and potentially costly way to buy a car because you’ll be negotiating financing, the value of any trade-in, and the price of the new car at the same time. You can take the financing component out of that package by getting a preapproved car loan from an outside lender before you head to the dealer.

Having a preapproved car loan not only saves you a lot of confusion, but it’s also the best way to get a great financing deal from a dealership. Instead of offering an auto loan that makes the dealership the most money, they’ll be forced to beat the offer you already have. 

Get Your Timing Right

There are some times that are better to shop for a car than others. Like other businesses, car dealerships have monthly, quarterly, and annual sales goals for both salespeople and the dealership as a whole. Find one that has yet to reach their goal, and you might find a fantastic deal. The way some manufacturers structure their sales incentives, dealerships get a bonus on all of the cars sold in a certain period if they sell a certain number of vehicles. If you're the lucky buyer of the last vehicle they need to get the bonus, you're in a great position to get a deal.

The urgency to meet goals typically ramps up on the last weekend of the month, quarter, or year, though Saturday or Sunday may not be the best times to shop. Dealerships tend to be busier on the weekend. They may not want to spend a whole lot of time with you if it doesn't look like you're going to be an easy sale. You have a better chance of a good deal on a weekday, according to data from TrueCar.

This guide on the best times to buy a car can offer further insights into when you should do your car shopping.

Avoid Expensive Add-Ons

The dealer may offer all kinds of add-ons after you’ve negotiated the price. The dealer makes extra money on almost every single one of them. Look closely and you may find add-ons are included in the price, as if you have no other choice, but you do. Feel free to refuse them if the add-ons are of no personal benefit to you.

The finance officer will tell you of the many benefits of each add-on, and of the importance of buying them today so that they can be included in your financing. You’ll get the pitch that an add-on will only add a few dollars to each payment, but that’s a smokescreen to hide the real cost of the product. Here’s an example: You’re told that a fabric protectant package will only add $12 to each payment. If you’ve taken out a six-year new car loan, you’ll pay that $12 each month for 72 months, for a total of $864. Do you really think that you’re going to do $864 worth of damage to your interior? No, probably not.

Adding extras to your financing also raises your loan-to-value ratio (LTV), making it more difficult and potentially more costly to borrow. Having a high LTV at the beginning of the loan increases the chance that you’ll have negative equity, or be underwater, on the loan. Since you’re paying interest on anything included in your financing, the long-term cost of the product may be much higher than the quoted price. 

The fact is, there’s really no urgency to buy most of the costly extras you’ll be offered. Many are offered outside of the dealership, and they’re often available at much lower prices. Even items such as extended warranties are available from banks, credit unions, and car insurance companies. One of the most important add-ons to shop for outside of the dealership is gap insurance coverage. It’s required with most leases and a good idea for some buyers, but getting it at the dealer without shopping around first can be a costly mistake. 

Potential add-ons can include: 

  • Destination charges Some manufacturers charge separately for shipping the vehicle to the dealer. While you can’t get around this, check the sticker to make sure it wasn’t already included in the price.
  • Licensing and registration fees These are necessary, but call your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to make sure the dealer hasn’t charged extra.
  • Extended warranties These are also called service contracts. If you purchase a car with a good service history or track record, an extended warranty may not be necessary—take some time to consider what’s best for you.
  • Dealer prep Part of a dealer’s job is to get the car ready for you and it’s one of the things the dealer gets paid for. Don’t pay for this service twice.

Use an Online Buying Service Website

If you hate to haggle and want a hassle-free car buying experience, go to, where you can find what other people actually paid for a particular make/model of a new car in your local area, allowing you to see what is a fair market price for the vehicle you’re interested in purchasing. 

The TrueCar® Car Buying Service is available, for free, to all USSFCU members.

Learn More >>

Remember, your main task is to get the best deal possible on the vehicle. 

Though it’s easy to develop an emotional attachment to your dream car, it’s important to remember that buying a used or new car is simply a business transaction. The less emotion involved, the better. You want to remain polite and cordial, yet firm, when you’re dealing with the salesperson, the finance manager, or the internet manager. 

Arrive dressed neatly, but leave the expensive clothes and accessories at home: you want your salesperson to know you are a serious buyer, but, as Malekafzali reminds, It's gonna be hard to convince them you can't make your monthly payment if you're wearing a Rolex.

Ask the salesperson what they want for the car. This puts a limit on how much they can ask for because once the price quote is out, they can’t just simply raise the price. On the flip side, as soon as you state a car price that you’re willing to pay, you can’t negotiate any lower.

During negotiations, remember that unless the vehicle is in high demand, you should not be paying MSRP (sticker price) or the made-up “market adjustment” figure on the addendum sticker next to the main window sticker. The dealer is entitled to a fair profit, though. If there are any incentives available, be sure to subtract them from the sticker price, and then set your target price (the most you want to pay for the car) somewhat below that.

Whenever you are talking to someone face-to-face, don't feel like you need to keep talking to fill gaps in the conversation. Make an offer, justify it with the pricing data that you found before you started visiting dealers, and then stop talking. It's natural to want to fill in voids in the conversation, but often you'll weaken your negotiating stance when you do so. Instead, let the salesperson fill in the gaps of conversation. If you feel you need to be doing something other than sitting there, politely break out your smartphone and start checking your email or take a walk around the showroom. 

A common tactic is trying to wear you down by making you wait as the salesperson goes back and forth to his or her "manager" to discuss your deal. Politely explain that you have limited time, so if their repeated delays continue, you'll have no choice but to leave. And be prepared to do just that. They may chase you across the parking lot to make sure that doesn't happen. If you genuinely have the time to stay, bring a book and park yourself in the showroom to show that you don't care how long it takes to get the right price.

Sometimes you’ll be asked to sign the offers that the salesperson is presenting to their managers. Typically, those documents are meaningless. They’re just designed to mentally lock you into the agreement that the salesperson is guiding you toward. The only documents that really matter are those you’ll sign in the finance office a bit later.

Throughout the negotiation, keep a calculator or a calculator app on your smartphone out where it can be seen. When any calculations need to be done, do them yourself so that you both understand the numbers and avoid the chance that the sales rep can cloud the outcome of the calculations.


The content on this page provides general consumer information. It is not legal advice or regulatory guidance. We do not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of third-party information.

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