Buying a new car is supposed to be exciting. Ask anyone that’s bought a car recently and they’ll probably rave about it and how much they love it.
The process of actually buying the new car? Not so much.
Car salesmen are notorious for being sneaky, manipulative, and making you feel like you’re being ripped off. That kind of takes the fun out of it, don’t you think?
So if you’re thinking of buying a new car, just follow these tips and it will minimize all the aggravation. They helped make my recent car purchase (the car is awesome!) as enjoyable as possible (it could’ve been a lot worse).
#1 Buying a New Car: The Basics
If you’ve never bought a car before, you need to know the basics:
- You should never pay the MSRP price
- There’s something called the invoice price. Your goal is to pay less than the invoice price
- Sites like TrueCar can help with figuring out what the invoice price is
- Shop for your own financing—going through the dealer limits your options
- If you’re trading in your current car, find out what value it might have by using Edmunds.com and CarMax
- Use a payment calculator to see how much you can realistically afford before you fall in love with any car
- Don’t forget you’ll also need to add taxes, plates, transportation fees, etc. These can add up quickly
#2 Do Your Research
This goes without saying. There is so much information out there and if you don’t take advantage of it, you’re asking for trouble. Start by reading reviews (Consumer Reports is a great resource) and getting a sense of which car is good for you.
A simple search for “[car you want] reviews” will get you started as you try to decide which car you want to buy. Ask your friends on Facebook and you’ll get some honest feedback.
I also highly recommend going to the official site of the cars you’re thinking of buying—that’s usually the best place to view all the different trims and options that are available.
We created a spreadsheet with the features that were important to us and put in the 6-7 cars we thought would be a good match and compared them that way (FYI, our rows were price, trunk space, and leg room).
#3 Test Drive First
Be very clear when you show up at a dealership that you aren’t buying a new car on that day—you’re only test driving. We left the door open to potentially buying “if we got a great deal” thinking that would improve the service we got.
The dealer wouldn’t let us leave and called us several times trying to close a deal we knew would never happen. It ended up becoming a huge hassle.
When we were up front about not buying a car the dealers were very helpful and didn’t pressure us at all.
#4 Pick the Car You Want
What can I say? This could be the hardest part of the whole process. Pick a car you can afford, that meets your needs, and you can get excited about. You’re going to own it for a while (hopefully).
#5 Use the Power of Email
Once you’ve picked the car, it’s time to get down to business. Here’s what you do:
- If you’re trading in your old car, take it to CarMax for a quick, 20-minute visit. They’ll give you a number that’s good for 7 days and is great leverage once you show up at the dealership
- Find dealers within 100 miles of you that sell the car (use Google Maps or the car maker’s site)
- Send them all the same message/e-mail spelling exactly the trim you want with the features you want. Be VERY specific!
- Ask them for their best “out the door” quote (includes taxes, fees, etc.)
- Punch these quotes into your spreadsheet
- Once you hear back from all of them, email them back and ask them to match the lowest number you got, making it very clear that if any new numbers pop up later in the process, you aren’t going to do business with them
- Pick the dealer that gave you the best price and print out all the emails you had with them
- Got get your new car!
Our dealer tried to pull some funny business at the end, and I just kept pointing at the emails he and I had gone back and forth on. He still tried to interpret his words differently (so it’s important to be VERY clear in them), but inevitably that’s what got me the deal I wanted.
#6 Buy the Car
You’d think that once you do all that work, you would just show up to pick up your new car, right?
Now you have to face the actual dealer. There might be “complications” and meetings to “work out the numbers.” Just point at the emails you brought with you and say “I want the deal you promised me.”
If they resist, walk out the door and tell them you’re going to dealer #2, who also matched the deal you sent out.
They’ll try hard to keep you there, so stick to your guns and you should be OK.
Bonus Tip: Find Underground Sites
One of the best things I did was discover two sites specific to the car we were looking for: the Subaru Outback. One was a forum of Outback owners (Subaru Outback Forum) where owners and potential owners discussed all kinds of really useful things, and the other was run by an Outback dealer in Seattle that ran a “behind the scenes” look at everything you could ever want to know about buying one (Cars 101). Thanks to those two sites, I had a wealth of information specific to the car I wanted to buy:
- How much others payed for their car, including which features they added
- How they negotiated with the dealer
- Different aftermarket vendors they used for things like leather or sound systems
- Things they would’ve done differently when buying their car
- Random tips to help you make your decision on which trim is right for you
- Special deals in effect from the car maker
- Insight from the dealers themselves on what they’re trying to get out of a deal
Image by NRMA New Cars