How to Negotiate a New Car Deal Like a Boss

couple in car
Photo: moneybusinessimages/ iStock
Tips and tricks to help you drive off with the best possible deal.

If only buying a new car was as easy as shopping for a pair of sneakers. Both scenarios start similarly enough: You browse the latest styles and select the color, fabric, trim and other features important to you. But while you simply pay the amount listed on a pair of shoes, no questions asked, the cost of a car isn't so clear-cut—and negotiating doesn't always come naturally. So how should you go about getting to a number you're comfortable paying? Follow these tips for starters, then allocate the money you'll save into your brand-new gas budget.

1. Figure out what you want.

The first time you look at cars shouldn't be on the dealership floor. Talk with your partner about the types of vehicles that'll work best for you, then start researching, reading new car reviews and comparing models. (After all, even if it'll only be the primary car for one of you, you should both feel comfortable driving it.) Read up on both standard and add-on features for the cars you're interested in and draft two lists: one for must-haves and one for nice-to-haves, so you don't get overwhelmed by the different trim levels.

2. Do your financial homework.

Check an online vehicle valuation guide for a car's average sale price, and read up on some of the myths and surprising factors that may affect trade-in and resale values. You'll also need to decide whether to lease or buy, and if you plan to finance your car, it's a good idea to get quotes from local and online banks, credit unions and dealerships to compare rates.

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3. Plan your visit.

As they say, timing is everything. Head to a dealership at the end of the month or quarter, when they're often looking to hit quotas and move inventory, or at the end of the summer when they need to rid the lot of last year's models. (You can also take advantage of holiday sales, but weigh those discounts against the knowledge that there may be less room for negotiation with widely promoted deals.) If you can, shop with time on your side. This has a couple of benefits: It will prevent you from having to make a decision on your first visit to the dealership and allow you to order the car you really want, rather than just take what's in stock.

4. Know what can—and can't be—negotiated.

Keeping your emotions in check during back-and-forth negotiations—of any kind—is basically an adulting rite of passage. Make sure you and your partner both play it cool, and decide in advance which one of you will take the lead to ask the tough questions and talk numbers. Once you've agreed on a price, see if there's any flexibility with things like the security deposit or allowed miles for a lease, or the down payment if you're buying. Other costs—like title fees, sales tax and destination fees (getting the car to you)—are often nonnegotiable. And don't forget to ask about incentives like rebates and discounted maintenance or repairs.

5. Come back later.

Think about it: You wouldn't just buy the first flat-screen TV or pair of sneakers you saw—and a car is obviously a much bigger investment. If you've decided on the exact one you want but can't reach your ideal price, the dealership is about to close for the night, or anything else is making the deal seem rushed or not right, thank the salesperson for their time and call it a day. You can always come back another time or go elsewhere to do the research for a potential counteroffer. Negotiating can be a long road, but if you drive a hard bargain, you'll head off the lot with the satisfaction of knowing you got a good deal.