Negotiating a car deal can be a painful ordeal. The bargaining, the haggling, the second guessing, the back-and-forth, the confusing numbers. It all adds up to one big headache. Even worse, you usually leave a dealership feeling that the cards were stacked against you from the start. Lots of car buyers end up feeling like they didn’t really get a good deal. Some motorists feel they got outright screwed by the dealership.

This is partly because car salespeople are well-trained on how to manipulate their customers. It’s also because most of us shopping for a car are not prepared to firmly negotiate. There’s an art to getting the best price and terms when it comes to picking out a new vehicle. To help, we have compiled the following ten tips to help you get the best possible deal on a car, whether you’re buying new or used.

Set a Budget and Know Your Maximum Price

As with any major expenditure, it helps to go in with a strict budget. Give yourself a maximum price that you are willing to pay. The key, of course, is to hold fast on this limit. Don’t go beyond your maximum price. If you are not sure how much car you can afford, check with your bank, accountant, or financial planner. However, be wary of trusting the dealership.

They are there to sell you a car — for as much money as possible. They specialize in getting you to think you can afford more than you actually have. Be strong and stick to your guns. Remember that buying a car is a psychological game. They will morph your total budget (say, $20,000) into a smaller monthly payment. “How does $450 a month sound?,” they will say. Next thing you know, you’ve committed to paying that for five years — that’s $27,000 total!

Stay true to your budget and don’t reveal your maximum price to the salesperson. If they insist on knowing how much money you have to spend, low ball the number by 10 percent.

Hold On to Your Wallet

One of the oldest tricks in the car salesman book is to get you to part with your credit card. Pretty early on in the conversation, they will ask you for a credit card. They’ll say they need this to check your credit score or credit history, or that it’s as a sign of good faith. Really, they want to make you feel trapped. If they are holding your card hostage, you’ll start to feel like you have to sign a deal with them.

This is bogus and purely a psychological tactic. There is no reason for you to prematurely turn over any credit card or piece of identification at a dealership. Until you’re totally ready to sign on the dotted line, be sure to sit on your wallet. Keep your money where it is safest — in your own back pocket.

Want Versus Need

The more bells and whistles on a car, the more it will cost. Sure, we all love the term “fully loaded.” In reality though, many of the items offered on a vehicle are simple “nice to have,” not something essential. Heated seats, for example, are great. But also completely unnecessary. Same goes for a sunroof.

Naturally, the salespeople will do their best to make you feel that you can’t live without any of their amazing features and extras. To help keep yourself grounded during the negotiation, go into the dealership with a list of items you truly need in the car and a list of items you want but can live without.

On the “needs” list may be things such as GPS, anti-lock brakes, and keyless entry with a panic button. On the “wants” list may be items like satellite radio, side mirror defrosters, and a backup camera. Memorize this list and keep it in mind. It’s the best way to ensure you don’t end up paying extra for shag floor mats.

Bring a Friend or Family Member

Safety in numbers, people. It’s a real thing. Anytime you go to buy a new car, it’s always safest to bring someone with you. Whether it’s a friend, neighbor, or family member, it should be someone you trust to have your back. Having someone with you is beneficial in a number of ways.

First, it gives you someone to bounce ideas off. Second, it makes the salesperson feel outnumbered. That could give you a psychological edge over them. Also, if you get overly excited about the idea of a new car and start acting irrationally (ie, agreeing to a ridiculous price), your sidekick can bring you back down to reality. They can (and should) drag you out of the dealership, if needed. Really, there is no downside to bringing a second person with you when car shopping. Going to the dealership alone can make you look pretty vulnerable.

Know Some of the Sales Tricks

You don’t have to know every trick of the trade, but it certainly helps to know some of the tactics employed by salespeople. It’s most helpful to know which items you should not be paying for when buying a car. Freight, for example, is the cost the dealership paid to transport the car you’re buying from the manufacturer to their lot. Administrative fees are the cost for the dealership to process the paperwork associated with your car purchase or lease.

Why should you pay these fees? Simple answer: you shouldn’t. It’s just the dealer trying to pass their expenses on to you. There’s really no reason for it. Do yourself a favor and read up on the fees you should not pay when buying a car.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

Most salespeople talk a lot, and they talk pretty fast. There’s a good reason for that. They simply don’t want you asking too many questions. However, don’t let yourself be intimidated. Feel free to ask questions and then listen to see if the salesperson really knows what they are talking about.

In the case of purchasing a used vehicle, ask about the mileage, the warranty coverage, and if it has ever been in an accident. The more questions you ask, the more you’ll know. You will also show the salesperson that you know what you are doing. Dealers will be less likely to try and pull a fast one over on someone they think knows a thing or two about cars. Draw up a list of questions to take with you to the dealership. Then make sure you do some of the talking, too.

Do Some Online Research First

It helps to know what is out there. You should have a firm idea of what price range your desired vehicle(s) fall into. Thanks to the internet, that’s never been easier. With a few clicks of your mouse, you can easily see how much certain makes and models are selling for. You can also quickly cross reference used cars based on things like year, condition, mileage, and available features. Don’t make the mistake of overpaying for a vehicle that is older and more worn than it should be!

Having this information on hand will help you to form a price range in your mind. Use it to set a realistic budget and maximum price. It will also help you to sniff out if the salesperson is feeding you a bunch of malarkey. Knowledge is power, as they say. With the mass amount of auto research available online, there’s never been more knowledge at our finger tips.

Know What You Bring to the Table

How much leverage you have to negotiate on the price of a vehicle will depend on what you can bring to the table. For example, are you trading in your current car? How much of a down payment do you have? Are you purchasing a car outright or financing through the dealership? All these things matter, so know where you stand before you start negotiating.

Trading in a vehicle and having a decent down payment will enable you to negotiate a better deal. It will also make the sales staff more interested in getting your business. Go into the dealership armed with some collateral and you will start off from a stronger position. Pro tip: do some research and get a good idea of what your trade-in is really worth. The dealer will probably low ball you on it, so be prepared to haggle.

If you’ve already secured a third-party loan to pay for the car (or have saved the cash yourself), you don’t need to bother with deal financing. You have the ability to write a check for the full purchase price — assuming the dealer can provide an attractive offer. That’s an additional bargaining chip in your arsenal.

Remember That Everything Is Negotiable

A lot of sales folks like to start off their pitch these days by saying that they “don’t negotiate.” This is baloney. If you hear anyone say this, you should turn and walk out the door. The truth is that everything is negotiable when it comes to a vehicle purchase. From the tires to the paint color and the interior fabric. Literally everything about a car is negotiable. Floor mats? Negotiable. Included oil changes for a year? Negotiable. Upgraded stereo? Yep, also negotiable.

Much like the physical features of the car, the price, interest rate, and term are all negotiable too. It can all be tweaked. You just have to be willing to do the negotiating. Don’t be shy. Stand firm when negotiating. Tell them the dealer down the road offered you a better interest rate. Tell them you want their 72-month term lowered to 48-months, to save a ton of interest fees. You’re in charge! If you don’t like what you’re being offered, you can always…

Walk Away

The most powerful tool you have in any car negotiation is your legs. Use them to walk away if you’re not getting what you want. Walk away even faster if you feel like you’re being lied too or taken advantage of. Never feel pressure to agree to something that makes you uncomfortable. Just leave and take your money with you.

If you want, tell the sales staff that you need some time to consider their offer. You can also leave a contact number behind. Chances are, they will get in touch with you shortly and sweeten the offer a bit. After all, the last thing any salesperson wants to see is a commission walk out the door. Be patient and stand firm. A good deal is out there if you take the time to prepare properly. Use these tips to negotiate like a pro and get the best available offer.


This article was worked on by a variety of people from the Autoversed team, including freelancers, editors, and/or other full-time employees.