As somebody who makes a living running a profitable car business, I can argue that it’s not always wise to grind dealers down to a below-invoice price on your next new car. (Yes, I know most of you disagree.)
That being said, I’ve seen every type of negotiator walk through my showroom doors over the last 15 years. I know what it takes for someone to drive out with a smoking deal. And today, I’m going to share with you what really works: from research to financing to one simple email that will get dealers scrambling to give you their best price.
How to research the best new car deal
It starts with research. You can’t walk into a dealership with the Kelly Blue Book app on your phone and expect to have everything you need to get a deal. Savvy buyers do most of the legwork from the comfort of their couch before setting foot in a store.
You want to settle on the specific make and model car you want to buy before negotiating price. Don’t skip this part! Buying the right car is as important if not more important than the deal you get. You have to live with the car for the next several years. Buy the wrong car and you’ll forget about “what a deal you got” as you sputter joylessly around a curve or—worse—wait for the tow truck on a cold winter night.
Visit a few showrooms for vehicle presentations and test drives. Be very clear with the sales consultant that you’re just test-driving and are still considering several models. A good salesperson will still try his or her best to sell to you, but chances are you’ll get a half-assed presentation and no bothersome follow-up calls.
Once you’ve decided on the car you want, begin comparing apples-to-apples pricing at different dealerships. Do more research. Find the dealers that sell this model. Visit their websites. Research online reviews of these dealers on sites like Google, Yelp, and Dealerrater so you know what to expect from each dealer when it comes time to negotiate.
Next, head over to the manufacturer’s website. Take in the info on any specials, rebates, and financing incentives. Lastly, jump onto a third-party consumer websites like Edmunds.com or TrueCar.com to gather their pricing information.
Understanding new car market conditions
Now that you have a ballpark figure for what you should pay for your car, it’s time to factor in the current market. Dealers have expensive software and auction results that provide up-to-date market data, but consumers will have to take a more manual approach.
Related: Ex-Car Dealer Tells All: How to Negotiate with a Car Salesman
Your goal is to determine the level of demand for the model car you want to buy. Drive onto the lot of your local Chevrolet or Toyota dealer and glance over the inventory. You’ll see larger volumes of Silverados and Malibus compared to Corvettes. There will be more Camrys and Rav-4s than Land Cruisers. You’ll see the bread-and-butter cars with over twenty in stock as well as the lower demand and lower supply models.
Your goal is to figure out how eager the dealer is to move the particular car you want. If a certain model is selling fast, a dealer has little incentive to negotiate. If not, the dealers may be eager to do whatever it takes to get the car off the lot.
Getting the best new car financing
It’s a myth that you have to go to your local bank or credit union to get the lowest interest rates.
Dealers send multiple “deals” to a variety of lenders every day and they have a lot of flexibility around who gets approved and for what rate.
Before you get all nervous that a dealer will try to give you a higher APR than you could get elsewhere, remember—a dealer’s main purpose is to sell you a car. Making a profit on the financing is “plus business.” The dealer would rather offer you financing at the “buy rate” and earn a “flat.” The “buy rate” is the percentage the dealer pays for the money and a “flat” is the flat fee paid to the dealer if the money is lent with little or no markup.
If you come prepared with the rates local banks are offering, you can usually leverage an even better financing deal at the dealership. The key is to know your credit score and what tier that puts you in. Be honest about what sort of rates you have found and qualify for elsewhere because the dealer can call your bluff—they have a little book with competing lenders’ rates.
The single email that’ll get you the best deal on a new car
Now it’s time to put it all out there. With a list of dealers that have the car you want, you are going to craft an e-mail that puts you in the driver’s seat. Don’t do this through a contact form on their site unless you can’t find a salesperson’s email address. You want the dealers to see what they’re up against, so make sure all the dealers’ names are visible in the CC line.
The e-mail needs to include:
The fact that you’ve selected a vehicle you want to buy and you have already test driven it at a local dealer.
That you are ready to buy and want to by a certain date.
The options you must have and any that are flexible.
That you’re aware of all the costs associated with the invoice and options.
Any programs like loyalty or dealer cash you found in your research.
That you are pre-approved for financing but would rather finance through the selling dealer just to make the transaction easier.
Now, here’s the cherry on top: Give the dealers 24 hours to respond with their best offer and tell them you will give a credit card deposit over the phone to secure the deal.
What to expect when you send this email to car dealers
As a dealer, I hate emails like this. I know it’s going to be a long shot and a loser deal, but at the end of the day, dealers need to sell units, so the smart ones will respond. (Don’t be surprised, however, if out of 10 dealerships only six or seven write back.)
You will get some competitive quotes. Depending on supply and demand, you could see some invoice or under-invoice deals. Just don’t expect any special treatment from the dealer with the lowest price.
What you might do is send the email to every dealer except your local guy. Preferably the one where you did your test-drives. Then, take your competing quotes there.
Why? Dealers are territorial. We pay attention to where you live and where you bought your last car. We take it personally if you didn’t buy it from your local dealer. Manufacturers and dealer managers pay attention to something called a cross-sell report. It tells exactly which dealers are strong enough to keep their local buyers local and also go after customers outside of their own territory. Lose too many of your own local customers and it doesn’t look good. This report puts certain dealers above the rest in very black and white terms. So a smart, reputable dealer will do whatever is necessary to earn your business and keep you local.
Timing is everything. Dealers do have quotas. If you’ve followed the steps I’ve outlined and all else is equal, you are more likely to get the best deal on a new car on the last two days of the month.
Summary With a little research and some extra effort, anyone can get the exact deal they want on a car. You can even write an email that guarantees you a deal before you step foot on the dealership.