If you want to hold your own when negotiating with a professional car dealer, following these simple tips can help you level the playing field, or maybe even tip it in your favour.
Luckily, car sales people aren’t quite the types of characters you used to see in years gone by. But still, buying a car from a dealer can be daunting. After all, it’s not a fair fight, you are negotiating with someone who does it every day for a living.
You need to be prepared when going to buy a new car, so do plenty of research. Have a clear idea of exactly what kind of car you want, what you’ll be using it for and what kind of mileage you’ll be covering. Once you’ve narrowed down your options, you should check on the list price of a new car. If you're buying used, look up the different values of cars of different ages/mileages.
Then nail down your budget. Work out exactly what you can afford – and be realistic: running a car always costs more than you expect, so you don’t want to overextend yourself from the start.
When you’ve done your research, you’re ready to enter the showroom.
Don’t reveal your hand, budget-wise
A crucial bit of information you should keep to yourself is how much you have to spend. The salesperson will undoubtedly ask you, but never reveal your upper limit (either as a total or a monthly payment figure). Just give them a lower amount or be vague about it.
And if you're a cash buyer, don’t tell them upfront.
Most buyers use car finance deals and dealers expect to make money on those, so they’ll give you more off the car. If you tell them after you’ve negotiated a price for the car that you don’t need finance, they’ll have to stick to their quote. If they don’t, walk away.
Choosing the best time to buy a car
Pick your day to walk into a dealership: don’t go at the weekend, when the showroom is likely to be busy and there’s no time for in-depth negotiation.
Instead, try to go on a weekday. The showroom will be quiet and you’ll have time to establish a relationship with the salesperson, which is essential for a successful negotiation.
The other timing issue is go to a dealership when they’re really keen to sell cars. Car dealers have important quarterly targets: if they hit them, they can get big bonuses. Going to a dealership a week or two before the end of March, June, September and December (especially December) can mean that the salespeople are really hungry to do a deal.
Take. Your. Time.
Never, ever allow a salesperson to rush you into a decision. They use this tactic to get the upper hand in the negotiation, but you’re the one with the money, so spend it in your own time.
Don’t be fooled by tactics such as salespeople saying that an offer is limited, or a car is popular so it might not be there the next day. Make it clear to them that you understand that there are lots of cars and lots of dealers where you can spend your money.
Salespeople will also try and wear you down, dragging out negotiations with tactics such as having to discuss it with their manager, which often takes ages. You might end up being at the dealership for hours, having also test-driven the car, so you might start to feel tired. This can give the salesperson a psychological edge.
If they try to delay, just tell them to take their time and then text or email you with their quote. If you explain that you have to go to see another car, it will give you the upper hand again.
Stay in control
As well as negotiating at your own pace and keeping information to yourself, there are other ways of keeping control of the negotiation.
The main one is being aware of all the psychological tricks that a salesperson will use when trying to sell you a car. Remember that they do this every day of their working life and you do it once every few years.
Dealers also increasingly send their staff for training that hones their skills and introduces them to the latest selling techniques. It might sound like a TV cop show, but some are now actually trained to psychologically profile you, to work out how best to negotiate with you.
To help you stay in control, you should break the process down into different stages, focusing on one at a time: the car itself; selecting any extras or options; negotiating a price; working out a finance deal; and then choosing any extras, such as warranty, gap insurance, paint protection, etc.
First impressions count
We all make judgements on people when we first meet them. Salespeople are no different.
So, look as if you're there to do business. Looking too casual could undermine your attempts to be taken seriously, so the salesperson might not offer you the discounts that they’d offer someone dressed smarter.
Don’t dress up to the nines, though, with head-to-toe designer gear and blingy jewellery: if you look as if you’re very well off, the salesperson will assume you also have a lot of money to spend on a car.
What you want to do is find a happy medium between these two extremes: smart casual. Smart enough to be taken seriously, casual enough to imply you aren’t Lord or Lady Muck.
Friendly, not friends
You’re looking for a new car, not a new BFF, so however friendly the salesperson is, remember that it's their job to be like that. They might well be perfectly nice, but don’t forget that you’re negotiating with them and money is at stake.
But at the same time, be friendly yourself. Salespeople are human and they appreciate a customer who is polite and amiable – and they will often give you a better deal than if you’re awkward to deal with.
It’s a negotiation, so you’re trying to get as much for your money as you can, while the salesperson is trying to give you as little as possible.
You should therefore push all the way through the negotiation: if the price won’t go any lower, try and get some extras thrown in for free; if they can’t go lower on monthly repayments, try and get the interest rate of deposit contribution reduced; and then haggle over the extras like warranty, breakdown cover, coating products, etc.
Buying a car is a major purchase, so it’s rarely one person’s decision. If you walk into a dealership wearing a wedding ring, but without your spouse, the salesperson is unlikely to negotiate too seriously with you, as they know that a financial commitment that great will have to taken jointly.
So go to the dealership with your other half, as it will be a mark of how serious you are.
However, salespeople will sometimes try and play one spouse off the other. This will always end badly, with the strong possibility that the ‘losing’ spouse will never be happy with the car you buy.
If you spot this happening, the best thing to do is just walk away. Tell the dealer that you’re going to sleep on it and will return the next day. You can then go home with the other half and have a discussion/argument and decide on a compromise – which you might want to go elsewhere to buy, as you don't want to deal with a manipulative salesperson.
Make it a kid-free zone
Finally, don’t take the kids with you when negotiating. You need to concentrate on wheeler dealing, which is impossible if you have to mind kids at the same time.
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