Commando Car Buying

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Before you parachute into a new car dealer looking for the best deal on your next set of wheels, take time to equip yourself with these commando car buyer’s tips:

* If you plan on paying cash, don’t say so until after you’ve negotiated the purchase price

A big chunk of the dealer’s potential profit is built into financing; that means the salesman may be more likely to negotiate a lower sales price – if he thinks he can make it back on the financing. Never discuss how you’ll pay for the car until after you’ve negotiated the sales price.

Get it in writing, too.

* Don’t shop on a weekend (or weeknights) –

The law of supply and demand doesn’t work in your favor when there are lots of other customers milling around; if you don’t buy, the odds are the next guy will. This puts you at a pyschological (and possibly, real) disadvantage.

But when you hit a dealership mid-week, especially in the afternoon when there aren’t nearly as many (if any) other customers around, interest in you and the potential sale you represent will go up. You’ve got a better chance of negotiating a great deal when the salesman sees you as possibly the only game in town.


* Forget about the monthly payment –

Worry about the actual sales price of the car. This goes for leases as well as purchases, since your monthly lease payment will be based in part on the purchase price you sign onto at lease inception. A “low” monthly payment does you no good if it is based on a higher-than-it-should be purchase price – with those “low” payments stretched out over an extra year (or obliterated by an obnoxiously high balloon payment to buy the car at the end of your lease).

* Keep quiet about your trade-in

Never discuss what you plan to do with your current car until after you have finished negotiating the price of the new car. There are two reasons for this. One, you don’t want to add an additional factor (negotiating your old car’s trade-in value) to an already complicated process before you’ve dealt with the first one (negotiating the price of the new car). Two, if the salesman can get you talking about your trade-in before you’ve come to an agreement on the price of the new car, he may be able to shift your attention to the “great deal” he’s giving you on the trade – causing you to forget all about the not-so-great deal he’s giving you on the new car.

Focus on one thing at a time; deal with your trade-in after you’ve tied down the deal on the new car.

* Beware “no haggle” pricing –

Anytime you hear something that sounds too good to be true, it always is too good to be true. “No haggle” is the same as walking into a standard dealership and agreeing to pay the full MSRP sticker price. You don’t “haggle.” You just pay what they tell you to.

This may be less stressful for those who hate the back-and-forth of the typical new car purchase process, but it’s far from being a great deal. And: If the brand/car you want is only sold at a “no haggle” dealership, that doesn’t mean you can’t negotiate. You’ve got nothing to lose by making a fair offer under the “no haggle” price – especially in today’s market. Dealers are desperate to move inventory and a sale (even if it comes with “haggling”) is better than having the car sit on the lot costing the dealer money.

Or, enlist a buying service to handle the haggling for you. Yes, there’s a fee. But it will likely still be less costly overall than just paying whatever the dealer tells you to pay. 

* Worry about incentives and rebates after you negotiate your best deal, not before

Like haggling over your old car’s trade-in value, it’s best to stay focused on the Main Event and not confuse the issue by adding factors that can distract you from negotiating the best possible price before subtracting manufacturer incentives and rebates. If there’s a $1,000 cash back offer, you can subtract it from your final deal (or just have them send you the check, if that’s an option). Remember: It’s the sales price of the car that matters most; everything else is secondary.

* Don’t take the car home for the night –

This is a common gambit designed to get you emotionally attached to the vehicle; to get you thinking of it as “your” new car before you’ve come to terms on its price. Remember: Anything that clouds your judgment or tends to make you emotional should be avoided. If you buy the car, you’ll have plenty of time later on to gaze lovingly at it and think how nice it looks in your driveway. Don’t fall into this trap before you get the deal nailed down.

Be like Mr. Spock: Detached, unemotional.

* Add-on fees are always negotiable –

Don’t let yourself be talked into paying a couple hundred bucks above the “final” sales price you just agreed to for things like “detailing” (teenage kid washes the car) or “paint sealers” (ten bucks’ worth of Turtle Wax applied by teenage kid) and “fabric treatments” (a spray can of Scotch Guard also applied by teenage kid).

The only extras you’re obligated to pay for, above the sales price of the car itself, are any applicable sales taxes, title and vehicle registration fees mandated by your state/local government (and payable to them, not the dealership).

Otherwise, just say no. Be prepared to kibosh the deal if they get aggressive about it.

* Be friendly –

Just as car salesmen get you to drop your guard by getting you to think of them as “nice guys” just trying to help you out with friendly chit-chat, your cause will be well-served if you get the salesman to like you as a person. Being needlessly hostile (or cold) adds pointless tension to the process and should be avoided whenever possible. Remember: The salesman’s a human being, just like you – and most of us prefer doing business with people who are warm and friendly. If it helps you get a better deal, being nice pays for itself.

* Always be prepared to deal your trump card –

Which is to simply get up and walk away if the salesperson is pressuring you, or you just don’t like the way the deal’s going. Never forget: You are under no obligation to buy the car until you sign a contract. This is your number one ace to play. Be polite, but tell the salesperson it’s not working out and that you think it’s time to try your luck elsewhere. It helps if you pretend to be really disappointed. Not mad – just sad that the deal’s not coming together. Sighs are good here. Ham it up!

Nine times out of ten (unless you are being completely unreasonable) the salesperson will do whatever it takes to get you back to the table and close the deal.

And in your favor.

Throw it in the Woods?


  1. Mr Peters have you ever worked in a car dealership selling cars? It does not seem like it by the ignorant article you wrote.If you are interested I will point out all the flaws and inaccuracies .

    • Joseph, I’ve never worked in a car dealership either, but I’ve dealt with a few of them and I can assure you, Mr. Peters is dead on with this article. I actually used similar tactics to buy a truck for $100 over what the dealer had in it and that was because I wanted to be fair: after three and a half hours of pleasant negotiation, the sales manager had to back peddle when he offered me a deal that would have cost them $200 (he showed me their paperwork to prove it). The only reason you’d see any of this article as ignorant or inaccurate is if you have an axe to grind. So tell us, are you a car salesman? Or worse, a sales manager?

  2. All good recommendations Eric. This has been told to consumers so many times over the years, that they just don’t get this – which is all common sense. Too bad consumers never learn, so dealers continue to take advantage of them.

    I spent many years as one of the Top 20 salesman in the US for a particular import car brand. I always enjoyed dealing with customers who used these strategies, as this process is actually very straight forward.

    The only drawback of this method is that it will probably take longer than doing everything at once (test drive, trade in appraisal, and financing application). Plan on at least a few hours to complete this process at most dealerships.

    But then again Eric, most people I know don’t mind spending three hours or so, to save thousands!

  3. Eric,

    You provide very good information in this article.

    I would only add to get the true price if the vehicle in your market.
    There are a few people that provide this service. Consumers Reports is one that comes to mind.

    Then you can negotiate from that price up. (not MSRP down)

    Another thing that I have done is to leave a business card with the price I am willing to pay for the car. If they want the can get back to me.

    The internet can also be a tool to use. Some dealerships accept offers through the internet. It may be possible to do some haggling through the net, but I never did this so I am not sure.
    A side benefit is that everything is documented.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here