How to Negotiate Car Price


Car salesmen are known for using high-pressure sales tactics to close a deal, but there’s no reason to feel steamrolled the next time you need to buy a car. By performing some basic research in advance and having a few negotiating tactics in your back pocket, you can make sure your next experience isn’t met with any unsavory surprises.

Purchasing a car

Follow our step-by-step guide the next time you’re in the market for a new or used car. You’ll marvel at your own confidence and at the amount of money you save while making a deal.

Get Your Financing Approved in Advance

Financing your vehicle purchase at the car dealership sounds convenient. However, in reality, it will likely end up costing you thousands in extra interest over the life of the loan.

Buy Here, Pay Here

Also known as “buy here, pay here” (BHPH), the dealership essentially serves as a middleman between you and the lender. On-the-lot financing often raises the interest rate significantly for the same loan you could have gotten on your own.

Local Banks, Credit Unions, and Online Lenders

Start your financing search before you even head to the dealership. Talk to a lender at your local bank or credit union. You can also check rates with online lenders that are based on your credit profile if you want to get the best price on a car.

These financial institutions are less likely to push you towards a loan amount that is too high for you. It’s not in their best interest to give you a risky loan. If your credit score is low and you don’t qualify for a traditional loan, consider repairing your credit before taking out a major car loan.

If you have an immediate need for a car loan, look into reputable alternative lenders online. They’ll quote you an interest rate without doing a hard pull on your credit report. Plus, that interest rate is tied directly to your credit history so you receive a very targeted offer.

Not only can you select your repayment terms, but many lenders also offer low or even no origination fees. The car buying process is often much more transparent than at a car dealership. At a dealership, you’re more likely to pay for add-ons and extra fees.

Base Negotiations on the Manufacturer’s Invoice

This may sound surprising, but you can ask to see the invoice the car dealer paid for the vehicle you’d like to purchase. You’re not going to get the wholesale price. But, it does give you an idea of the profit margin they are hoping to get with the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP).

Some dealers might be prepared for you to ask for this information and show you a dealer-generated invoice rather than the original copy from the manufacturer. The sticker price on the dealer’s invoice includes optional add-ons which inflate the purchase price of the car.

A manufacturer’s invoice, on the other hand, will be addressed to the car dealership. It only includes the price of upgrades that are already on the vehicle, such as a leather interior or sunroof.

Even after you have the true invoice price, it’s worth noting that the dealer may have paid even less than that amount because of hidden incentives from the manufacturer. Some experts insist that you may be able to negotiate even lower than the invoice price. But, at the very least, you can use that number as your starting point during negotiations.

You can also shop around at several dealerships to compare invoices. That way, you’ll gain a better understanding of how accurate each one is and set a baseline for your own negotiations and expectations.

Go on a Bad Day

Not on a bad day for you, of course, but for the dealer. If foot traffic is slow or the dealership is trying to hit a sales target, that is your best chance for wheeling and dealing your way to the best car price.

For example, bad weather typically deters other customers from going out on the road. After all, no one wants to do a test drive during a rainstorm. This gives you a wide opportunity to take advantage of a slow business day. You can negotiate with a car salesman who has little chance of making any other sale that day.

The day and time you go to the dealership may also sweeten your chances. Try showing up on a Saturday or Sunday evening one hour before closing. If the car dealer is short on its weekend goal, they will be more likely to go a little lower on the price rather than letting the sale slip away.

Similarly, the end of the month is another time when they’ll be trying to boost their sales numbers. Head in on the 31st to entice them to take your offer—even better if the last day of the month lands on a rainy weekend.

Politely Decline Any Extras

Once you’re in negotiations, avoid a major price increase by declining any add-ons they try to sell you. One of the fastest ways to lose any savings you got on the car price is to automatically agree on buying a warranty or gap insurance through the dealer.

Research extras in advance to see if you need them. Always go in armed with as much information as possible so you can give the car salesman a reason for your responses and requests.

Even though you want to be firm throughout the process, it’s also important to be polite. Any person is much more likely to want to help you if they like you, and there’s no reason to be rude.

Keep your tone pleasant and don’t let your nerves get the best of you. A good way to do this while negotiating a deal is to acknowledge their offer by briefly restating it in your own words. Then you can either decline it outright or propose a counter-offer.

Hang on to Your Keys and Title During a Trade-In

Their goal during negotiations is to keep you on the lot. Some dealers are sneaky about this if you’re trying to trade in a vehicle to go towards the financing of your new purchase. They may ask for the key to your trade-in car so that they can inspect it, then not give it back right away. This prevents you from walking out during negotiations.

Another tactic is to request to look at the title of your vehicle so they can confirm that you do indeed own it. While that may seem reasonable, make sure you don’t let them keep it because this also limits your ability to walk away from a deal.

Ask for the title back right away after they inspect it. Consider giving a spare key for the vehicle inspection, rather than the one you use regularly.

Both of these practices prevent car dealerships from having any sort of leverage over you while you negotiate car prices. When you’re able to walk away from a bad deal, you might just find someone running after you in the parking lot agreeing to your offer.

Keep Your Financing a Secret

Even though you’ve already secured financing in advance of heading to the dealership, it’s important to keep that information close throughout the negotiation process.

If they know you already have financing, they won’t be able to make extra money off the interest and origination fees that come along with in-house loans. This, in turn, makes them less likely to come down on the final purchase price of the vehicle.

Instead, don’t mention your financing situation ahead of time. Furthermore, remember to negotiate the out-the-door price of the vehicle only. Do not focus on the monthly payment.

Once you’ve settled on a final number for the new car, and preferably get that price in writing, they will likely turn the conversation to financing. At that point, it’s appropriate to mention that you’ve already been pre-approved for a loan with favorable terms and conditions.

If you’d like, you can always hear out their financing offer. Just be sure to review all the fees and length of repayment in addition to the monthly interest rate to get a full comparison of your loan offers. More often than not, your private lender will offer you a better, more transparent deal than any dealership.

Preparation is Key

Buying a car is a major event, so it’s no surprise that it takes a bit of elbow grease to ensure you’re getting the best bang for your buck. Understanding how a car dealership makes its money and increases its profit margins empowers you to level the playing field as soon as you enter the financing office.

From there, it’s as simple as knowing the price you’re willing to pay and knowing when to walk away from a bad deal. No car salesman wants to lose a sale. So, be firm on your final number while avoiding pricey extras so you can get a good deal that works for everyone.

Negotiating Car Price FAQs

How do I negotiate car price when paying cash?

Car salespeople may be more inclined to negotiate the purchase price of your car if they are unaware of your payment method. If you wait to disclose that you plan to pay in cash until after negotiating the price, the salesperson may be more willing to offer a lower price.

This is because salespeople often make more money when customers finance their vehicles. Therefore, it may be to your advantage to keep your payment method a secret during negotiations.

On the other hand, if you’re buying a car from a private seller, offering to pay in cash can sometimes give you leverage in negotiations. Some private sellers may be willing to lower the price in exchange for a quick, hassle-free sale.

How much should your initial offer be when negotiating car price?

When negotiating the price of a car, it’s generally a good idea to start with an initial offer that is lower than the asking price. The exact amount will depend on a variety of factors, including the market value of the car, its condition and mileage, and your budget.

One rule of thumb is to start with an offer that is about 10-20% lower than the asking price. This allows you some room to negotiate while still showing that you are interested in the car. However, it’s important to be prepared to justify your offer by pointing out any flaws or issues with the car.

Keep in mind that the seller’s initial asking price is often higher than what they are willing to accept, so be prepared to negotiate and be willing to walk away if the seller is unwilling to meet your price. It’s also a good idea to have a firm budget in mind and to stick to it.

How do I negotiate the price of a used car?

Negotiating the price of a used car is basically the same process as with a new car purchase. Start with an initial offer that is lower than the asking price. From there, you can negotiate up to the highest price you are willing to pay. Be prepared to justify your offer by pointing out any flaws or issues with the car and to have a firm budget in mind.

Lauren Ward
Meet the author

Lauren is a personal finance writer who strives to equip readers with the knowledge to achieve their financial objectives. She has over a decade of experience and a Bachelor's degree in Japanese from Georgetown University.