- Get the big picture. Remember, the dealer and his reps are there to exact as large a profit as possible on each transaction–and years of experience have made them quite adept at doing exactly that. Maximizing your chances against this well-oiled selling machine requires thorough research on all aspects of the buying process followed by the formulation of a strategic action plan. Start by reading all the literature you can on the subject–from general resource materials to road tests of specific vehicles–and enlist the help of knowledgeable friends whenever possible. Forget about acquiring any new car or truck below cost. Under normal circumstances, your goal will be to limit dealer margin to 2-4 percent over the invoice figure. However, leveraging power is always subject to the basic law of supply and demand, so if your heart is set on a red-hot seller, be prepared to pay for that indulgence–to the tune of full sticker, and in some cases, even beyond.
- Define what you want–and need–before commencing negotiations. Once you’ve decided on a vehicle category and come up with a short list of specific primary candidates that fit your budget, it’s time to start visiting local dealers. Use these basic recon missions to check out the hardware with respect to things you’ll love or hate in say, a year’s time, like build quality, utility, ergonomics, and comfort, while you gather up product brochures for at-home perusal.
- Research! Meaningful negotiations can only occur when you know what a dealer actually paid for the car or truck in question, not just the price on its window sticker. Basic invoice data on vehicles and options can be found in the Kelley Blue Book “New Car Price Manual” and Edmund’s “New Car Prices,” both of which are available in most bookstores or via the Internet.
- Consider when to buy. The best buys are to be had during the middle days of any week, during the last week of the month, and especially late in a given model year. Also remember, special manufacturer-supported “selling events” and/or subsidized financing periods frequently provide shoppers with even better dealing opportunities.
- Test drive. Although it might seem too obvious to mention, and regardless of how much information you’ve already gathered, nothing can take the place of first-hand wheel time. Elsewhere in this supplement, we’ve included an easy-to-follow procedure for this important first meeting.
- Forget that you are the ultimate deal maker or breaker. Refuse to be intimidated by high-pressure tactics or offers that will “only be good for the next hour.” Remember that any time prior to signing on the dotted line, you’re free to simply get up and leave. Here are the proper steps to staying in control of the situation: Step one is always to establish a formal purchase price. Next, reach an agreement on a fair value for any vehicle you’ll be offering as a trade-in (when applicable). Finally, address the subject of how the transaction will be financed. Blur these items together, and you’ll lose track of the deal.
- Pay for things you don’t want. Without a doubt, the highest profit margins on any new vehicle are found on “dealer-installed” options. Prime on the list of things you categorically don’t need are any type of rustproofing/undercoating, paint sealers, and/or fabric protectors, but special trim packages, telephones, and non-factory audio upgrades also can add more cost than value to the mix. The same relationship generally holds true for extended warranty coverages. On a related topic, always say no to any pitches for dealer-supplied credit life or disability insurance. Finally, aggressively challenge all supplemental sticker charges like ADM (additional dealer markup) and non-specific “prep fees” for the blatant ripoffs they are.
- Sign anything until you’ve read and understood the deal. Carefully go over every portion of a contract prior to putting your signature on it. Demand a plain English explanation of any elements you find confusing or misleading. If the salesman balks, take a walk.
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