From negotiating with strangers to ducking high-pressure sales tactics, buying a car can test any man’s emotional stability.
But it pays to be smart and stay cool: Researchers at the University of Toronto recently examined 10.5 million new car transactions and found that in some cases, a customer paid $3,000 more for the same car someone else bought in that same month and city.
Why the price difference? According to real car salesmen, the best customers ace their time in the dealership—and score better deals—by following these steps.
Car-Buying Tip: Do Your Homework
In 2005, car buyers visited about 4.5 dealerships before making a purchase, according to data from J.D. Power. Today, that number is 1.4 stores—which means shoppers are wasting less time at dealerships and putting in serious prep before ever walking onto a lot.
Do this: Find your magic number, says Doug*, a Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania-based car dealer. Google reviews for your desired make, model, and year; consult the Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com); and search the car manufacturer’s website for a price that works for your budget.
Once you have a figure, bring it to the dealership. Regardless of where the number comes from, “we have to treat every lead seriously,” says Doug.
You can even tell a white lie and say you have another option from a rival store, says Ernie Boch, Jr., president and CEO of Subaru of New England. “A lot of people do this, and they weren’t even at another dealership.”
Car-Buying Tip: Find the Right Salesman
There are two types of salespeople, says Boch: the mercenary who only cares about what’s in it for him, and the legitimate, caring worker.
Do this: Don’t like the guy you’re working with? Cut him loose.
“For every walking stereotype shyster, there are two or three regular Joes just trying to earn a living,” Doug says.
You can usually find the names of great salespeople on business review sites like Yelp. Ask to schedule an appointment with them by name, or request a sales manager.
Car-Buying Tip: Don’t Give In To Pressure
Dead set on a particular make and model? Don’t let the salesman sway you to another car.
Salespeople often score bonuses for selling specific models, says Doug. They’re called ‘spin checks’ and clock in at anywhere from $100 to $500, he says.
Do this: Stick to your guns and ask hard questions.
“A good, educated costumer says, ‘Are there any incentives you have to hit this month?’” says Steven*, a New York-based dealership owner.
Knowing what you’re up against can help you understand everyone’s interests.
Car-Buying Tip: Don’t Fall In Love Too Easily
You’ve felt the wheel beneath your hands. You’ve heard the hum of the engine. Now you have an emotional connection to the car.
But be careful, Steven cautions. This can tank a deal.
Do this: Sub beige interiors for black interiors if that’s what’s on the lot.
Dealers want to relieve themselves of inventory as quickly as possible, says Steven. Take a car off their hands and it could mean a better deal.
“More often than not, the vehicle available to you for least amount is the vehicle you want . . . but not exactly what you want,” says Boch.
Car-Buying Tip: Walk Away
Remember: You have all the leverage—not the salesman. All you need to do is walk away.
“The biggest weapon the customer has is his feet,” says Boch.
Do this: At some point, a manager will come over to try to seal the deal. Tell him you have to think about it, suggests Doug.
He’ll do anything to keep you there, but walk out politely and give it a day. Steven guarantees the dealer will call the next day, which is when you say, “I’d really like to get to XXX. That’s as far as my budget goes.”
Car-Buying Tip: Shop On the Right Days
The auto industry lives and dies in 30-day periods, says Boch. Pro tip: Avoid all dealerships on the first of the month, when lots are the most full and dealers are the least desperate.
Do this: Salesmen have a monthly quota they’re trying to hit, Boch says. Wait until the last three days of the month to score the best possible deal.
Many dealerships also work in 10-day periods, says Boch, so visit lots on the 10th and 20th days of the month and you may have better odds of landing the price you want.
And if you don’t have any New Year’s plans yet, consider car shopping on December 31. Not only do salesmen want to hit their monthly goals, says Boch, but they also want to inflate their yearly numbers.
Car-Buying Tip: Shop a Few Towns Over
If you’re hitting up the local lot down the block, they’ll likely charge you more, says Steven.
“But if I get someone who comes in from 50 miles away, I’ll give them a lower price—because I know I don’t get the opportunity to get their business often.”
Do this: Scout out dealerships within a 2-hour drive on sites like cars.com, autotrader.com, and cargurus.com, then take a road trip, Doug says. Chances are you’ll enjoy the ride home.
*Source has requested not to use his last name for this story.