Two weeks ago I test drove a beautiful new car and bought it the same night, doing only about 20 minutes of research that very night. Oh, and I saved $1300+ off the dealer’s “best price.” Here’s how I did it.

Stage One: Have a price range in mind. You have to know what you want to spend before you test drive anything. At this point you can optionally start researching cars, I used Consumer Reports and bought a 3-month online subscription for cheap.

Step Two: Test drive. Politely listen to the sales rep, but insist on a test drive as early as possible on any or all the cars you want to drive. Is the seat comfortable? Do you bang your head against the ceiling? Will your family fit into the back seat? Does it merge onto the interstate well? How about rear-end visibility? These things are important. Don’t let the rep influence you: you’re testing how the manufacturer built the car, not his ability to sell it to you. He didn’t design the car.

Step Three: Make a decision. You now know exactly which car you want, and it is roughly in line with your budget. Make it abundantly clear to the sales rep that this is the car and that you want the lowest possible price. Sometimes they will try to steer you toward another model during negotiations. Don’t fall for this.

Step Four: Get their no-negotiation price. Get him or her to call over their sales manager by insisting that you want the absolute, rock-bottom, lowest price. Tell them that you don’t want to negotiate. But you’re going to negotiate because they will not give you their lowest price right away.

Step Five: Negotiate. Leave the dealership and go to and figure out where to start. You can also purchase a $14 price report from which will give you the TrueCar rates and a whole lot more. $14 is nothing compared to the amount you will save with this knowledge. Look at the rock-bottom rate on TrueCar and go back to the dealership. Proudly tell their sales manager that you will pay this price and NO MORE. That is the absolute maximum you can pay. If he asks how you got that price, tell him. No reason to be anything but completely honest about which price you want.

A side note about politeness: You need to be polite but insistent this entire process. At the negotiating table, your politeness will cost you actual money. Think about it this way: if I paid you $1300 to be only 80% polite to a stranger for 20 minutes, would you do it? Of course you would. This is your chance to make $1300 in one conversation. It’s called doing business: they are professionals and they will respect you more if you give them blunt answers. They may try to make you feel bad for this, as if they were some sort of charity you are funding. Don’t fall for it.

Step Six: Wait for them to come down in price. Even though they said they didn’t, they will. Just sit there and stare at whatever piece of paper they offered you with the price on it. This will make them insecure if you do it right.

Step Seven: Walk out. Seriously. Thank them for their time, state that you are sorry that you didn’t come to an agreement, and tell them that you are happy to resume negotiating “first thing tomorrow morning.” Get up and leave, shaking their hands and thanking them by name. There is a good chance they will either agree to your rate right before you head out the door, or at least give you a better offer. You can choose whether you want to stay or continue the walk-out at that point, but they are professionals and will know if you do a fake walk-out. So make sure you mean it or you will be embarrassed when they call your bluff (I say this from experience).

Step Eight: Extras. When the dealer comes down to a price that you are happy with, tell them you will agree to pay $100 lower than that price, but only if they throw in three oil changes. For my last purchase, I asked for three oil changes and an auto-dimming mirror (a $450+ value in total) at this stage, and got it. You know your’ve reached a good price when they leave the room to “check with their boss.”

Happy car hunting!

Posted Wed 15 February 2012