Car buying tips

I hate buying cars, primarily because I don’t like to be lied to.  But I know their games.  I’ll be buying another car this summer and have been getting psyched up for the experience.

Unless your current car is costing too much in terms of repairs, seriously consider holding onto it.  It is the least expensive car you’ll ever own.

Don’t just buy a new car to get better gas mileage.  Do a little math and you’ll find out that it will take years to pay back your investment.

Buy low maintenance cars and hold them a long time.

Don’t buy high-tech extras like DVDs and GPS systems.  They cost 4-5 times what portable versions do and will be outdated quickly.  They cost a lot to fix if they break.  You also can’t transfer them to other vehicles.

Don’t look too eager when talking to a salesman.  You must be ready to walk away.  They get serious about negotiations when you are walking out.

Make your best deal on the price, then tell them you don’t like surprises and you’re sure that they won’t add in any charges such as “advertising fees” when they do the final paperwork.  Those should be part of the negotiated price, but they often sneak them in later.  A guy did that to me and I told him the deal was off unless he removed the $250 charge.  He did.

Don’t let them tell you they are “only” making $25 (or whatever) on the car.  That is a silly partial truth they use to describe the intercompany profit when one division of Honda, for example, sells to another division.  It is meaningless, especially when they try it on a CPA.

Go through the fleet dealer at the dealership if you can.  Most dealerships have a sub-group that sells to businesses who buy multiple cars.  Those buyers don’t have time for the gamesmanship of spending a whole day negotiating over each car.  The prices tend to be lower and non-negotiable.  Individuals obviously don’t buy a whole fleet of cars but sometimes a group like a credit union will combine the purchasing power to get fleet deals. You can submit what you want on the web and within an hour you’ll have lots of quotes. 

Save up and pay cash.  When you tell them you’re ready to write a check when they agree to your price it gives you negotiating leverage.

Do your homework at a site like Edmund’s.

0 thoughts on “Car buying tips”

  1. Quick plug: Check out American cars again. Quality is now on par with imports, and you’ll be helping the economy.

    I prefer Ford, and they seem to be the most stable of the 3 American auto companies.


    1. Re. fleet dealers — Most dealerships have a sub-group that sells to
      businesses who buy multiple cars. Those buyers don’t have time for the
      gamesmanship of spending a whole day negotiating over each car. The prices
      tend to be lower and non-negotiable. Individuals obviously don’t buy a
      whole fleet of cars but sometimes a group like a credit union will combine
      the purchasing power to get fleet deals.


  2. I just bought a truck on E-Bay (from Texas). Had it shipped up here to Indiana, it would not start when they tried to unload it. No problem, the seller bought us a new starter.

    We had the truck inspected by the local sheriff as required by Indiana law, it had a clear title (we had already checked it on Carfax).

    When we took the title to the BMV, someone at the dealership where the truck was traded had put the dealer name on the wrong line. They crossed it out with a single line and wrote in the correct information. The mistake was simple and obvious. Indiana BMV refused to accept the title without an affidavit from the person who originally traded in the truck. We contacted the seller (a wholesaler who had purchased the truck from the dealer), he contacted the dealer, the dealer contacted the original owner who made a special trip in to sign the affidavit.


    Anybody in this chain could have simply forged the original owner’s signature, it was on the title. Apparently the idea never occured to any of us (I though of it after the fact, but I would not have done it)

    So here was a whole chain of honest people, kind of makes you feel better about human nature.

    And while I too, have had bad experiences with car salesman, at least there are a couple of honest ones in Texas.


  3. Separate buying a car and selling a car into two transactions. When you want to sell your call, shop it around to several dealers and get a reasonable idea of fair market value. You then pick the best price. If you combine selling your old car with buying another car, the dealer will play around with the numbers on both parts of the transaction.

    Avoid additional long term warranties. Stick with the standard warranty and save for possible car repairs.

    The dealership door is your best friend and most powerful weapon. When in doubt, walk! Tell them to call you if they still want to deal. In the meantime, you have other dealerships to go visit.

    Save a 20% down payment and you will never be upside down on a new car. If you cannot save 20%, then consider buying a used car. Consider buying a less expensive car. NEVER buy a new car with no money down.

    Disregard how friendly the salesperson is. You are buying a car, not making a friend. Never discuss what you can afford or current payment or price range. The only thing the sales person needs to know is what specific model you wish to discuss and test drive. Let them provide you their price. If it is too high, do not counter offer. Simply say, it is too high and ask for a better offer. Remember, the door is there and start walking if they push for you to give them a price. They are selling their price to you and need to justify it. You are not selling your low price to them! They have no need to know how low you wish to go. That said, I agree with Neil, that a straight fleet type “take it or leave it” price within your range and is reasonable per sources like Edmunds is the best way to go.

    Have fun! There will never be a better time to buy in our lifetimes then today. Consumers who have cash have the power.


    Lone StarJeffe


  4. Lots of good advice. 🙂

    I’ve been very fortunate (knock on wood) with my Volvo so far. She has 231,000 miles so far, original transmission, engine with 200k. While I occasionally shell out a lot in repairs (see “engine” above), it’s much less expensive than buying something new.

    One other piece of advice: a lot of new cars have a ridiculous amount of electronics that are built in to the car – and not just with DVD players and Bluetooth. When one component shuts down, the entire car may go haywire on you. Repairs are often more expensive as well. Just something else to consider.


  5. I think you hit it right on the head Neil. 80% of the money we save when buying a car is when we are negotiating with the dealer. It is enjoyable researching and finding the vehicle we want. It’s when we sit with the sales person that the fun goes out of it. Take this opportunity to share the GOOD NEWS, and bring something positive to the process!


  6. Thanks for the article Neil.

    Grace and I are looking at getting a new car shortly as the arrival of a Baby will make it necessary to have two.

    We purchased a car last year at Carmax and I found the “no haggle” price policy to be easy to work with. The price was a few grand below KBB and was ok for us.

    I do wonder if I could’ve got it for a lower price elsewhere, but felt my inexperience made it less likely.

    With this new purchase I want to see if I can work through another dealer, just as an option, to see if I could get it for less there.

    My dad says the best thing is the ability to walk away. And I’ll definitely work with that.


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