A few Savvy Car-Buying (or Leasing) Strategies


  • Don’t be too timid to walk into the dealer's showroom with some attitude. Furthermore, make it a point to show absolutely no enthusiasm for any vehicle (especially the one that you really want); instead, challenge the salesperson to prove to you why you should buy anything at all from his or her lot.
  • Never give a dealer your Social Security number or fill out any kind of application until you're absolutely ready to commit to a purchase. Once a dealer has information that can be used to check your credit rating and payment history, they can and will use it in negotiations with you. For instance, if you were late even once with a payment on your previous car, that information could be ammunition in the salesperson's hands to say that you don't qualify for their best rates and terms.

    Of course, you'll have to produce your driver's license if you want to take a vehicle out for a test drive. But to keep the dealer from pulling your credit based on your license number, insist that you sign a statement asserting that you do not authorize any type of credit check.

  • Shop at the right time. The best time to buy or lease a car is at the end of the month or midweek, when business is typically slow. Other good shopping times include the Christmas holidays and rainy or otherwise bad-weather days; in other words, any days that people would generally avoid visiting car dealerships.

    You've undoubtedly also heard that shopping for a new car at the end of the model year (June and July) is one of the most opportune times for finding a good deal. And that's true, but only if you're buying a car. The dealer may be a bit more willing to strike a bargain in order to get rid of leftover stock. However, if your intention is to lease a new vehicle, the best time to do your shopping is at the beginning of the model year, generally in September. That's because the banks will have just estimated the residual value – that's the portion of the cost of the vehicle that you won't pay for in the lease. It's in your best interest for the car's residual value to be as high as possible because that will make the lease price lower, and the highest residual values are usually present at the beginning of the model year. New residual guides come out at the beginning of every quarter (January, April, June, and September). Often, if you wait even three months, the residual value will drop and your lease will be more expensive.

  • Find out how long the car has been sitting on the lot. If the number of "days supply" of a particular model exceeds sixty days, the dealer will generally be anxious to sell it. (But keep in mind that a model is usually a slow mover because it's not well rated by consumer rating services.) You'll also be able to find cars that the dealer is becoming restless to move by checking the white label on the driver's-side door or doorpost. There it will show the month and year that the car was made. The older the vehicle is, the longer the dealer has been paying to keep it on the lot. And if your main goal is getting the lowest possible price, keep an eye and ear out for models that the manufacturer is phasing out.
  • Don't go in there alone! Always shop with a friend. It's much more difficult for the salespeople to corner and outnumber you when you've got backup, plus you'll have someone to help you negotiate. But be sure to pick a friend who isn't an impulsive shopper (and therefore likely to be a bad influence instead of a voice of reason) and is willing to play the role of "bad cop" if necessary. A well-placed negative comment from your friend will keep the situation in balance – and probably also irritate the salesperson just a bit. (Although car shopping is certainly serious business, there are no written rules saying that you can't have at least a little fun!)
  • You may get a better deal if you order a car rather than buying one from the dealer's inventory, which the dealer must finance.
  • Sell your trade-in elsewhere. You'll almost always get more money if you sell it to a used-car dealer or a private individual. So shop around for the best deal for your trade, as well. However, keep in mind that a "like" dealer will often offer you more for your vehicle. (A "like" dealer is one that sells Toyotas, if your current car is a Toyota, or a Chevy dealer if you own a Chevrolet.) This is because a Toyota dealer is fully aware that they won't get many used-car shoppers coming onto the lot looking for a Chevrolet; therefore, a "non-like" dealer generally will not be as eager to go that extra mile for your trade in order to make a deal.
  • Don't buy high-profit items from the dealer. This refers to virtually all of the extras that the dealer is bending over backwards to sell you. Items to steer clear of as if they were plague-infested include rustproofing, undercoating, glazing, service- and extended warranties, alarm or security systems (which can be purchased elsewhere at less than half the cost of what the dealer will charge you), and other trappings.
  • Beware of low-interest-rate financing. Many of those 0.9% and 1.9% deals are for two years only (or even less), after which you'll be making much higher payments than you would have with a higher rate over a longer period of time. Or the monthly payments will be so high due to the shorter term that you could find yourself cash-strapped for the duration – albeit short – of the loan.
  • Above all else, keep this in mind: the most powerful negotiating tool that any car buyer has is the ability to turn and walk out of the showroom. There are literally hundreds of dealerships with thousands of cars for sale. Do your homework, maintain a positive attitude, and you'll be able to take control of the sales process instead of being led by it.


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