If you're like most people, you dread buying a new car off the lot. But you can learn how to come out ahead in this classic battle of wits.
Step 1: Shop online Start by researching the car you want online. You'll be able to weigh factors like cost, reliability, resale value and gas mileage without the distraction and doubletalk of a salesperson. Research the car's dealer costs, and print quotes from several online buying sites.
Step 2: Factor in commission Factor in the salesperson's commission. A fair markup is four to six percent over the dealer cost. This total should be your target number when you head to the dealership to negotiate.
Step 3: Get your own financing If you're financing the car, arrange your own plan with a bank before you go to the showroom. This takes a big overcharge weapon out of the dealer's hands.
TIP: You'll get the best deals when few people are buying -- right before Christmas, and during bad weather. July to October is also a good time because dealers are clearing out their showrooms for the new models.
Step 4: Bring a buddy Beat the salesperson and their manager at their "good cop, bad cop" game (you know, the salesperson considers offering you a sweet deal, then tells you his manager won't approve it) by bringing your own "bad cop," who won't let emotions cloud their judgment.
TIP: Be pleasant -- no matter how aware you are that the salesperson is trying to screw you. One study indicated car salespeople are three times more likely to give a great deal to people they like.
Step 5: Go backwards Start by telling the salesperson what you can pay for a car -- not the model you want. Most shoppers tell the salesperson the car they want and then discuss price, but consumer studies show doing the reverse gets you a better deal.
Step 6: Be ready to walk Tell the salesperson you're willing to walk away; they're less likely to negotiate if they know you have your heart set on the car.
TIP: If you want options like satellite navigation, a great sound system, heated and cooled seats, or keyless entry, buy them individually from a retailer after you buy the car; they'll be much cheaper.
Step 7: Don't pay cash If the dealer is factory-ordering your car, pay the lowest deposit you can -- usually about $500 --and put it on your credit card, where you will be able to dispute the charge should the dealer try to charge you extra when the car is delivered.
FACT: According to a consumer survey, customers had the best buying experience at Acura and Saturn dealerships, while Chrysler and Mitsubishi rated the worst.