Car Negotiating Tips

I haven’t blogged in a while. I miss you guys. I’ve been busy. Busy tending to the powdered sugar fiasco in Stella’s room. I think she was trying to recreate a winter scene. Busy training for a half marathon next month. Busy spending some seriously good times with my peeps which has taken us into the wee hours of the morning. And, to be honest, it’s summer time. This is the “busy season” for parents.

My latest project was to shop for a new car. To be honest, cars don’t really excite me. They get me from point A to point B. We buy a car, our kids spill their snacks, Logan “decorates” the inside with his latest art projects and our dog slobbers all over the back. We drive it for 10+ years, and then it’s time for a new one. We had been living with one car for 3 months. “Piano man” works at the university, so during the summer months he can write music and do his work from home. But school is starting soon, and we realized it was time to start looking for a new car.  Enter the Prius.

We needed a car with good gas mileage. I’ll have to do some travelling this fall so we needed a car that was more fuel efficient than our CRV. We went to a handful of dealerships, test drove some cars and finally decided on the Toyota Prius.

We had been looking for a used Prius, but quickly realized that people buy these cars so they can drive them (The Prius is a hybrid car and gets 50 miles to the gallon). Cars that were a year or two old already had about 50,000 miles on them, with no significant savings. We drive our cars for a long time, so this just didn’t jive with us. We finally settled on a new 2011.

Many people are happy to buy from a dealership that does not negotiate the sale price. They call it “plain & simple pricing” and throw in a bunch of warrantees that sound great (and maybe they are). We figured we didn’t really need all of that, so I decided I was going to negotiate. We sold our Jetta ourselves, which means we didn’t have a trade and I believe this made life a whole lot easier. Ask me about “Marvin” from our previous car buying experience. I dare you. That’s a whole ‘nother blog post.

With a days work, I was able to knock $1200 off the sticker price. Some people don’t want the headache of haggling, but to me it was well worth it. I mean, I can’t make $1200 dollars in a day. Not legally anyway. I have a handful of very fine flute students, but I don’t even make that much in a month. $1200 was well worth my time. And, to be honest, if the dealers know you’ve done your research, they’re not going to argue with you.

Here’s what I did:

Step #1: Know what you want. Seems pretty obvious, but drive a bunch of cars and find out what you like and what works for you.

Step #2: Figure out the Invoice Price. This is what the dealer paid for the car. It might take some time to find the information, but it is well worth it. You can check out car buying sites like and This is where you start negotiating (I’ll pay 1% above invoice, 2%, etc. My dad’s tip: don’t pay more than 3% over invoice).

Note: The invoice price is not the MSRP price. The MSRP price is the sticker price, what they’re actually selling the car for.

Step #2: Contact the dealers. I emailed 15 dealers in CT, RI and MA. I told them I was interested in purchasing a car within the next few days and I wanted their BEST price. Some were not willing to sell for less than MSRP, some were willing to talk. I figured out quickly that I couldn’t get this car for much less than MSRP because it was in such high demand.

During this step, I narrowed down my search to a few dealers. I kept negotiating until I found the lowest bidder.

Step #3: Once the dealers give you a price quote, ask if this includes the destination fee (a fee that is passed on to the buyer. This is the fee that the manufacturer charges to the dealer when they bring it from the plant to the dealership). It can be a pretty substantial fee (in this case around $750), so make sure it’s included in the price.

Step #4: Contact your dad. Or my dad. He’s the car buying guru and, based on his secret car negotiating skills, confirmed that the price that I was getting was a great one.

Step #5:  When it’s time to head to the dealership, make sure you ask if they’ve confirmed this price with their manager. I had an appointment set up and was disappointed that morning when I got a message saying that he could not honor that price. On to the next guy. (Or girl.  I don’t discriminate.)

Steps #6 and #7: Ask them again. “Are you sure can honor this price? I have a babysitter lined up and I have to drive a long way. I’ll be really upset if you’re wasting my time.”

Ask ‘em a third time if you really have some issues with car dealers. I mean really, couldn’t we compare them to the tax collectors in the Bible?

It turns out we got our car for $8 below invoice, meaning we paid less for the car than the dealer paid Toyota. Don’t shed a tear for them, they’ll make money on incentives (likely the number of cars they sell each month).

Step #8: Once you drive your new car off the lot, pick up your girlfriends and head to Maine for some outlet shopping. At 50 miles per gallon, your husband will thank you.

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