Top tips: How to negotiate a car price

Article James Richardson Hugo Griffiths
Feb 18, 2016

If you’re looking to buy a new car, read our guide on how to get the best price

It's a well known fact that cars are the most expensive purchase most of us ever make – with the exception of our homes. Haggling for prices may not come naturally to us all, but you can save yourself a significant amount of money on a new car if you know how to negotiate with the dealer.

Do your homework

While you may have looked at and driven many cars at the start of the car buying process, by the time you’re thinking about negotiating the best price, you should know exactly what you’re after – right down to the car's engine size and gearbox type – even the trim level and paint colour should be firm in your mind.

If you’re still a little bamboozled, our guide to choosing the right car for you should help, and we’ve also put together a guide to optional extras which might be useful, as well as a series of articles on car finance. These can all be found in our tips and advice section.

Once you know precisely what you’re after, have a look at the manufacturer's website to see if there are any deals or offers going on the car you want to buy. Special editions and zero-percent finance deals are common and these can be a good way of saving money.

It's also a good idea to know how much the car should cost – note that this may be less than indicated in a dealer's pricelist. Have a look at our sister magazine Auto Express’ ‘Aim to Pay’ section, which gives a good indication of how much of a discount you should expect. It's often true that the more expensive a car is, the bigger the potential savings should be – although some new ‘in-demand’ may not be eligible for a discount. If you want one of these immediately, you may even have to pay a premium over the list price.

Once you’re armed with all this information, it's time to start negotiations. Don’t be swayed by any attempts the dealer may make to sell you a lower-specification car for a reduced price – if you’ve carefully considered what equipment you want, it's likely that missing out on any of this kit will annoy you when you take delivery of the car.

Play your cards close to your chest

It's easy to become pally with a car dealer. Salespeople are often genuinely nice, but they’ll use their natural charm to get you to lower your guard. When you’re paying many thousands of pounds for a new car, you need to keep a cool head, so don’t let the dealer know that the car they’re selling is the one you’re after. Even if it's close to the right price for you, further discounts are often still possible for cool customers and dealers are unlikely to offer you any discounts if they see you as a ‘sure thing’.

If you’re planning on buying a car outright try to avoid saying this at first, as dealers actually prefer to sell cars on finance packages, as they can get bonuses for selling these. Letting the dealer think you’re going to be paying on finance may open up more offers and deals.

Remember that until you sign for anything, you can walk away from the deal at any point. An equivocal ‘I’m not sure yet’ can often help negotiations; until the contracts come out, how you’re going to be paying for the car is your business, not the dealer's.

Be nice

While car dealers are likely to be friendly and you need to be aware of this, playing hardball and coming across as aloof and standoffish can dent your chances of getting a good deal. Entering into negotiations when buying a car can be compared to an elaborate dance, as you and the dealer work out where the other stands. Be sure to maintain friendly relations throughout this process, as the better the deal you get, the less money the dealer will make when it comes to bonus time. If they like you, they’re likely to give more ground.

Don’t rush

It's all too easy to buy a car in a rush: the alluring nature of a new car can be strong, as can buying motivations like a growing family or a new job. Whatever you do, keep it to yourself if you need a car quickly. No dealer worth their salt will offer much in the way of discounts if they know you want to buy immediately.

Do a background check

If you’re buying a used car, be sure to run a background check on it. Companies like HPI, the AA and the RAC will make sure there's no outstanding finance on a car and it hasn’t been stolen or written off. All they need to do this is a number plate. While many dealers will provide background checks on the cars they sell for you, a quick phone call to the checking company to confirm the details provided is always a good idea. If any problems do show up, walk away from the deal politely, but immediately.

Get a detailed quote before haggling

Make sure you know exactly what you’re negotiating for when buying a new car. Some salespeople may use what's known as a ‘stacked deal’. This is where they include loads of options (which you may or may not want) such as paint protection, floor mats or an extended warranty, before removing these items to drop the price when you start haggling. This allows you to think you’re getting a great deal and are an expert negotiator, when in fact it's the dealer who's deploying their (slightly underhand) skills. Our insider tips on the tricks used by car dealers should give further help in this area.

Ask for extra

If the dealer is adamant that there's no room for negotiation on price, you can still ask for some freebies to be thrown in. The least you should expect with a purchase of this magnitude is a full tank of fuel and a set of car mats; a free sat-nav system or breakdown cover can also cost dealers little, but may sweeten the deal significantly for you.

Shop around 

It's always best to buy a car from the dealer closest to your home if you can, as any servicing or potential warranty issues can be attended to more easily. Nonetheless, getting quotes in writing from a number of dealers from the same manufacturer or franchise before showing these to your local dealer can help significantly when it comes to negotiations – even if they can’t better the deal offered by other dealers, they may be able to match it.

Whatever car you’re after, or deal you’re offered, there's one thing it's always worth bearing in mind when buying a new car: with nearly 2.5 million new cars sold each year in the UK, the power and the choice is firmly in your hands.

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