Insider Tips for Car Shopping

I used to work for a car deatolership. I didn’t sell cars (I worked in Marketing), but I came to understand lots of things that go into the car sales process. Well, a friend was talking on Twitter about going to buy a car, and suddenly, all these insider tips started spilling out of me.  I decided blog them, so I could pass them along easily to friends who are going car shopping.

I hope these tips are helpful to you when you are car shopping!

1) Attempt to get outside financing from a bank or credit union.  Just go, talk with the bank, and get your pre-approved amount. This could end up saving you lots of money at the dealership! Why? Well, dealerships want you to finance your car with them. They get various kickbacks and incentives from their finance companies…so they are incentivized to get you to finance with them.  When you talk with your bank, get the amount and the terms of the loan (time, interest rate).  Then you can compete with the offerings from the dealership, and get a better deal.  For example, if your bank will give you $30,000 for 72 months at 4.7%, and the dealership is offering you $30,000 for 60 months at 5%, you might could negotiate a longer loan term and lower rate.  Wait to bring this up until you have settled on a price (or they might build the difference into your price).

2) If you are a woman, don’t go alone.  Now, car sales people don’t intentionally prey on women (or most don’t), however, most just find it difficult to negotiate with a woman.  Also, you may end up paying for more features than you need.  Even if you just take another friend, don’t go alone.

3) Go on a weekday.  Weekends are a booming time for car dealerships.  Most sales happen on Saturdays.  This will mean you might be rushed (think= not enough time to negotiate), or have to wait a long time to go through the finance office.  If you can, go during the week.

4) Go near the end of the month. At our dealership, they had monthly sales goals to reach (both the salespeople and the overall dealership).  If they hadn’t hit their goals, they were very aggressive with lowering prices and offering incentives to reach their sales goals.  The last few days of the month would be the ideal time to get the best deals.

5) Do your homework first.  Don’t just stumble on the lot without any knowledge.  Read reviews for the cars online and be familiar with the vehicles.  It just makes the whole experience better. If you find something you like, request information online.  Beware, they WILL likely contact you.  But it will show someone at the dealership that you are interested and give you a contact there.

6) If you are stuck on price, negotiate services.  If you are, say $2000 apart on price, ask what services they could throw in for the price.  Free extended warranty, tire upgrades, tinted windows, 2 years of free oil changes….all these things are low costs to the dealership…so they can usually throw these things in even when they are close to their bottom line.

7) If you are looking at a used car, get the CarFax.  Also, if there are issues with the vehicle, like scratches, dents, etc….point them out.  Touch the scratches while you walk around (with the salesman watching), mention the dents, etc.  They will compensate for you noticing the damage by lowering the price.

8) Check your car’s trade in value before you go, but be realistic.  You can check values at Kelly Blue Book. Go to “What’s my car worth?” and fill it out.  They should at least offer you 70-80% of this total. Remember, they have to make some money on the trade, too….so you may not get 100% of the value.  If you are able to try several different lots for your trade, check some “buy here/pay here” lots as they may just buy it from you for a higher price.

9) Ask about loyalty programs. They may have repeat buyer programs (if you or your parents have bought there before), or they may have service loyalty programs. These programs could save you money.

10) Don’t be afraid to walk away.  If you can’t come to terms, leave.  But leave your information with them.  If they are able to come down any more on the price, or have specials come up, they will call you (because they want the sale!).

11) You don’t have to settle for what’s on the lot.  They are able to trade with other dealerships to find you the exact car you want.  You may pay a little bit more for delivery, but you can get the exact car you want (color, specifications, etc). However, this may result in a higher price for trading and transporting your dream car.  If certain features are important to you, it’s worth it.

12) Be prepared to spend some time there.  You will have to go for a test drive, negotiate, visit with the finance department, get introduced to your new car with a “delivery” process, and more.  Don’t rush it.  One of the things you are paying for is their service….so let them serve you.Go with several hours to spend there.  Don’t take your kids.  They will get super bored…and then the car dealership staff will not like you (just being honest) because your kids are wreaking havoc.

13) Don’t just walk on the lot and have the first salesperson help you.  Either call first or get in touch with someone from the website.  Just call and ask for the sales department.  The person who takes the call is likely either 1) the best salesperson because the receptionist transferred you right to them, or 2) a go-getter for taking the call. You don’t necessarily have to set an appointment (although you will get better service), but having a contact person will just make the whole experience better.  Even if all you have is a name, you can ask for that person.  Honestly, some of the best salesmen at the dealership don’t have to “patrol” the lot for customers because they have lots of referrals and contacts who set appointments for them.  So sometimes the “hawks” that come to you when you drive up on the lot are not the top-notch salespeople (and you want to work with the best).

14) Remember you are in charge. Buying a car is imtidating, but you are the boss here.  It is your money, your preferences. Don’t get talked into a higher price than you are comfortable, longer payment terms than you want, or a car you aren’t happy with.  I’ve seen it happen.

15) Remember, they are salespeople. Everything is rosier from their point of view.  Be sure and take some one-on-one time with whoever you brought with you to discuss things away from the salesperson to get a grip on reality. 

I hope these tips will help you the next time you are buying a vehicle!  Good luck!


  1. What great tips! I wish I had read this before we bought our car last year! They wouldn’t come off the price of the vehicle at all since they were having a “sale”-apparently they have internet prices and lot prices, with the internet price being much lower?? Anyways, I couldn’t just take it for sticker price without anything extra so I at least got free new car mats out of it!

  2. Thanks so much for these tips! Now I just need some $$ for a new car…lol 🙂

  3. Awesome tips! Staying loyal to a particular dealer/salesman has been a huge thing for us! My hubby has negotiated & bought my last two cars via email. It was nice to just pull up and have my new car ready to go! (other than signing paperwork)

    Plus, for me, it doesn’t hurt that my husband is a salesman! Ha! He knows all the lines and tactics they use! I think secretly they hate to see him coming! Ha! And like you said, being prepared to walk away is hard, but sometimes a better deal can be found just down the road!

    Great post!

    • Yeah selling to salesmen can be tough. The “walking away” part is so hard, because when you want something, you want it! Am I right? 🙂

  4. Thank you, Brittney for writing this for (me) us! 😉
    Definitely feel more prepared now to go in and get it done once we’re ready for that. Can’t wait to share all of this with Devin since he’s already a good talker 🙂

    You’re the best!

  5. Thank you! I actually have to go car shopping this week. I know what I want and have talked a friend into coming with me. I’ve already walked away from three cars I liked, so I’m hoping to find something that will work out very soon.

  6. I am wondering how much leverage you have if you pay up front with no financing. Does this give you a big advantage in getting the lowest price possible?

    • Hi Ryan, you might have some leverage paying outright…but remember that most dealerships get a kickback for getting you to sign up for financing, so you may not have as much sway on the price paying outright.

  7. Hi,
    Could you give me any tips on buying a used car with no warranty from a dealership? .. The offer the option of buying a warranty, but I am not sure if it’s convenient.
    Thank you,

    • Hi Nadia, I can’t speak much to that…I would ask if there is any warranty left from the manufacturer on things like the powertrain. If there’s no warranty, you’ll be responsible for any and all repairs.

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