Buying a car should be fun, but unless you love an adversarial bargaining process, the traditional way of car buying can be anything but a pleasant experience.
Fortunately, the car buying game is changing. You no longer have to plan an entire day to go from car dealership to dealership, haggling over the price you want to pay for your new car, how much you should get for your old one, and how you’re going to finance the purchase.
More buyers are choosing to go online, not only to research their next car, but to complete much of the purchase process. In the future, more manufacturers may follow the lead of electric car maker Tesla, and enable you to complete the entire transaction online. The best part about online shopping is that you should be able to find a no-haggle price on your new ride and avoid the stress of the negotiation.
Almost every dealership now has an internet sales department, and seasoned internet salespeople understand that most customers who use an online pathway to their dealerships are highly educated about the products that they are considering, and savvy about pricing. But there’s an even better way to get a great price.
You can shop several dealerships, virtually, by using a service such as U.S. News & World Report partner TrueCar. Car buying websites like TrueCar work with dealerships from across the country to link buyers with sellers and provide upfront pricing information to consumers. They can look at dealership inventories to find cars for sale that match the precise model and options you’re looking for.
The first step in any car buying process, whether in person or online, is research. You’ll not only want to study vehicles that you’re interested in, but also the value of any trade in. According to Google, 75 percent of car-buying research is now performed on digital platforms.
Next, explore your options for financing, and get something pre-approved by a lender so that you don’t have to rely on dealer-arranged financing that may not be the best deal available. Check out our car financing page for information and tools.
Sites such as our Best Cars page link to reviews of nearly every car in the marketplace. You can see how they rank against others in their segments, explore features, and read reviews produced by industry experts.
Dealers make a tremendous amount of their profit from providing financing to car buyers. As part of your car search process, you should visit your bank or credit union’s website to secure your own financing or at least get pre-approved for funding. You don’t have to use it, but it gives you a baseline that dealers will have to beat in order to get your business.
The more variables that you can remove from the buying process the better. That way, you can focus on the most important number – the price of your new ride.
Now comes the fun part. Go online to a car buying site like U.S. News & World Report. Our Best Price Program, which is operated by TrueCar, let's you build the car you want, right down to individual options and colors. The Best Price Program generates a pricing report that shows what similar cars are selling for in your area. You can see what price is a good deal, and what isn’t.
You’ll have to enter some contact information, and then TrueCar and other buying services will search their dealer partners to find local vehicles that best match your requests.
Dealer representatives will then contact you and provide a certificate that guarantees a certain amount of savings off of the vehicle’s MSRP.
TrueCar’s price reflects incentives and destination charges, but it does not include other fees that may be charged by the dealer, including documentation and registration fees. No matter what service you use, you should ask what specific fees and charges are included before agreeing to a deal.
Of course, you shouldn’t take the fees that any dealer says they need to charge you at face value. Even when you’re buying online, some of these fees and charges may be negotiable. You aren’t limited to trying just one buying service either. Different companies have different relationships with manufacturers and dealers, so they might have an inside track to a great deal on the car that you are considering.
Just as you should do when you are buying the car in person, you want to focus on the total price paid, and never on the monthly payment.
Once you have an acceptable deal in writing, including all fees, you can then visit the dealer, test drive the car, and complete the sale. Don’t ever sign on the bottom line until you see and drive the specific car or truck you are purchasing and check its vehicle identification number against the paperwork.
Don’t be surprised if you’re offered a number of extras while you’re signing the final paperwork. The answer to nearly every add-on at this point should be no, as most of the items (like extended warranties, paint protection, and alarms) can be purchased for less money outside of the dealership. Remember, even in the online buying world, your greatest power is your ability to walk away from a deal that you’re uncomfortable with.
Even with an online purchase, a few things will still probably have to be negotiated, but it brings us closer to the stress-free world of a no-haggle car buying that once existed only in our dreams.