How to Research a
Car Invoice Price for Free
This is America. We have more cars than people. Very
few of us are able to survive a single day without a personal automobile.
And yet, car buying is one of the biggest hassles in life.
Who knows why car shopping developed into the difficult,
mistrustful, guessing game that it is. Thankfully, the Web is helping
level the playing field. Now, you, the Net-savvy consumer, can more
easily access information that many dealers would prefer you didn't
And I say, 'Viva la revolucion!'
Generally when you look at the sticker on a new car,
it tells you the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP). Keep
this one thing in mind -- the devil with the MSRP. Read the sticker
only for information on options -- ignore the numbers. Anytime a
salesman mentions the MSRP, yawn, pick at your nail, blow your nose
or wander off. If he or she suggests you actually pay the MSRP,
consider laughing out loud. The MSRP has nothing to do with the
price you should be willing to pay.
Where you need to start your shopping is by knowing
the invoice price. This is a little tricky, but only a little bit.
The definition of the invoice price is what the dealer paid to the
manufacturer for the car. However, this is not always what the car
cost the dealer. Quite often manufacturers offer special
discounts to dealers called holdbacks (to help cover overhead costs)
and incentives (to help dealers move cars).
A holdback is like a rebate. It's like this: say I
buy a 4 pack of film for $10. Then I send away that little bar code
and my receipt and get a rebate of two bucks. I paid 10 dollars,
but the film only cost me eight. Understand the difference?
If you've got numbers like invoices and discounts
at your fingertips, then ...
- You'll have a strong leg to stand on during
- You'll be able to make an offer that leaves
the dealer with a profit and yet leaves you a little something
- You can't be bullied by double-talk and intimidation.
- You'll know when to walk away from a smooth,
polyester-wearing, Dale Carnegie-dropout salesman.
Yes, there are honest car salesmen (I haven't met
any personally, but rumor has it they do exist). However, be wary
of a dealer who is over-eager to show you his invoice price, and
offers you the unbeatable bargain of one dollar over invoice. You
can almost be certain that hidden incentives are making this a still-profitable
price for them.
The mouse who roared
A little time with a mouse and a keyboard can save
you big bucks. The Web offers free sites that provide invoice prices
for new and used cars. It's best to check out more than one site
because each one has advantages and disadvantages, and you'll glean
different bits of info from each.
For example, while all the sites give you the base
price of any car, who buys a basic model vehicle? The extras may
be called options, but every car on the lot is loaded with some,
so you need to know how to figure in those prices as well. Some
sites are better at explaining the different option packages and
The best sites are offsprings of famous invoice print
publications: Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds and The Complete Car Cost
site is easy to navigate. After narrowing down to the make and
model, you end up at the top of a lengthy page of information.
Scroll down through a menu of links to VEHICLE PRICES (MSRP
AND DEALER INVOICE). Click it and you'll find your magic number.
For example, a 2000 Honda Accord LX four-door, with automatic
transmission, has an invoice price of $19,526 plus a $415
destination charge (those aren't negotiable so don't waste your
breath). Right below this you discover your local Honda dealership
gets a holdback of 2 percent of the MSRP. Edmunds also includes
a handy link to explain what a holdback is.
- The Kelley
Blue Book site navigates well enough, and, like Edmunds, deposits
you on a long page of details and figures. KBB keeps the pricing
nearer the top, though it still takes a couple of scrolling steps
to find it.
Lo and behold, on KBB, that same 2000 Honda Accord has the same
invoice price as above. Sadly, the dealer-friendly KBB doesn't
put holdback information right on the car page -- you have to
go searching for it. But they do provide a detailed list of the
option packages, which is vital to figure the final cost.
CarCenter is the name of Complete Car Choice Guide's well-designed
site. Sadly, these folks like to hold back nearly as much as the
dealers do. IntelliChoice wants you to flash some cash for info
on dealer incentives. Then again, do consider this option. Paid
information tends to be more timely than the free stuff, and the
$4.95 price for a report can result in big savings.
- You can also find invoice pricing on sites
that work with dealerships anxious to sell to Internet shoppers.
Try out Autobytel.com
On all these sites, you'll find more than the invoice
and MSRP prices on new and used cars, trucks and motorcycles. You'll
also discover the holdbacks and incentives that sometimes assure
dealers a profit even if you pay that invoice price. Some also offer
reviews, articles explaining how to use the information, and links
to online financing and insurance.
These sites are best for looking for new car prices,
because there are set nationwide invoice prices and incentives.
With used cars, the rules are thrown out the window. The condition
of the car and your geographic region make a big difference, so
this researched information can really only serve as a general guide.
If, while car shopping, you run across a slithering
shuckster who disputes or ridicules your well-researched numbers,
well, now you'll have his number. With a firm knowledge of invoices
and discounts, you don't have to put up with him. Move on to another
salesman, who takes you and your wallet seriously, and who won't
mind making a polite and mutually beneficial deal.
-- Posted: Feb. 15, 2000