Look for every possible "personal" discount.While automakers often offer cash rebates on many models, they also offer discounts based on the person who is buying the car, including discounts for students, current or former military members and even members of certain credit unions. While these discounts are smaller than the typical cash rebates -- often about $500, they can be combined with each other and with the cash-back rebates, so it can mean a substantial savings. Check the automaker's Web site for a complete list of discounts offered.
Don't forget to research dealer incentives.If there's a glut of inventory on a certain model, automakers will often offer dealers $1,000 or more as an incentive to sell those cars. This money can be used to further reduce the car's price, but only if you know to ask for it. Use a vehicle information source like Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds.com to see what incentives are being offered to dealers on the models you're considering.
Work with the Internet sales manager or fleet manager at the dealership.When you are fully armed with car buying information and ready to visit dealerships, call and ask to make an appointment for a test-drive with the Internet or fleet manager, who are less likely to try any strong-arm tactics. When you make the appointment, be specific in your request, mentioning features such as the engine size, color or trim level if those items are important to you. Scheduling an appointment will save on time waiting for them to help you. It also will send the message that you are a serious buyer, and that will help set the tone in negotiations.
Be thorough in your test-drive.Your best bet financially is to keep your car for five years or longer, so be thorough when you take your test-drive. Make sure everyone who will be driving the car actually test-drives it. Check to see that all of your typical passengers and cargo fit well, even if that means spending some time installing a child safety seat or putting your golf clubs in the trunk. Finally, think about your life five years from now and try to imagine if this car will suit your needs then.
Remember to start with the invoice price when you negotiate.Your pricing research should include listed invoice prices as well as the manufacturer's suggested retail price, or what's on the window sticker. While invoice pricing on third-party information sites isn't 100 percent accurate, it will give you some idea of what the dealer paid for the car, so it's a good place to start your negotiation. But keep in mind that the dealer does need to make at least a few hundred dollars in profit to cover his dealership costs. Remember too that all discounts should be deducted from the invoice price, not the window sticker, so negotiate the price first and then apply those discounts.
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