If you walk onto a car lot and ask for a price, you may get a long song and dance before you get an actual out-the-door number. It could be hours of negotiation. There’s another approach that's faster, easier and less stressful.
Car dealerships now have internet departments: salespeople devoted to pricing, negotiating and financing cars via phone, email or text message. This means you can get multiple car price quotes without visiting a slew of dealerships.
“I used to buy cars for my company, and I tested both methods — dealer quotes and in-person negotiation,” says Philip Reed, NerdWallet’s car-buying expert. “Getting online dealer quotes quickly shows you where you’ll get the best deal. And most people like the way it takes the stress out of negotiating."
If you know exactly what car you want, being able to get an upfront price quote saves you time and makes multiple dealerships compete for your business. Try this approach to get the most out of the process.
Test drive first
You may love a car’s online persona, but don’t skip the test drive. It’s important to see whether the car suits your needs — how it feels to drive, where the blind spots are, and whether it can fit your child’s car seat. You can call ahead to make an appointment and then leave as soon as you’re satisfied — no need to do any haggling on the lot.
Plus, if your online salesperson suggests you come look at the car before giving you a price quote, you have an ironclad response: “I’ve already test-driven the car and am only looking for prices now.”
Request quotes by phone or email
The internet department has several advantages. Internet salespeople assume their shoppers are more informed and cautious buyers, so the sales style is more relaxed. But you'll still want to make sure pricing information is communicated clearly.
Dealership websites should have contact information, including phone numbers and automated email forms.
Email: Craft a short email requesting a price quote, providing the following information:
Your desired vehicle (year, make and model).
Options you want included, and color preferences.
That you’re preapproved for financing.
That you’re ready to buy — and by what date you would like to have the car.
I’m interested in purchasing a new car by the end of next week. I’m shopping around for the best price on a 2016 Toyota Corolla with the body protection package 1. I would like either classic silver or slate metallic for the color. Please provide a price with a breakdown of all fees. I also would like to be informed of any rebates or incentives that are available.
I am preapproved for financing but open to financing through the dealership if you can provide a better rate.
Text or call: If you prefer to call the dealership, ask to speak with the internet department or internet sales manager. Provide the same basics as you did in the email.
One convenience of getting price quotes via phone or email is that it's easy to send out multiple requests. You can comparison shop from your hair salon or the local brew pub. Make sure you ask at least three dealerships for quotes.
What a quote should include
Each quote you receive should include:
A complete description of the car: year, make, model, exterior and interior colors, and all options.
The price of the car.
A breakdown of all fees, including sales tax, documentation and registration fees.
Use online pricing guides such as Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds to look up the manufacturer's suggested retail price — also known as the sticker price — beforehand. That way, you can easily compare the MSRP with your offers to see the discount each dealership is offering.
Ask for delivery
After online quoting, dealerships usually suggest coming to the lot to handle financing and insurance. Higher prices and extra fees are sometimes negotiated into the contract while they have you there, but there is a way to avoid this.
If you have the car delivered to you, the dealership will draw up a contract to sign at your home or work. The car will be delivered by a car porter and maybe a salesperson. Since the entire finance and insurance sales staff won’t be there and the paperwork has already been prepared, this contract is much more difficult to alter.
Dealers can hesitate to offer this service. Be firm. Try saying something like: “I’ll buy the car if you can deliver it to my work. I’m tied up all week.”
Once you have all the paperwork handled, congratulations. You’ve just earned a competitive deal on a new car — without haggling or driving dealership to dealership.