There are a few cardinal rules that apply to any negotiation. If you are the buyer, you will almost never get something for less than your initial offer. The first number you put on the table will become the baseline from which all subsequent offers will be judged and compared. If you set the bar too high, you leave yourself little wiggle room to cut a deal at a number you like. (For related reading, also check out Top Tips For Year-End Car Buying.)

TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics

When it comes to cars, adopt the attitude that you can always walk away if you can't get what you want, and go to another dealer. That ability gives you the upper hand over all car salesmen, no matter how cunning and experienced they may be. Use that power to your advantage.

Here are a few more tips that might help.

1. Do Your Homework
Arm yourself with as much information as possible about the car you want to buy. Magazines and internet sites are a good source, as is the Kelley Blue book if you're in the market for a used car.

Find out if there are unadvertised dealer holdbacks and financial incentives that directly benefit the dealer. A holdback is a percentage of sales that is repaid to the dealer by the manufacturer. This artificially raises the dealer's vehicle cost on paper and makes the vehicle appear more expensive than it really is. Your goal is to take that money away from the dealer and put it in your own pocket.

Bring your research with you to the dealer including market values, current rebates, financing offers, and trade-in estimates. An important aspect of negotiating a good deal is to convince the salesman you know what you are talking about before the negotiation starts. If you establish your credibility right at the outset, this will put the salesman on notice that you are not a pushover. (For more information on how much it will actually cost to own a car, take a look at The True Cost Of Owning A Car.)

2. Have a Budget
Many dealers will ask if you have a budget in mind, or a maximum amount that you plan to spend. Great question, but don't answer it directly. You should have a budget, but keep it to yourself. Your leverage to negotiate lower than your budget disappears if you disclose that number because now the salesman knows what you're willing to spend.

You want to be able to get the best car you can while spending the least amount of money possible to buy it. If you are asked if you have a budget, reply that the amount you'll spend depends on the car and attractiveness of the overall deal. Be intentionally vague.

Review your financial situation and figure out how much car you can realistically afford. You want to be able to make offers and counteroffers without having to make that calculation on the spot.

3. Consider Your Timing
If you don't mind buying at the end of a model year, dealers have to clean out their existing inventory to make room for the new models. While you lose a year's depreciation, that's not a critical factor if you plan to keep the car for several years. Dealers also advertise special discounts at different times of the year and on some holidays. If you can't plan your purchase during one of these times, don't let that stop you. Many dealers will give you those same discounts all year if you are willing to bargain for them.

4. Bring a Friend
It's not unusual for a salesman to bring in reinforcements when you seem unwilling to budge. If you have someone with you, they can run interference and deflect some of the sales pitches. This can help if you find yourself up against multiple salesmen. You can also use your friend in a "good cop - bad cop" approach where your friend acts as the bad cop and makes you appear as the fair and reasonable buyer. Make sure your friend is fully briefed in advance on the role you want him to play.

This may work to your advantage if the sales manager is brought into the negotiation to break an impasse. He usually has more authority than the salesmen to cut prices.

5. Dress the Part
You don't want to look like you have money to burn. If you're trading in an old car, drive it to the dealership and leave the new Mercedes in the garage. Dress casually, but professionally. Sloppiness won't help because the salesmen may think he's wasting time with you. If you are lucky enough to be wearing a Zadora watch, leave that at home too.

At the Dealership
There are services offered by consumer organizations and insurance companies that can provide you with auto cost data, and some may charge you a fee. If you are spending several thousand dollars on a new car, it's well worth spending a few to obtain this information. It will pay off in the long run. (Learn the next steps to getting the best deal in 10 Steps To buying A Car)

Related Articles
  1. Budgeting

    Trunk Club Review: Is It Worth It?

    Take a close look at one of the best-known online clothing services in the country, and determine whether it's a good fit for your style and budget.
  2. Budgeting

    HelloFresh Review: Is It Worth It?

    Discover one of the world's most successful meal subscription services, and learn more about how the service operates and what it costs.
  3. Fundamental Analysis

    5 Things to Know About the Volkswagen Scandal in 2016

    Find out what your need to know about Volkswagen and the impact the scandal will have on the company, its shareholders and U.S VW car owners.
  4. Budgeting

    Beer of the Month Subscription Review: Is It Worth It?

    Learn how you can get access to some of the best craft beers produced in the world, delivered right to your front door every month.
  5. Budgeting

    Just the Right Book Review: Is It Worth It?

    Take an in-depth look at Just the Right Book, a subscription service that delivers personalized book selections based on your reading history and preferences.
  6. Entrepreneurship

    ‘Happy Birthday to You’ Belongs to Everyone Now

    A class action lawsuit over the copyright to the iconic American song “Happy Birthday to You” ends by placing the ubiquitous ditty in the public domain.
  7. Investing News

    Who Does Cheap Oil Benefit? See This Stock (DG)

    Cheap oil won't benefit most companies, but this retailer might buck that trend.
  8. Budgeting

    The Honest Company Bundles Review: Are They Worth It?

    Learn more about The Honest Company and its bundle subscription services, which deliver discounted diapers, formula and other baby products to your doorstep.
  9. Budgeting

    Blue Apron Review: Is It Worth It?

    Read about one of the top meal-kit delivery services in the United States, and learn more about what it offers and how much it costs.
  10. Home & Auto

    Don't Be the Victim of Auto Loan Rip-Offs

    Subprime auto loans – and 60-day delinquencies – are up. These 4 signs of predatory auto loans can tip you off before you're caught in one.
RELATED FAQS
  1. What is the formula for calculating the receivables turnover ratio?

    To calculate a company's accounts receivable turnover ratio, start with the net receivable sales for a given time period, ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. How does a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) affect my salary?

    Some companies build salary adjustments into their compensation structures to offset the effects of inflation on their employees. ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Where can you buy NetSpend reload packs?

    You can only purchase NetSpend reload packs at Giant Eagle, Albertsons, Roundy's and Pathmark supermarkets. NetSpend cards ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Can your car insurance company check your driving record?

    While your auto insurance company cannot pull your full motor vehicle report, or MVR, it does pull a record summary that ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What does marginal utility tell us about consumer choice?

    In microeconomics, utility represents a way to relate the amount of goods consumed to the amount of happiness or satisfaction ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What are some common ways product differentiation is achieved?

    There are many ways to achieve product differentiation, some more common than others. Horizontal Differentiation Horizontal ... Read Full Answer >>
Hot Definitions
  1. Harry Potter Stock Index

    A collection of stocks from companies related to the "Harry Potter" series franchise. Created by StockPickr, this index seeks ...
  2. Liquidation Margin

    Liquidation margin refers to the value of all of the equity positions in a margin account. If an investor or trader holds ...
  3. Black Swan

    An event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and that would be extremely difficult ...
  4. Inverted Yield Curve

    An interest rate environment in which long-term debt instruments have a lower yield than short-term debt instruments of the ...
  5. Socially Responsible Investment - SRI

    An investment that is considered socially responsible because of the nature of the business the company conducts. Common ...
Trading Center