How to buy a car like a dealer

With coronavirus a reality, there are ways to do most of the work from home

As the novel coronavirus spreads, many people are doing what they can to minimize contact with others, buying groceries and other items online. But it’s not very common—and in many states it’s impossible—to buy a car online.

Concierge services for buying used cars, such as Carvana and TRED, allow buyers to handle most aspects of a used-car sale without meeting with the seller. There are also automotive brokers that could possibly buy and deliver a new car to your home in some states—in exchange for a big fee.

But for most consumers looking to purchase a new car, the dealership is the only practical option. Fortunately, the expert buyers at Consumer Reports—who anonymously purchase about 50 cars per year for CR testing—recommend strategies for spending as little time as possible at the dealership.

“If you want to minimize the dealer interaction because of the coronavirus, either you completely postpone your purchase or do everything you can online or on the phone until you’re ready to pick up the vehicle,” says Gabe Shenhar, associate director of CR’s auto testing program. “The dealership can basically become just a venue for the delivery if you hone it down to the bare essentials.”

Here are some strategies for reducing your time at the dealership:

Communicate: Reaching out to a dealer doesn’t have to involve showing up in person. Get in touch by phone, email, or text––whatever works best for you and the dealer.

Do online research: Figure out which model, trim level, and features best suit your needs. Then search online to see which dealerships have vehicles with your preferred specifications.

Test-drive: At some point, before you’re ready to buy, you’ll need to test-drive cars. You can try to set this up ahead of time, over email or the phone, and minimize your time at the dealership. Keep notes regarding what you like and don’t like.

Decline invitations: Say no to invitations to the dealership to see a vehicle you’ve already taken for a test drive.

Negotiate a price: Once you’ve decided on a car, negotiate a price from each dealership—either over the phone or via email—and carefully review the price breakdown. Make sure there are no extras you didn’t want or fees you don’t agree with rolled into the final price.

Stoke competition: If you’ve obtained various prices from different dealers, you can let the dealers know this and put them into competition with one another to get the best deal.

Find out about incentives: Make sure you ask about incentives, such as customer loyalty (owning the same brand of vehicle) or conquest (switching from a competing brand). CR’s car buyers find that these are easy ways to shave a few thousand dollars off the price, even on just-released vehicles.

Have a loan in hand: Secure your financing before you go to the dealership to sign on the dotted line. Getting the dealer to commit to a best price ahead of time will help consumers secure financing at the appropriate level and can help avoid high interest rates sometimes offered at the dealership.

  • Resist pressure: When communicating with the dealer from home, be up front about how much time you will have when you arrive at the dealership, as well as your expectations regarding price. Be ready to walk away if the dealer insists on upselling or adding on extras you don’t want.
    • Drive away: By doing as much as possible remotely, you will be able to show up at the dealer and drive away because your car will be there, waiting for you.

    Not Like Groceries

    Because most states require in-person signatures for automotive sales contracts, a start-to-finish online transaction is rare.

    “The way cars are bought—because there are contracts to sign—it’s generally not something you can buy online and have delivered like you can with a bag of groceries,” says Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with market research firm IHS Markit.

    Mark Schirmer, director of public relations for Cox Automotive, an autos market analysis company based in Atlanta, says that every state has its own regulations regarding car sales contracts, which complicates the process. Even a service like Carvana will involve documents at some point.

    Naturally, if you do go to the dealership, standard coronavirus precautions should apply. Minimize close contact with other people (including refraining from hand shaking), stay at least 6 feet away from anyone who is visibly ill, wash your hands a lot, and avoid touching your face.

    CR Build & Buy Car Buying Service

    When buying a car, in addition to research and reviews, Consumer Reports offers its members access to the Build & Buy Car Buying Service at no additional cost. Through this service, a nationwide network of about 12,000 participating dealers provides up-front pricing information and a certificate to receive guaranteed savings off the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for customers in most states.

    The pricing information and guaranteed savings include eligible incentives. Consumer Reports members have saved an average of $3,101 off the MSRP with the Build & Buy Car Buying Service.

    Consumers still need to go the dealership to finalize any deal through this service.

    Ordering a vehicle to your liking could be worth the effort, but then again, maybe not.

    How to buy a car like a dealer

    Automakers’ websites make it all seem so simple. You click the “build and price” tab and equip your imaginary car just the way you want it. Your engine, your transmission, your wheels and tires, your exterior color, your seat fabric, your choice of infotainment system—you name it, you can generally specify it. But as wonderful as that sounds, configuring and ordering a new car instead of buying a car your dealer has in stock can lead to frustration. It could be worth the effort, but then again, maybe not.

    These are the pros and cons of configuring and ordering a car:

    Pros of Ordering a Car

    1. You choose the car you want, equipped as you want it. As a car person, you probably play the game of “spec the car” all the time. You can select the engine, transmission, tires, and wheels. Check it out in (colorful adjective) red with black (exotic-sounding) leather seats. Choose the (high-end audio name) entertainment system that will envelop you in your own personal soundtrack as you navigate country roads. If you configure and order your car, you can decide a lot about the car you are going to get.

    2. You can get the thrill of seeing something you customized digitally get built into a complex physical machine. For the right person, this is an experience nearly as memorable as being there for the birth of your child. You can pick everything from the color of the roof to the nap of the carpeting in the trunk on many cars. It is your automotive artist’s impression come to life.

    1. It can take a long time. It will likely take six to eight weeks for a domestic car to be built to your specifications and delivered to your dealer. With an import, you can throw in the time to cross an ocean and transportation from the port, meaning it could take a few months.

    2. You might not get exactly what you ordered. Because the car business is so complex, often there are disconnects between what a manufacturer website says is available and what is really available. More often than you’d guess, a carmaker will announce an option or feature only to find out that the supplier can’t build the parts, pieces, or systems fast enough. For example, a carmaker may have anticipated only 20 percent of its buyers would want the V-6 engine, but in the two years since that decision was made, gasoline got cheaper, so now 40 percent of dealer orders are for cars with the V-6. Multiply that possibility by the number of major systems on a typical car, and you can see the potential for problems.

    3. In most states, the only entity that can sell you a new car is a licensed new-car dealer. So you have to buy from a dealer even if you order the car “from the factory.” Since the dealership has no investment in that to-be-built car, it might be less likely to discount the price. The salesperson faces the potential hassle of taking you on a laborious and lengthy passage through the options list. When that’s done, the dealer still can’t be certain the vehicle you specify will be built. That doesn’t sound like the recipe for a great discount deal, does it?

    Now, we’re not saying don’t configure and order your next car, but if you do, keep the aforementioned points in mind. In the interest of equal time, here are the pros and cons of buying a car from a local dealer’s inventory.

    Pros of Buying from Dealer Stock

    1. You can easily find what you want online. These days, most dealers put their inventories on the internet, so you can access the information on your personal computer, tablet, or smartphone. Rather than go through the laborious and lengthy process of ordering a car through a dealer and waiting weeks for it to be delivered, you can uncover a very close approximation of that car by a relatively simple search of local dealer websites.

    “We as dealers make certain our websites are robust and easy to use for the customer,” Ray Scarpelli, president of Ray Chevrolet and other suburban Chicago dealerships, told C/D. “We make sure we have a good presence for the customer to see, because that’s how the business is done these days.”

    2. You can see the car “in the flesh.” Once you’ve located the vehicle that is your prospective choice, it is there for your inspection. You can see the car, smell it, crawl around in it. You can play with the buttons and knobs, adjust the driver’s seat and the mirrors, and listen to the sound system of the exact car you are going to buy. You don’t have to guess or hope. And you can drive the car before you buy it.

    3. The dealer is motivated to sell cars in inventory. The dealer has a monetary investment in the cars, trucks, and vans that are already on the lot, having either paid for or financed them. The sooner they’re sold, the better off the dealership will be. “We’re paying interest on the car sitting on the ground,” said John Hennessy, owner of River View Ford in Oswego, Illinois. “So I’d rather relieve that interest and put a lot more money into that trade and help you get into the car.”

    1. You might not get exactly the car you want in the color you want with the equipment you want. If you are seeking your perfect dream car with exterior paint that matches your eyes and interior leather that is softer than a tub of whipped butter on an 80-degree day, you are probably better off ordering a car than trying to find it in dealer stock. Even if the car you seek might not have been built yet, there is a thrill to the hunt.

    2. Ordering can head off an impulse buy. If you are the type who goes out for coffee on a Saturday morning and comes home with a rescued puppy or a third husband, you might be better off ordering a car. If buyer’s remorse sets in, it’s easier to cancel a new order than to cancel the new car already sitting in your driveway.

    So, now that you know the pros and cons of ordering from a manufacturer versus plucking from dealer inventory, you should have an idea of what the car-buying road is like ahead. Maybe you already know what kind of car you want. That’s half the trip.

    Getting the best deal on a new vehicle means thinking like a dealer: Be dispassionate, obsessively focused on the bottom line and aware of all the financial elements involved in closing the deal.

    Financial Incentives—What Are They?

    Every manufacturer–except maybe Ferrari and a few other exotic car makers–uses financial incentives to move products. Some are paid to the dealers in the form of direct cash or inventory allowances that reduce the cost of keeping a vehicle in stock (dealers don’t own the cars on their lots so they use short-term financing to acquire them, and the longer they sit the more interest they pay). Other times dealers receive extra money toward marketing programs that help with advertising and special events, or through special financing plans. Whether any of these incentive programs are made known to the consumer is up to the dealer or the manufacturer.

    Another between-the-lines variable is the dealer holdback, a small percentage of the list price paid by the automaker to the dealer for selling a new vehicle. The dealer holdback is not an incentive, but can affect the outcome of the sale. Some automakers–such as including Audi, BMW and Jaguar–have done away with this practice, but most brands have a dealer holdback of up to 3%. (On a mainstream car costing $35,000, a typical 2% holdback will pay the dealer an extra $700.) Dealers consider the money to be theirs alone so it’s non-negotiable, but being armed with this type of insider-esque information can be useful when outlining the terms of the deal.

    Though incentives take different shapes and forms, researching the brand or specific model to see what deals the manufacturer is offering in your area always is a good way to sift through the various offerings. Incentives can vary by region, which is why most manufacturer websites ask for a zip code almost immediately after landing on the page. Some car shoppers may want to hold until certain times of the year when all manufacturers have nationwide sales events (Memorial Day, Labor Day, Black Friday). For others with an immediate need, look for online resources that aggregate the best deals of a given month. Staying on top of the available incentives on a month-to-month basis is an effective approach for buyers shopping in a certain segment of the market or within a certain brand.

    The Whole Deal and What To Do With It

    Generally speaking, dealers don’t look at the car they’re selling as just a retail sale. From their perspective, it’s a bundle that includes financing, warranty and insurance products; the potential profits of a trade-in; and the profit margin in the new vehicle itself. For example, dealers often can make more money on the financing than they do on the profits built into the price of the new vehicle. Or, if a customer is trading in a used vehicle with a high-profit potential in the used market, the dealer may chop the price of the new vehicle to snag the trade-in.

    Before casting your shadow across a showroom floor, have your ducks in a row. First, know the value of your trade in (it’s typically less when handed over to a dealer versus a private market buyer). Also consider the value of an easy trade-in relative to the hassle of selling it yourself for a better price.

    Second, shop for the money you’ll be using to buy the vehicle before you shop for the vehicle itself. Visit your bank or credit union, determine your credit rating and have a solid handle on the interest rates for which you’ll qualify. If your credit rating is excellent, it’s possible the dealership will work hard to beat the interest rate you’ve already researched in order to sell you their financing.

    Finally, approach any discussion of the “dealer invoice” price (what the dealer paid the manufacturer for a vehicle plus any options on the vehicle) with skepticism because many times it doesn’t reflect what the vehicle costs the dealer to keep it in inventory.

    Bargain Shoppers, Take Heed

    Speaking of inventory, vehicles that dealerships want to get rid of quickly will often sell for the lowest price. For shoppers that aren’t picky about colors or specific option packages, ask a salesperson what car has been hanging around the lot because that’s the model the dealership is likely eager to sell. If they’re not forthcoming with that information, check the build tag displayed on a new vehicle’s door jamb. Any car built three or four or more months prior qualifies as a good candidate for this bargain-hunting tactic.

    Entire books have been written about how to get the best deal on a new vehicle, but it all comes down to this: the more work you’ve done researching your purchase before you go to a dealer, the more likely you are to get a great deal.

    Keep in mind, you only buy a new vehicle every couple of years, while dealers do this dance every day. Stay informed to avoid leaving any “cash on the hood.”

    Getting the best deal on a car has become something of an art for automotive aficionados. Strolling through lines of used cars at the dealership or scanning through private listings online may leave you wondering if you’re going to overpay. You also may not be too keen on negotiating the price with a salesperson or a private owner. Buying a car the same way the dealer does can save you quite a bit of money. Thankfully, there are a few ways that you can get into an auto auction usually reserved only for dealers.

    Getting Access to Dealer Auctions

    Dealers aren’t getting most of the inventory on their used car lot from trade-in vehicles. In fact, they’re going to dealer auctions that usually aren’t open to the public. You may wonder where these cars are coming from, and there are a lot of sources. Some of these vehicles were repossessed by the bank and others were traded in to a dealership. The rest may have been completed leases or rental cars that have been taken off the road. Salvage vehicles often end up at auctions at well, after being declared a total loss by an insurance company.

    How to buy a car like a dealer

    How do you get onto an auction lot to look at any of these cars? You must have either a dealer license or access to somebody who has it. If you decide to partner with somebody who already has the licensing, make sure that this is somebody you trust. That person is going to have to purchase that car for you. Despite the risks though, working with somebody with a dealer license is probably the easier choice. A local dealer might be willing to partner with you, for a price. This isn’t a bad way to go, because dealers are going to be very comfortable navigating an auction.

    What if you’d rather work to get a license? Be aware that many states require you to have a physical location for a dealership before applying for licensing. Each state has different requirements, so it’s best to check the website of your local DMV. Figure out if you meet the requirements and find out the steps you’ll need to take. There are some websites that promise licensing packages, but make sure that you do your homework. It’s important to ensure that everything is done on the legal up-and-up.

    Watch for Special Events

    Quite possibly the easiest way to get into a physical auction is waiting for special events when they’re open to the public. Not every auction does this, but many of them have a few special days when they’ll let anyone in. Bear in mind, this is a going to be a very busy day. Check the auction website and see their schedule. If you don’t find anything, just give them a call.

    A few auctions are open to the public as often as once a month or once a week. Often, sites will already have listings of the vehicles that will be for sale a few days beforehand. The only downside to going on these days is the massive attendance. Everybody else who wants to buy a car at auction will be there on the same day. Thus, competition may be a little fiercer.

    Online Auto Auctions

    In the last several years, online auto auctions have taken off. While there are some obvious pitfalls to being unable to see the vehicle in person, many of these websites are open to the public. Again, you’re spending thousands of dollars on a car – do your homework before you move forward with any auction website. Each site a little bit different, some still require a dealer license, but others only have a membership fee. The amount seems to vary, but many of these sites charge several hundred dollars.

    Is this fee worth it? Very possibly, depending on the deal you find. You might be able to buy a car for several thousand below selling price. Remember that this isn’t going to be the only fee either – there will be an auction fee as well. If you can find the car you’re looking for at the right price, this might not be a problem. If you decide to go the online route, consider the types of cars that these auctions tend to get. Take note of the quality of the website, too. Some are more user-friendly than others.

    All in all, you don’t have to be a dealer to buy a car the way they do. Getting a dealer license will get you access to just about any auction you want. If you can’t or don’t want to go through all of the legal requirements though, you still have options. So, if you’re in the market for a new car, consider avoiding the dealership lot and buying a car in a new way.

    Online shopping has yielded big savings for people who opt to stay out of the stores, but what about when it comes to buying a car?

    Although some people may prefer to visit their local car dealership rather than use their computer, savings can be found online, according to a new report.

    Can you save more buying a car online or at the dealership?

    Car search engine recently released a study that found people who bought vehicles online saved $185, or 0.8% on average. And some car models led to even more savings.

    The site analyzed 2018 sales on more than 9.4 million used cars to come up with the results. Here are the vehicles that provide the biggest online savings, according to

    Top 10 cars with the most savings at online dealerships

    Admittedly, some people may be a little hesitant about making such a major purchase online. But for others, the high-pressure environment of a dealership is just as bad, according to iSeeCars CEO Phong Ly.

    “Today’s car buyer wants to spend as little time as possible at the car dealership,” Ly is quoted as saying.

    Ly says the best car-buying sites and apps can deliver significant savings, generous return policies and rigorous vehicle inspections.

    Clark Howard: Here’s when you should go car shopping

    Still, there may be some people who are just more comfortable visiting a car dealer — and that’s OK.

    Money expert Clark Howard, who has bought a family car or two (or three), says it’s important that you be able to shop for a vehicle pressure-free. His advice is to check out the dealership after-hours.

    “Look at cars when a dealership is closed, so there’s no salesperson to pressure you,” Clark says. “The best way to test drive a car is to rent it for a day or two. It’s the ultimate test drive.”

    To learn more about the process of buying a vehicle, read Clark’s step-by-step guides for buying a new car and buying a used car.

    The car market is more like real estate than a lot of people realize; location has a lot to do with how much you will pay. The good news is if your local market is tough, you can buy a car from wherever you want. How much you can save could depend on how far you’re willing to go.

    I talk with car buyers every day, and it amazes me how many people are not willing to take a bit of a drive to save a significant amount of money. I tell people to think of it this way: Would you drive a two-hour round trip if someone were to give you $500? That’s $250 an hour just for driving!

    Most people would say yes, and driving a few hours could save you not only hundreds, but potentially thousands of dollars.

    More Dealers Equals More Negotiating Leverage

    If you want to get the best price on your next car I strongly suggest casting a wide shopping net. For some people this might be a one or two hour radius, for others it might be larger depending on their local market.

    The reason behind this is simple: the larger your travel radius the more dealerships within that range and the more dealers you have to choose from the easier it is to leverage prices against each other. For example, if you were to shop locally for a Mazda there may be only one or two dealers in your area and they may even have the same owner. These dealerships may not be as competitive on price as another store that is further away.

    A while back, I mentioned how difficult it can be to buy a Honda (or any car for that matter) in NYC. The main reason being that despite the high density of dealerships, the NYC metro area has a huge population and if a dealership gets hundreds of suckers walking through the door everyday, they don’t have to haggle with a smart buyer on the internet. New York car shoppers may be better off taking an hour or so drive into South Jersey, Pennsylvania, or even Connecticut to land a deal.

    On the opposite end of the spectrum, I had a client in Iowa shopping for a Nissan. There was only one dealer within a two hour drive and as you can imagine, if a dealer knows they are the only game in town for a particular brand, they don’t have to be very flexible on price. Due to the lack of competition in their local market, these folks were willing to drive several hours to some of the larger metro areas like Chicago, Milwaukee, or Des Moines.

    Get Everything In Writing and Confirm Availability

    I can’t stress this one enough, no matter how friendly the salesperson is or how committed they are to a “top notch customer experience.” the last thing you want to do is drive a long way to a dealership only to find out that the price you were told has changed or the car you wanted is no longer available.

    You already know to get quotes in writing, but make sure the out-the-door price is accurate for your local sales tax and DMV fees. Some dealers, out of habit, will calculate the total based on their local figures. This is why you should send them your zip code and request an itemized breakdown of the fees to double check the math.

    In addition to the price quote, have the dealer send you a copy of the build-sheet or window sticker and make sure the the price is aligned to a VIN or stock number. This prevents them from playing a bait and switch on pricing. Tell them you will be traveling and ask if they would be willing to hold the car with a small deposit via credit card.

    Use The Quotes From Far Away Against Your Local Dealership

    Whether you are located in a market where dealerships have plenty of “easy targets” like New York City, or are stuck in the middle of nowhere, you can use the quotes from the distant dealers against the store that is most convenient for you.

    The best way to handle this is to talk with a sales manager directly and say something along the lines of this: “I would prefer to buy locally, but I have the opportunity to save (insert amount here) by driving a little bit. You have the exact model I’m looking for, so if you would be willing to match the price from one of your competitors we can close this deal quickly.”

    Again, just like the dealership far away, make sure you have this dealer send you an out-the-door quote in writing with all of the taxes and fees spelled out. If the local dealer is smart, most of the time they will match the price or come very close.

    However, some dealerships depending on their size and sales volume, have more wiggle room than others. A large dealership that moves a lot of units can afford to sell cars for less because they will get a volume bonus from the automakers. If your local dealership is small, they just might not have the ability to match the price of a larger store near a big city.

    Trade-Ins Can Get Tricky On Long Distance Deals

    Also be aware that if you are bringing something to trade this can complicate things a little bit. If the dealer 20 minutes down the road low-balls your trade, it’s easy to walk away. If the dealer two hours away does so, that puts you in a tough spot.

    One way to minimize this is to get a variety of quotes for your trade in writing. Take your car to a dealer that sells the same brand, ask if they are willing to buy it and give you an offer. If you have a CarMax or a WeBuyAnyCar location nearby, these places will give you a written quote that you can take with you. Their numbers might not be the most competitive, but at least it’s something in writing that you can use to leverage against a dealer that is far away in case they offer you a ridiculously low trade value.

    Worst case scenario is you drive all the way home with two cars and sell your old ride on the private market.

    Know When The Travel Is And Isn’t Worth The Savings

    Often it is worth the drive if significant savings can be had. For example, I had a client here South Jersey that wanted to lease a Jeep Wrangler. The local dealership was only able to take $1000 off the MSRP and gave me the line of, “Well you know these are really popular, and Jeep doesn’t offer any incentives.”

    A dealership three hours away in Virginia was able to discount the car by almost $3,000 and had access to a different lender for the lease that was able to use a higher residual value. This resulted in a monthly lease payment that was $90 less per month than the local dealer. This guy saved a total of $3,240 for driving a six hour round trip. That’s $540 an hour. Not too bad.

    On the other hand, I had a customer who wanted a brand new Subaru Impreza and was absolutely determined to get the lowest price possible. He was willing to drive several hours to get the best deal. That level of flexibility is great, but the Impreza is a car with minimal markups so the amount of potential savings isn’t as great. After I found him a price from a nearby dealership that was under invoice, he told me about a dealer four hours away in New England that had an advertised price of $200 lower than what I found.

    I explained that even we assume the advertised price is true, driving eight hours round trip and paying for gas food and tolls is going to negate that $200 savings. Not to mention that is essentially a whole day spent on the road and at the dealership just to save a few hundred bucks. I don’t know too many people that want to blow a whole day just to buy a car when they could be doing more enjoyable things.

    The next time you are car shopping set a wide travel radius that is comfortable for you. Try to use best quote against the local dealer and see if they will match it. If they don’t, run the numbers on how much you will save and see if it is worth it. Saving money is great, but not when it’s at the expense of your own time and energy.

    How to buy a car like a dealer

    If you are in the market for a new vehicle, educating yourself about the vehicles you are interested in is the first step to making the best buying decision for you. Doing a lot of research before going to a dealership can help you feel confident in your ultimate decision. Knowledge can help you feel completely comfortable and confident when walking onto the lot of your dealership.

    • HAVE FUN – Shopping for a new or used vehicle should be a joyous experience. This purchase is big and is something you will live with for years to come. It is important to know about the buying process before going through the buying process. Research the vehicle you are interested in prior to looking at the vehicle and while at the dealership, ask a lot of questions.
    • SET A BUDGET – Do not allow yourself to be impulsive or go over budget. Expect to see lots of vehicles you like, but focus on the one(s) you know you can afford.
    • RESEARCH – It doesn’t hurt to search the dealer’s website for great deals or promos going on. It is also a good idea to call ahead and ask if any promos will be upcoming on selected vehicles for the one you have your eye on may be on that list.
    • BE OPEN MINDED – Try not to rule a car out because it is lacking certain features or options you want or don’t want. For instance, if you do not like the sound system of the car, it can always be changed. It is hard to find a car that has everything exactly the way you want it; just keep an open mind and remember that you can make these changes once the car is yours!

    To make shopping for a car more favorable, you need to have as much knowledge as possible. Get yourself fully equipped with information about the vehicles you are interested in, so you know you will make the best buying decision. Contact me today and let me help you make the best decision on the best car for you and your family!

    How to buy a car like a dealer

    Anyone who has ever sold a car or truck on Craigslist knows that dealing with private party sales can be a real hassle. The potential buyer you have spoken with on the phone or exchanged emails with may not materialize. Or your interested party may show up adamant on sticking to some low-ball offer you would never consider. Then there is the off chance that you could inadvertently end up inviting some crazy person to your home.

    That is why many people opt to sell their vehicles to dealerships – to make the selling experience as quick and as painless as possible. Many people assume that you need to purchase a vehicle from a dealer to sell one there, but that’s not necessarily the case. Dealerships come in all different shapes and sizes – from manufacturer-backed new and newer-used car establishments to more eclectic local used car lots that cater mostly to budget-oriented shoppers looking at older cars.

    Which is right for you? It really depends upon what you are trying to sell – whether you have an older car with some problems, a more recent model you’d like to trade up for something brand new, or a classic you inherited from your grandmother’s estate but don’t want to keep. Every situation is different, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

    9 Tips For Selling to a Dealership

    1. Be Realistic

    You may think your car or truck is a real peach, and maybe it is. But step outside of yourself and evaluate its condition as a potential buyer would see it. Is everything working the way it should? If not, you might consider getting that busted window switch and squeaking belt fixed before bringing your car before the ever-critical, seen-it-all eye of a dealer. Having a mechanical inspection done is always a good idea, so the condition you’ve presented to a potential buyer has some bona fides with which to back it up. In any event, the price you can expect will match the vehicle’s condition and desirability.

    2. Know What Your Vehicle is Worth

    Use Kelley Blue Book’s valuation tools to determine the value of your vehicle – both on the open market and as a trade-in. You can – and should – bargain with the dealer to get the best price possible. Knowing before you go will give you a little edge in the negotiations.

    By entering some basic information about your vehicle – VIN, mileage and an accurate description, among other parameters – you can get a cash offer certificate from Kelley Blue Book that can be redeemed at participating dealers within three business days. If the vehicle’s condition matches your description, the dealer will pay you what was offered. If your description was a little overoptimistic, the dealer will adjust the price down to meet a more realistic appraisal. You are, however, free to take the deal or walk away.

    4. Get Your Paperwork Together

    Make sure you have a title that’s ready to be signed over to a new owner. If you are still making payments on the vehicle and the bank or another dealership still holds the title, you can still make a deal with a dealership. But you may have to pay the dealership all or part of what you owe before you can get any cash from the deal. These types of sales also take longer to process that straight title-for-cash sales, which can be cleared in as little as an afternoon. Bring your loan information with you.

    5. Find a Dealer That Is a Good Fit

    Try to figure out which dealerships would want to buy your vehicle. An older car with a few mechanical problems isn’t going to be a big hit with the pre-owned staff at an Audi dealership, and will be more appropriate for a dealership that specializes in older cars.

    If you get your car serviced at a dealership, that can be a good starting point (although that dealer may or may not want your car). Also, you can observe what people are driving in given geographical areas, providing you with clues as to where there’s demand for your car. Your 2012 BMW 5 Series may be hot stuff in the city, but maybe it won’t fare as well in a place where most people drive pickup trucks. Dealerships, unlike private party buyers, want vehicles they can sell.

    6. Look at Dealer Inventory

    When you’re researching dealers to approach, find out what they have on the lot. You can usually do this online. A dealership that’s flooded with the type of car or truck you’re trying to sell may not offer you as good a price as one with more demand for it.

    7. Get Several Quotes

    Just like you should do when you are looking for a plumber to fix a leaking toilet, you should get a few different quotes so that you have some bargaining power. Most dealers will hold their price for at least a couple of days. Try visiting dealers in different areas to take advantage of various market preferences, and don’t be afraid to use one dealer’s price to try and get more from another.

    8. Don’t Take Too Long

    Market conditions can change overnight, so if you take too long getting quotes, the offer you got a few days ago may no longer be valid. Besides, part of the reason you’re selling to a dealer is to streamline the selling process and unload your car quickly.

    9. Are you selling a specialty or classic?

    The mint 1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo your father willed to you may not be something a BMW dealership would be interested in, but a Chevrolet dealership might like to have it on display in its showroom. It all depends upon the car you’re selling, and what the dealership is amenable to. If you have a rare or exotic car, working with a dealership that specializes in that type of car may be the best way to go about selling it. Whatever the case, don’t be afraid to ask – the worst they can do is say no.

    Get a new set of wheels without the downsides of visiting a dealership

    How to buy a car like a dealer

    MoMo Productions/Getty Images

    In the past, the only way to buy a car was by visiting a dealership in person. Fortunately, times have changed, and buying a car online is now quite common. Find out how to purchase a car online from the comfort of your own home—an option that’s especially attractive in 2020 during the pandemic.

    Where Can You Buy a Car Online?

    If you’d like to buy a car online, there are many reputable car sellers’ websites that can allow you to do that. Here are a few options to consider:

    • Autotrader: Autotrader sells cars to more than 14 million buyers each month. The website offers new, used, and certified pre-owned vehicles from both dealers and private sellers. You can sort by car type, location, mileage, price, and more to find the perfect car for you.  
    • Carfax: While Carfax is best-known for its vehicle history reports, the company also partners with dealerships across the country to create an online used-car marketplace.
    • Carvana: Carvana’s website features countless used cars that are all certified and inspected at its reconditioning centers. Once you find a car you like, you can pick it up at a nearby Carvana car vending machine, or have it delivered directly to you.

    What Information Do You Need to Buy?

    Before you take the plunge and buy a car online, make sure you understand its value.

    The last thing you want to do is overpay for a vehicle because you didn’t do your research. You can use a car-buying app like Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, or to find out what shoppers in your area are paying for a particular model.

    Some of these apps, like, for example, can also give you insight on the car of your choice through reviews. You may also use them to calculate the trade-in value of your current car and estimate your loan payments based on your down payment and credit score.

    Can You Negotiate the Price?

    If you find a car you want to buy online, remember that the price you see on your computer, phone, or tablet isn’t set in stone. To ensure you get the best deal possible, it’s a good idea to negotiate. But how do you bargain if you’re not sitting face-to-face with the seller? Pick up the phone, text, or send an email. If you don’t like in-person haggling, you may find phone and email negotiations to be far less intimidating.

    While you’re going through the negotiation process, remember that you can’t state a lower price after you make your first offer. Additionally, the seller can’t suggest a higher price after they’ve already given you an initial offer.

    Paying for a Car You Bought Online

    Once you negotiate a car’s price and are content with the final figure, it’s time to pay for it. These tips can help you complete that step.

    Trading In Your Vehicle

    Some online car-buying websites will allow you to trade in your current vehicle. Carvana, for example, has a sell/trade tool on its site. After you plug in your license plate number or vehicle identification number (VIN) and state, you’ll get an offer. If you accept the offer, Carvana will pick up your car, perform a quick inspection, and write you a check or give you the keys to your new vehicle in exchange.

    Autotrader also offers something similar, known as an instant cash offer. If you get an offer from them, you can visit a participating dealer to claim your cash or trade-in credit.

    Financing or Leasing Your Car

    Be sure to shop around at banks, credit unions, online lenders, and leasing companies to get a few different financing or leasing offers. Pay attention to the annual percentage rate, or APR, rather than the monthly payment, as the higher the APR, the more you’ll pay over the life of the loan.

    Once you have a few offers, you can tell the dealer that you’ll go through them for financing as long as they can beat the offers you’ve already received. Dealers are often known for offering higher rates than other auto financing outlets.

    One online buyer, Kyle Kroeger, bought a 2011 Volkswagen Jetta on Autotrader and enjoyed the experience. He opted for financing directly through the dealership. At the time, he said, he had great credit, so he was eligible for an attractive interest rate through them.

    Making the Down Payment

    The larger your down payment, the lower your monthly payments will be and faster you’ll be able to pay off your loan. Your down payment will likely be due while you’re at the dealer, before you sign on the dotted line. Kroeger said he made a 40% down payment with his credit card so that he could collect some reward points.

    If possible, you’ll want to put down at least 20% of your vehicle’s overall purchase price. This is a general rule of thumb that can save you on your loan payments later.  

    Paying Cash

    Paying cash rather than financing a vehicle is an option. This can allow you to skip owing interest and forgo monthly payments. You can pay in cash at the dealer’s office or with a cashier’s check, if your car’s value is greater than $10,000.  

    How Long Does It Take?

    The amount of time it takes to buy a car online depends on the website you use, as well as how long you spend finding the ideal vehicle, comparing your options, and negotiating. With Carvana, for example, you can complete the process in as little as 10 minutes, if you know just what you want and it’s available.

    As soon as you fill out the paperwork, choose a delivery or pickup time, and you should receive your new wheels soon. Keep in mind that even though most states do allow electronic signatures for auto transactions, physical signing is often preferred, as it reduces legal liability. In the era of COVID-19, however, electronic signing is likely more common.

    Some companies state that if you opt for delivery and are outside its local market, it will take anywhere from five to 15 business days.  

    Are There Any Hidden Fees?

    When you buy a car online, you may come across hidden fees that increase its overall cost. The most common types of add-on fees include:

    • Shipping Fees: If you get your car delivered, you’ll likely be on the hook for a shipping fee, which will be based on the vehicle’s current location and where it’s being delivered.
    • Documentation Fees: You may be required to pay this to cover the processing of your paperwork.
    • State and Local Taxes: Depending on where you live, you may have to pay state and local sales tax. The more expensive your vehicle is, the more you’ll owe in taxes.
    • State Registration and Licensing Fees: Your location will also determine how much you’ll pay for these fees.

    The Bottom Line

    Buying a car online can be fast and convenient. It’s particularly appealing in today’s world, where social distancing and staying at home are the norm amid COVID-19. If you want to buy a car online, don’t rush through the process. Compare all the options at your disposal, negotiate a good price, and read the fine print before making a final purchase decision.