Before I retired I was a car guy. While most of my time in the automobile business was spent as a buyer, going to auctions, and buying the cars that you see in the used car lots, I did spend some time on the retail end of the business. Yes, I was the guy you feared coming to see because you were SURE I was going to rip you off. I understand. It’s happened before. You needed a new car so you went looking for your best deal. But somehow, you ended up leaving the dealership in a car that wasn’t your top choice or you paid way too much for it. “What just happened?” you wondered as you drove away.

Wouldn’t you love to pay what you want for the vehicle you choose, rather than the high-priced car the dealer wants to get rid of?

Follow my tips to help ensure a better experience the next time you walk onto that car lot

  1. Do your homework. Think about cars you’re interested in before you go shopping. Jot down makes and models you like. Note specific features you want. Knowing what you want will keep you focused on getting the RIGHT deal on the RIGHT CAR.
  • Look at car manufacturer’s websites. Notice the features, specifically those that matter to you. Make notes. Eliminate cars that don’t fit your criteria. Keep notes WITH you about why you’re rejecting those cars. Later, you can look back on your notes, if necessary.
  1. Familiarize yourself with the top 2-3 cars you want. Watch for them on the roads. Do you like how they look? Ask friends and neighbors who have a car you’re interested in if you can look at the dashboard and interior space. I like to go to the dealership when they are CLOSED and peek into the cars so that I have an idea about the interior that I like as well.
  2. Check the website. This website tells you what the car should reasonably cost you. You can select the interior and exterior colors and any extra options you want for pricing.
  • Learn what car manufacturers are offering for cash incentives or buyer’s rebates on the cars you like. This info can also be found at the Edmunds website. Completing this step will arm you with expert knowledge about what the car should cost and help you with the negotiation as you can use it as a tool when dickering over the price.
  • If a car dealer tells you the Edmunds figure isn’t accurate, move on. He’s most likely trying to rip you off.
  1. NEVER, EVER, EVER pay the sticker price. Car salesmen will try very hard to get you to pay that price. However, you can negotiate to pay less. If you already did your research, you’ll know what to offer. Don’t pay a penny more. If you have a car to trade in, it may be a lot easier to negotiate the amount that they give you for YOUR car to get the final price where you want it.
  2. Consider shopping from home. If you’ve been held captive at a car dealership for 3+ hours being pressured, cajoled, and manipulated, you’ll appreciate this suggestion. Examine internet sites like or
  • If you prefer, go to the manufacturer’s website and request a price on a particular vehicle. A salesman will respond back by e-mail. Then, negotiate back and forth by e-mail or phone to obtain the car, features, and pricing you seek.
  • Determine if they have the exact car in your desired color with your preferred options on the lot. This point is important because salesmen will try to get you in to test-drive any vehicle in hopes they can give you the hard-sell routine.
  • These days you can save a lot of time and frustration by shopping from home.
  1. Never get financing through the dealership. Dealerships advertise low percentage rates then pump up “miscellaneous” fees in excess of a reasonable percentage amount. Therefore, get your car loan through your bank or credit union. There is ONE exception to this rule….when a dealership offers 0% financing GRAB it.
  • Seek a pre-approved loan before shopping. That way, you’ll know how much you’ll pay monthly based on the figure you were pre-approved to borrow and you’ll have that extra power in the negotiating. Dealerships make a BIG PERCENTAGE of their money on auto loans!
  1. Remember you can walk away or say, “No.” Avoid falling into the trap of doing everything the salesman says. After all, you’re the customer and he’s there to fulfill your needs, not the other way around. We always walk away during the negotiation and laughingly count the seconds before the salesman runs after us (or how long it is before he calls us at home with a better offer).
  2. Find out your state’s policy on returning new cars. Car dealerships will tell you that once you sign the papers and drive the car off the lot, you can’t return it. However, many states have a “buyers’ remorse” clause, which allows you a period of time, like 3 days, to return a vehicle you don’t want. Take time to read the fine print on whatever documents you sign.
  • The best way to avoid buyers’ remorse is to shop within your budget and avoid saying, “yes” to just any car or deal. Wait for the deal you want.


By following these strategies, you can avoid getting ripped off the next time you shop for a new car.