Buying a new car?

I’ve decided that I want a new car. I was planning on waiting until the end of the year, but now that I’ve made my decision, I kind of want it sooner. Here’s a question for you guys out there. If the car I want has an MSRP of $25K, is it reasonable to stand firm at $24K out the door (tax, fees, etc, all included)?

Is the Honda Civic SI really that rare? I just want the features that it has…

You are about to have to fight a war. I’ve bought four new cars in my life so far, and every one has been one of the most unpleasant and difficult experiences in my life. I would literally rather shop for and buy a house than buy a new car. It is probably the most miserable, hateful experience of modern adult life. Dealerships count on the fact that most people are wired to seek consensus and avoid confrontation, and they use that knowledge to fuck you. I wish you luck.

It’s impossible to say. If the sticker is $25k and the “invoice” is $19k, then they’d be thrilled at a $24k price and probably throw in floor mats or something.

A lot of the tricks that worked 5-10 years ago don’t work anymore because dealers go to the same web sites as everyone else now, but the method that still is the most common—and will yield you the most consistent results, is:

  1. Go to a place like Edmunds and configre a car exactly how you want, down to the last nut and bolt.

  2. Note the current difference between invoice and sticker, as well as their “True Market Price” for your area.

  3. Decide how much you want to pay. Unless the car is ridiculously popular—and, unfortunately, a Honda Civic is ridiculously popular—you can start at invoice or maybe invoice +$200. (If the car is ridiculously popular, the dealership can tell you to take a hike because they don’t need your sale—they’ll easily sell the car with or without you.)

  4. Add in whatever the site lists for charges and fees. These are almost always non-negotiable (you will always pay whatever the delivery fee is, for example—zero wiggle room on that one). You might be able to not pay the “documentation fee,” but smart dealerships have simply quit listing it.

  5. E-mail the sales departments of as many local dealerships as possible with something like the following:

Dear Honda team,

Hello! My name is Nabiki and I am interested in purchasing a new 2017 Honda Civic SI with the following options:

(put your list in here)

I am ready to pay $X, including TTL and fees, before tax. I’m ready to buy today if you can meet this price. Please respond with your acceptance and I’ll be there in an hour!

  1. Then wait for them to respond. They’ll probably attempt to negotiate; if they come back too high, simply ignore them. If they’re close, consider it. If you have 2 dealerships close in price, respond to either and play their pricing against each other (though if both dealerships are owned by the same parent franchise, this may not work).

6A) At least one of these assholes is going to respond with “Well, we don’t do email sales—why don’t you come down and meet us so we can apply the warm and caring personal touch for which our dealership is known?” Throw that email in the trash and never respond. They’re trying to fuck you and they’re probably very good at it. Once you’re there, you’re in their power. NEVER go to a dealership unless you have already negotiated a price in writing.

  1. It’s okay to compromise on price if you’re within maybe $500-ish of your desired total. Plus or minus $500 total spread out over 60 months of payment is a difference of about $10/month, so it’s probably not going to make a massive difference in your finances. Don’t throw away a dealership’s offer if they’re wiling to come close to what you want.

  2. If you get what you want, great! Print the emails out, show up with your financing already worked out, and buy the car. Be prepared to walk out at any second if they try to change the deal once you’re there. There’s a 50/50 chance they will try to fuck you here by saying that they made a mistake on pricing, or the car they thought you wanted isn’t in inventory, or the sales manager said they couldn’t make the deal, or whatever. Get up and leave. Do not stay. This is them fucking you.

  3. If you get no positive responses in your area, cast the net wider. You don’t have to buy a car in your own city—or even in your own state. Look at it this way: if you find a dealership 2 states away that’ll sell you the car for $1.5k cheaper than a close dealership, for example, you’re still saving money even if you have to take a one-way $250 Southwest flight out and drive 1000 miles back with a night or two of hotels. Plus, you’ll have a nice drive to get to know your new car! (Typically with out of state sales, you don’t pay sales tax on the car when you buy it, because you don’t owe taxes to that state; you pay your own state’s sales tax when you register the car. However, it works differently in every state. Check your local laws.)

Extra bits and bobs:

  • Be prepared to leave at any time. Literally any time.
  • Do not buy a car sight-unseen. When you show up after email negotiation, ask to drive the car they’ve got ready for you before you buy it.
  • Be prepared to leave at any time. Literally any time.
  • Do not get emotionally attached to any car before you’ve bought it. Dealerships count on your emotion as part of their strategy to fuck you.
  • Be prepared to leave at any time. Literally any time.
  • If you have a trade-in, by all means, mention it. However, have your prospective trade-in appraised at CarMax or another car-buying business first and have their written offer in your hands. If the dealer can match it, great! Let them! If not, then do your trade-in separately after you buy the car.
  • Be prepared to leave at any time. Literally any time.
  • No one in this process is your friend. However, everyone is still human. Don’t be afraid to be assertive, but also remember to be kind. You can be firm without being rude.
  • Be prepared to leave at any time. Literally any time.
  • Be prepared to leave at any time. Literally any time.
  • Be prepared to leave at any time. Literally any time.
  • Be prepared to leave at any time. Literally any time.

Good luck!


My adventures with my truck that decided to stop having problems one at a time and started ganging them up on me prompted me to start doing research, so I’ll share what I’ve got so far. I’ll put the tips about dealerships, financing, etc., in a separate message.

First, some of the car selection I need to do will have to be in person before I refine it online. The reason is that I am too big to fit into some of them without having to duck my head, and then when I get out, it feels like I’m having to climb up to get on my feet. With my pickup, I just move sideways and I’m sittiing on the bench seat. Plenty of headroom clearance at the door. There’s one model of car that I have an emotional attachment to because our family had one when I was a kid, but after riding in the 2017 model, I’d never buy it because it’s too uncomfortable to get in and out of.

I have a list of features like the above that are annoyances I’ve found in other vehicles so I can avoid them as much as possible. For example, side mirrors that are triangular-shaped might help with aerodynamics, but you lose as much as 20% surface area in the mirror itself, which means less visibility. Same goes with a body line where the doors slope upward and/or the roof slopes downward. Square windows, mirrors and body give you the most visibility for better defensive driving.

Check that the hazard lights are independent of the brake lights. Trust me, you may need this some day. As in having to stop quickly from 70 mph on an Interstate highway and you’re desperately trying to warn to the people behind you of the traffic jam ahead that they can’t see due to the curvature of the road and the hill it’s just beyond. On my truck, the brake lights are the hazard lights, so they stop flashing when you step on the brakes. I was told the car missed me by inches because he didn’t slow down as he changed lanes.

Look at the ground clearance under the front and rear bumpers. Are you going to be scraping curbs and parking stoppers when you go into a parking lot? What about entries to the lots that aren’t flat and even with the road? You might sacrifice some ground effects/aerodynamics and a little on the miles per gallon, but preventing undercarriage damage could be worth it. How many cars have you seen where someone spent a lot of money to get them lowered, and then you see them crawling over a speed bump to avoid scraping the car on the pavement?

Car alarms: some honk the horn when activated/deactivated, some just flash the lights. Is it selectable? Take this in consideration for your neighbors if you work graveyard or on-call shifts.

On some cars, they automatically unlock the doors if you put it in Park even if the engine is still running. Convenient, but what if you did that because you were going to be at a railroad crossing for a long time because a train is going by? Do you want someone who might be walking by to be able to open the doors? Auto-unlock after the key is turned off is better.

As Montgomery Scott said, “The more they overtake the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.” Do you need seats in a mini-van that can move sideways? Do you need “stick your foot under the sensor so it will open the door for you”? Do you need motorized side doors and hatch doors? Do you need heated seats? Do you need a built-in vacuum? For that last one, you can get a shop vac from Home Depot for as little as $30. What does the manufacturer charge for the convenience of a built-in vacuum, how much will it cost to fix it and how much of a hassle will it be to use it and clean out the filter?

Some key fobs have a panic button to activate the horn, but on one car, the end of the fob where the button is gets inserted into the dash so you can start the car. How would you use the panic function if you were in the car and it was running?

Cargo area in SUVs, min-vans, etc.: seats can fold down or be removed to increase cargo area, but for the latter, weigh having to have a place to store the seats. If increasing the storage area is something you need to do long-term, removable seats are stupid because you’re paying for something that won’t be in the vehicle very often. You’d still have that with fold-down seats, but at least converting them back into a seat only takes a few seconds instead of having to haul the seat out of your garage and reinstall it into the vehicle.

Folding power mirrors are good because they make the car narrower for tight areas. Check how close they sit to the door window. Will they accommodate a stick-on blind spot mirror?

On one or two rental vehicles, I couldn’t find a way to turn on the interior fan without having to start the engine. With more “no idle zone” signs going up, people might start getting snippy with you if you’re stuck with having to run the engine just to get a little air circulation.

Related note: you’ll often hear advice that running your air conditioner is better than rolling down the windows. Don’t forget that just running the fan will help your gas mileage a little more than using the air conditioner because the compressor motor doesn’t have to be activated if just the fans are running.

Oh, yeah, almost forgot. Don’t forget that with any advanced features that let you connect your smart phone, make getting those features wiped if you sell the vehicle later. The new owner might be able to see that old data. Likewise, you could snoop on the new owner’s activities if the connected features are still registered to you. See the “Buying a connected car or house? Better get it wiped” thread for more details.

On to the financial tips.

Run your credit report and get any issues taken care of first. If it doesn’t include the credit score, purchase that from Equifax, Experian or TransUnion.

Set a realistic budget: how much you can spend + the pre-approved loan amount + down payment. Aim for a few thousand dollars below that to cover taxes and fees. Check this against an affordability calculator at or It helps match what you got to the cars available.

Buy the car you want, not what the dealer has in stock so you won’t regret it when you see that car passing by on the street at a later date.

Depreciation. Buying a used car that is 2 or 3 years old means someone else takes the hit and the car will be about $8000 cheaper. A five-year old car could be $12,000 cheaper. But if you’re planning on keeping it 10+ years, depreciation is not as important because the overall value is just about the same. In my case, the car will primarily be used for work, so a new car gets a little higher reimbursement rate. I kept my truck for 25 years. I’ll keep this one for a long time, too, provided nothing catastrophic happens.

You’ll have to do your own research into trade-ins. I’m keeping my truck as a backup and it’s not worth enough anyway, so I haven’t done any research for this.

One website recommended making the down payment with a credit card so that if the dealership goes out of business before you get the car, you can dispute it with the credit card company. I wouldn’t do this unless I had the downpayment amount sitting in savings and could immediately pay off the credit card right after I got the vehicle.

Financing at the dealer:

  • The places they work with are called “captive lenders” since they’ve got an established relationship for arranging financing through them. Terms are often bumped up by 1 or 2% as a “dealer reserve” for sending you to them.
  • 0% financing. You only get that if you have excellent credit and make a large down payment.


  • If you’re pre-approved from your bank or credit union, you can take that to the dealership and see if they can beat that, but watch out for the 1-2% markup. If the pre-approval rate is 3% on a new car, they might not be able to do much better, and it might prevent you from getting the rebate from the manufacturer.
  • Places like credit unions may be able to work with the “fleet manager” for a better deal, and if you’re a Costco member, they have similar programs.
  • Gives you a better position to deflect add-ons and extended warranty offers you don’t want.
  • Pre-approved financing turns you into a “cash buyer”, but don’t say those words. Their profit margin is already going to be reduced because of this, so they won’t offer as many deals if you say it.
  • Helps you avoid the “what monthly payment are you looking for” trap. They inflate (“pack”) the costs with charges and fees.

Loan length:

  • Don’t get a 7 or 8 year loan. You’ll pay more in interest and that’s longer than the warrantees that come with the car or truck.
  • An extra year on the loan reduces the monthly payment but you pay a little more in total interest charges. Look for an online finance calculator.

Rebate vs. interest rate

  • Loan calculators can help you figure out which one is more advantageous to go for, like the one at Edmunds.
  • U.S. News & World report has an article that says rebates are high and interest rates are likely to go up next year. The 2008 recession meant people hung onto their cars longer and they bought used cars if they had to. There’s a bit of surplus inventory on new cars for a few reasons, so that’s led to the higher rebates to clear out inventory.

Whichever kind of financing you get, verify there are no penalties for paying extra each month or paying it off early. If the montly payment works out to $479.82 per month, pay $500. Makes it a nice round number and will reduce what you pay in interest over the life of the loan. There’s also the “1/10th rule” which says don’t spend more than 10% of your gross income on a car. Locks you into used cars, but you avoid the stress that comes from worrying about finances and damage to the vehicle/break-ins, you can use what you don’t spend for investing, and it’s less likely to induce you to increase spending to match the status of having a new car…

Best times to buy: Memorial Day weekend, Labor Day weekend, January 1st, end of month, end of quarter (March, June, Sept, Dec), end of model year, Black Friday.

  • Memorial Day’s a little iffy. There’s sales, but prices may still be a bit higher from the period right after April 15th where people are using their tax refund to buy a car, and prices are raised in anticipation of that.
  • January 1st: Makes a 2017 car sound less impressive because it’s now 2018. Kind of like how a $19.99 shirt is a “better” deal than a $20.00 shirt. It’s perceived value. Plus, it’s winter, so less people are buying cars then.
  • The salespeople are tracked on their monthly, quarterly and yearly performance, so buying within the last five days (or even the last day) of a month, quarter or year can get you a better deal if it helps them make the sale that meets their quota. If you can, sneak a look at the leaderboard if it’s posted. The ones at the top may be more willing to deal.
  • Don’t buy on a weekend or a sunny day. More people are out, salespeople are busier, test drives will be more rushed and they may not deal as much. Take time off from work if you need to and go mid-week.
  • End of model year: new models are introduced in August and September, so last year’s start getting reduced in price. Could be some good deals in October, but buying at the end of September might be better due to being in that timeframe plus being end of quarter. If there’s more ads for the new models, that’s the signal to look for the deals on the previous year.
  • If the manufacturer is coming out with a new generation of that vehicle, the old generation also gets reduced in price. Selection will be lower as time goes on. Causes higher depreciation, but not a big deal unless you sell it within a few years.
  • Model being discontinued = bigger discounts, with matching depreciation.
  • October through December: sales are slower, so deals can be better. Black Friday is turning into a big sales time, too.
  • Check for “stale inventory”: vehicles they’ve had in their stock for 45-90 days. Whatever their “turn time” is for getting in new stock, the old ones run into “floorplan curtailment”, which is an interest payment the dealership makes for keeping the vehicle too long.

Don’t buy the new model year vehicle right after it’s introduced. GM, Ford, Chrysler, etc., deliberately do not ship a lot of vehicles initially so that prices can be bumped up due to demand for the new shiny. Wait a few months before getting a 2018 model.

Negotiating tips:

  • Do not sign anything that says you’ll buy from the dealer if they can get you financing. Once you do, you’re stuck with buying from them because they’ll find a way to get financing and the terms won’t be as good as what you could get on your own.
  • If you are asked what color of vehicle you’re looking for, tell them “the color is not relevant at this time”. Once they know the color you like, it’s leverage they can use. For example, if they have to go to another dealership within their company to get the features you want in that color car, they’ll try to charge you for that task. You could buy it from that other place yourself.
  • Walking away from a negotiation isn’t just for defense against pushy/aggressive salespeople. A short break allows you to reconsider and/or the salesperson to offer an extra incentive.
  • Review each fee and have them explain what it’s for. They may have tried to add them in to compensate for the reduced price you negotiated.

Extended warrantees/service plans

  • Consumer Reports says that 55% of people who got one plan didn’t even use it. So they gave the dealership an average of $1200 they didn’t have to.
  • For the ones that did use the warranty, what they saved was less than the cost of the warranty, losing an average of $375.
  • Bumper-to-bumper warrantees are a better value than powertrain warrantees, don’t cost much more and can include things like repair-related reimbursements for towing charges or rental-car coverage.
  • Prices are about equal for getting one from the factory as from third-party companies.
  • Extended warranties do not have to be bought when you first get the car, despite what a salesperson might tell you. You can get them at any time before the manufacturer’s warranty expires, though the cost will go up as the vehicle gets older.
  • You can negotiate the price of the warrantee, just like the rest of the car.
  • If you buy one later, make sure pre-existing issues are covered. Beware of other gotchas that allow the company selling the warrantee to weasel out of honoring it, such as restrictions on repair shops.
  • Likewise, watch out for warrantee offers that come in the mail after you buy the car. Scams will be among the offers.
  • Dealerships will offer to include the cost of the warrantee in the price of the vehicle. Makes it convenient, butit means you’re paying interest on the warrantee in addition to the vehicle.
  • A better method is to take what you’d spend on the warrantee and put in an interest-bearing account. The money’s available if you need it and earns you interest if you don’t have to use it for a repair.

Things you can skip:

The same Consumer Reports article (located here), says to skip getting these items.

  • Rustproofing and undercoating. It’s not as much of a problem any more and the vehicle warranty covers it better.
  • Fabric protection. Buy a can of Scotchgard for $10 and do it yourself.
  • Paint sealant. Overpriced auto wax. Buy it at AutoZone and apply it yourself.
  • VIN etching. May already be listed on the contract to encourage you to get it. Etching the VIN into the windows sounds good, but if you have to replace them, you pay a second time for this. Plus, it’s less expensive from other places, or you can get an etching kit for $25.
  • Security system. Does lower insurance costs 10-30%, but if that’s not more than the cost of the system, it may not be worth it. Anti-theft and vehicle-recovery systems from an auto security specialty shop will be less, as long as it’s authorized for your vehicle so it doesn’t void the warranty.

I may have more later, but that’s all for now.

1 Like

I have already decided on @Lee_Ars biggest tip. I don’t need the car. My car is 20 years old, but it still runs, so I am perfectly willing to walk out and try somewhere else or try again later. I like the idea of doing the offer and negotiation by e-mail. I started the conversation, but haven’t been definite about a price or time, so I’ll do that when I’m ready. One dealer went out of his way to compliment my taste in cars, since I have chosen a less common model. (I’ll take that with a heaping tablespoon full of salt).

I know what car I want (Honda Civic SI, which is not a common car, I’m finding) and checked it out on Edmunds. The buying price they show there is $23,308 before tax. I was wondering if I could push for lower than that, or if I should aim for that.

@RRabbit42 - I have a good chunk saved up as a down payment (almost a third) but would like to have about 1/2, which I will have if I sell my current car first. I’m not going to do a trade-in with the dealer, because the blue book on my car is only about $500, but I have had a lot of interest in it when I’ve mentioned it at $1500. It’s a Honda Civic EX. I also plan to have my financing in hand through my credit union before I walk through the door of a dealership.

Thanks for all the tips!

You can push for as low as you want, but they might push back.

Don’t be afraid also to ask a dealer to custom-order a car for you with the options you want if you can’t find a model in stock that matches your needs. If they tell you they “can’t,” then they’re lying and you should leave. If they tell you they’d prefer not to, they’re at least being truthful :smiley:

A lot of folks love the idea of trying to screw the dealership over just like they try to screw you over, but IMO it’s better to approach the sale fairly. The dealership (even if it’s a useless parasite institution that hides behind idiotically outdated protectionist legislation) is a business and they need to be able to make some money on a sale. If you try to really put the screws to them and go deep under invoice (especially if the car is popular!) they’ll just say “nah.”

Rather than try to decide in a vacuum what a “good” discount is, your best bet is to start researching, extensively, what other people in your region of the country are buying Civic SIs for. There are probably a trillion Honda owner forums you can trawl through to start gathering prices—starting there would be an excellent idea. How low you can get a dealership to go is generally a function of their on-hand inventory (they want to move cars, not let them sit on the lot), the popularity of the car, and how close to the next model year refresh it is. You should also check to see if/when Honda offers dealer incentives, and what kind of a deal Honda’s finance company is offering on financing (and you should check with a local credit union for a comparison finance rate, too—frequently credit unions will have far better finance deals than dealerships, though not always, especially if the finance company is offering a special).

It’s all just a horrifyingly terrible amount of work—buying a car is one of the most unpleasant experiences of adult life, unless you’re one of those rare people who gets high off haggling. Unfortunately, state and federal dealership franchise lobby groups keep mandatory franchise laws in place across the country, so the US is stuck in this weird third-world hell where buying a car is like negotiating for a horse in the 1800s.

Other civilized countries don’t have to deal with this shit, and I envy them. Want to buy a BMW in Germany? You can buy it from BMW for a far more competitive price than you can in the US, and without any haggling.

I’ve used my credit card for every down payment I’ve ever made on a car because I want those sweet sweet points. If you’re going to put $10k down and you have the cash and the dealership is OK with it, there’s absolutely zero downside to charging it, getting $10k if miles/points/rewards/whatever, and then immediately paying it off. Absolutely do this if they’ll let you.

(Hell, I’d recommend this for any major purchase that you have the cash for. Always put it on the card for the rewards and then give the cash to the card company instead of the vendor!)


I don’t have much to add that hasn’t already been said but I definitely agree with Keep’s ‘walk out’ attitude. I have a friend who used to be a car salesman. That was his one golden piece of advice. After doing your research and knowing exactly how much a car is worth and what you will pay for it, walk in and tell the sales person if they agree to the price, they will have a sale in 20 mins. If not, literally turn around and walk out.

I’m currently waiting for the new Ranger and or the new Jeep truck to come out before replacing Truckie.

If the manufacturer is coming out with a new generation of that vehicle, the old generation also gets reduced in price. Selection will be lower as time goes on. Causes higher depreciation, but not a big deal unless you sell it within a few years.

I got my Ram for about 9k under MSRP, and 4k under Invoice, the rebates on the last year of this model are very strong, but it’s pushing Chrysler financing. I walked in with pre-approval, but took the 5% higher (Holy Crap!) from Chrysler for another 4k in instant rebates. I make 6 payments to them, according to the sales guy I could even pay six small payments to be one monthly bill but I’m not pushing that, and refinance through my bank at a near new car rate of 2.5-3%.

I’ve always enjoyed buying a car. But I’ve always bought used until this one. I’ve had about 15 cars, most of them paid with cash and driven for a year or two. My first real used car was a buy here pay here that blew it’s transmission halfway through the loan and a month after the warranty died. LEsson learned, two more junkers later I bought a real used car from a real dealer and drove it into the ground, traded it in on a slight profit for my Town and Country I put 200k miles on. Bought our last car as a tornado damaged vehicle, 6 months old and 30% lower than new, with some paint damage on the rear end.

This one I walked into a deal, no prep, had just happened to be stuck looking at Fords and not being able to pick one that had a good price/feature combination so we went to look at Dodge. They are doing a model rebuild for 2018, and inventories are high across the board for car dealers right now.

Unless you have specific car tastes like @Nabiki :wink:

Well, if I’m going to be driving it for the next dozen plus years, I want to like the car! I drove my first car for 11 years, had about three that I drove for 2-3 years, then my current one that I’ve been driving for 12 or 13 years. I keep my cars for a long time.

I get it. I keep mine forever compared to what I paid for them. In my youth I was buying lots of $250-500 cars and driving them, when they should have been ditched before I even bought them.

Now that I’m plugging real money into them it’s my plan to drive them for 10+ years, or mechanical failure, every time. We got rid of the mini-van because the whole transmission went out and we had gone from 5 of us to 3 of us, with a part time fourth, and we put 220k or so on it in 8 years, and a new engine halfway through that. It’s still running, I gave it to a buddy of mine, he dumped $3,500 into it and he’s since given it to his son, and it’s well on it’s way to 350k in mileage.

My first car was already 17 years old when I bought it for $500, driving it for just over a year was money well spent, average age I’d guess in the vehicles since then would be 10+ years. The 5 cars I bought while in the Army were all bad decisions… surprise.

My credit union also has auto services, so I’m checking them out too.

Mine gave me a pretty good deal on the Mini, which should be paid off soon-ish. I kind of miss my Jeep, and would get another Wrangler, but I don’t know if it makes sense while I’m driving the mileage I’m driving. The Mini is good on gas, even if it takes premium.

Most definitely—always a good idea. Then just pick the one with the better terms (assuming neither have any kind of penalty for early payment or anything else weird).

Has anyone here ever used Costco’s auto service? I haven’t heard back from my credit union car guy.

I’ve bought tires at Costco but not an entire car.

Buying tires at Costco is great. The really mean lifetime warranty.

Gah. The dealers that are contacting me are all trying to sell me a Honda Civic LX or EX. Neither of those are the car I asked for a quote on!

Only looked into it briefly, on two occasions. The dealers listed were not convenient for the one time, so we didn’t pursue.

The second time was funny - I was wondering how much a Nissan Leaf would cost, so filled out a request.

The only dealership Costco had for the Leaf was more than twice the number of miles away than the range of the Leaf’s battery.
Driving our new car home would have been fun!

.up to 107 miles on every charge…