Car Haggle Tips from DadHTP

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Time for another guest post from DadHTP (he has also penned posts on Buying a New and Used Bike and How to Shift Bike Gears Without Falling Over).  This post, however, isn’t about sports – it’s about haggling!


On last Friday, we headed to a Ford dealership so DadHTP could buy a car – he just moved from California to Charlotte and is giving up the RV lifestyle, so he needed a new ride.  He specifically opted for a new car instead of a used car because the new Ford Focus had much better safety features, which is very important to him.  I wrote about how, as a former salesman, he was the best haggler ever, and many of you asked for his advice on haggling.  Now, please remember that this is just his perspective on the process and, although it has worked for him for half a dozen cars (he’s helped friends buy cars because of his mad skillz), it may not be exactly true for every car at every dealership.


He says:  “Buying a car doesn’t have to be a horrible experience. The sales system is very traditional; just like waltzing, if you know the steps, it’s not hard at all.  First, pick a car that reasonably will fit your needs and budget.  Just go to dealerships, collect business cards, and decide what you may want to buy… and then leave.  Don’t ever start talking price, financing options, or trade-ins until you’ve gone back to your house to do your research on the specific car you’re interested in.  More information on researching is provided below.


First, have the salesperson find the car with the options you want, and then talk about only that car.  And again, never discuss more than one part of the transaction at time (i.e. the car, financing, trade-in).  These are all separate.  If you allow the salesperson to start working two parts of the transactions at once, you’ll lose track.  He does this every single day and stands to gain a lot by getting you confused or sidetracked.  If you start to feel like you’re losing control, it’s perfectly okay to say, “Would you mind stepping away and giving me five minutes?”  Remember: he’s not a bad person for wanting to sell the car for the most he can, and you’re not a bad person for wanting it for the lowest price.


I’m sure there is more than one service that offers pricing information; however, Consumer Reports has always worked well for me.  Buy and print out the reports and be sure to bring the reports with you to the dealership.  Lay them out on the table so the salesperson can see that you have this information.  Several salespersons have insisted that Consumer Reports ‘lies’ or ‘doesn’t understand the entire situation,’ and I’ve always just shrugged and let it go – I’ve found that they are normally willing to come pretty close to what Consumer Reports calls a ‘good price’ for the car.


Consume Reports breaks down the dealer cost for each option available for the car.  Remember that the retail price on the sticker is basically pointless.  Use the data provided in the Consumer Report to determine what the dealer’s cost of the car is, given the available options.  Unless the car you want is rare or in very high demand, almost any dealer will close at $300 over his cost. $500 over cost is a lock almost anywhere.  Getting to this point will take some time – bring a book or a snack! – but here’s how to do the haggle ritual correctly.


On top of the Consumer Report, write down your initial offer – a good initial offer is $200 over the total dealer cost of the car and the options.  Your salesperson will take this information to his or her boss.  You will be left waiting for half an hour… or an hour.  This is intentional; it’s to make you sweat and get bored.   Bringing a book signifies you’re willing to sit there to save $400 or $500 dollars, and your salesperson will, as a result, be less inclined to string out the haggle all day long.


When your salesman returns, he’ll have a typed counter-offer. In my case, it was $900 higher than my offer (or $1,100 over what I knew was the cost). I  thanked him for his time and started to stand up and leave. I barely had gotten off the seat before he said he’d go back to his boss. All I did was politely say goodbye, and he offered to get me a better price. After another half hour, he came back with a price that was $650 higher than my offer – much closer to what I was looking for, but still not great.


In response, you should say “We are still too far apart,” and add $200 to your initial offer – your first movement on your initial offer.  In my case, he was sure his boss wouldn’t go for it; so I looked at Caitlin and said I’ve got to re-consider the Malibu (their main competitor) and really did stand up and offer to shake hands goodbye. Remember – don’t EVER look to eager to buy the car, even if it really is your favorite one.  Once again, my salesperson asked me to wait while he spoke to his boss.


Keep in mind, this whole time we’ve all been friendly; he wants to sell a car, I want to buy a car, and we’re just trading offers. For all I know, he has no boss he’s actually taking my offer to – he may just be killing time in the break room.  At this point, you may actually be ‘turned over’ to the sales manager – what salespeople call a T-O – but don’t get flustered.  Even though your partner has changed, it’s still the same dance.  Every time they tell you ‘no way,’ just smile, thank them for their time, and start to leave. I have actually been stopped at the door on the way out of a dealership with a cry of, “Wait, wait! Don’t leave!”


When my guy returned, he asked for an extra $150 over my second offer. Clearly, this was over, so I offered to split it, and he quickly agreed. I ended up paid about $475 over their cost – a good deal for everyone. Just by sitting there at the dealership and talking with Caitlin, I saved $625 in comparison to their first counter offer (and over $2,500 off retail)… in three hours’ worth of work!


Regarding trade-ins:  You’ll get more for your old car if you have one by selling it yourself, but this is a headache. After you have a written price commitment on your new car, ask what you’ll get on your trade-in (remember, don’t do two transactions at once!).  You will be asked if you plan to trade in your car during the new car negotiation; just say you don’t know – because you won’t until you know what they’re really willing to sell you the new car for. Consumer Reports also has a used car price guide.


It’s better to know your financing options from your credit union, bank, or be approved online before you talk to the finance guy. This is another profit center for the dealer; he probably won’t offer you the lowest rate you’ll get, but he might match your best other offer (for example, my dealer immediately dropped 0.5% because I said someone else had offered that rate).  Be sure to shop around.


If anyone is interested in buying a new car but is too scared to haggle, I will happily serve as a buying agent.  I charge travel expenses plus $100 for haggling skills!”



  • Katie March 15, 2012, 7:56 pm

    I love the tips! And will have to remember the price you charge 🙂

  • Christin March 15, 2012, 8:00 pm

    This is awesome! Thanks, DadHTP!! We are searching for a new (to us) car right now. Going to show this to my husband…

  • claire March 15, 2012, 8:06 pm

    Great tips from DadHTP. I recently bought a new car. Recognizing that I had no haggle skillz I used which solicits offers from nearby dealerships after you put in the car and options you want. You get lower offers as dealers compete against each other; you save time from having to physically visit dealers; and you save the haggle time. You just go in with your printed offer after accepting. I got a car at a great price, haggle-free! (To know what a good offer is, you still should research prices as described by DadHTP)

  • Deanna March 15, 2012, 8:07 pm

    Great tips!!! I just bought a car in May using the Costco Auto program and paid only $100 over dealer invoice, no haggling involved (except over my trade-in). There are lots of participating dealerships and all you need is a Costco membership. That $50 membership saved me over $1,100 and a lot of headache. I’m guessing DadHTP’s tips may have saved me a bit more?!! I wish I would have done the financing beforehand, but I procrastinated – lesson learned!!!

  • Shayla @ The Good Life March 15, 2012, 8:11 pm

    Awesome post! Thanks so much DadHTP!!!! Question, I actually want to trade in my 2001 Ford Mustang for a new Ford Escape or Edge. Like you said, I know I’ll get more money if I do it by myself but it’s such a hassle!! Besides what you touched on in the post regarding trade-ins, what other advice can you offer? Like when I drive up to the dealership in my Mustang, and I’m sure the salesman will know what I’m up to, what should be the very first thing I say to really sound like I’m in control of the situation? Thanks!

    • HTPDad March 16, 2012, 8:26 am

      “I’m probably selling the myself” – after negotiating the new car price, “You know, out of curiosity, what will you give me for my Mustang?”

      Know you know the true cost of your new car, and what they’re willing to give you for yours.

      • Shayla @ The Good Life March 16, 2012, 5:38 pm

        Awesome!!! Thanks so much for the tip DadHTP – definitely going to do this 🙂

  • kirsten March 15, 2012, 8:11 pm

    This is SO helpful! Last time I made the mistake of going to a car dealer without researching and got totally screwed. Next time I will refer to this post before going 🙂

  • Lauren March 15, 2012, 8:26 pm

    So funny, because I JUST spoke on this topic to a group of high schoolers yesterday. I could have used you at my presentation. 🙂

  • Sara March 15, 2012, 8:28 pm

    Awesome! Only discussing one thing at a time is great advice. My husband is a good haggler too. We got his car for a steal. And I think I’m fairly impressive too (I impressed his family with my mad skills, ha.) I bought my current car all by myself as a sophomore in college. I went in, I told them exactly what I wanted, told them I was only willing to pay x and they got it for me! Now we just need DadHTP to review the Focus for us (I’ve driven one twice as a rental and have been pretty impressed!)

  • Hillary March 15, 2012, 8:35 pm

    These are great tips, actually! I bought my first new car in the fall, and I took my dad with me. I hated being “that girl” but I had never done this before and he, like your dad, considers himself a MASTER haggler. It was an intense eight hour day, but I learned a lot and left with the car I wanted for a great price!

  • Kim March 15, 2012, 8:56 pm

    This was very helpful info. Thank you DadHTP. I have a Ford Focus and I just love the thing.

  • Carolyn March 15, 2012, 9:21 pm

    Great tips… And He’s even haggling us. “If anyone is interested in buying a new car but is too scared to haggle, I will happily serve as a buying agent.  I charge travel expenses plus $100 for haggling skills!”

  • Allison March 15, 2012, 9:22 pm

    I have to add – buying a car out of season is a TOTAL steal. I bought a convertible sports car in a blizzard…and withing 90 minutes of negotiating I got the price I was seeking. At the last minute I insisted they allowed me to put the car on my credit card (so I could get the rewards points) and after a quick grumble, they agreed!

  • LindsayH March 15, 2012, 9:30 pm

    These are good general tips but you can get a way better deal than this on a new car. I’ve never paid over invoice for a new car (and the dealer still makes money, so the salesperson still gets a commission).

    • HTPDad March 16, 2012, 8:29 am

      the invoice price is before holdbacks, rebates, volume incentives and whatever other programs the manufacturer is running – if you’re buying a car for “invoice” he still is making money – how else keep the lights on?

      • LindsayH March 16, 2012, 9:35 am

        Yeah, that was my point.

  • Carla March 15, 2012, 10:07 pm

    Caitlin, I just got a new 2012 Ford Focus too! I loved the safety features and the SYNC system. I got the 5 door and it looks like a little bean. I call mine the “swagger wagon”. Tell DadHTP good advice! Never be a hungry tiger!

  • Katie @ Peace Love & Oats March 15, 2012, 10:16 pm

    This is great! Haggling is something I would be awful at, I’m glad to have these tips for when I buy my first car after law school!

  • Katie @ Soulshine and Sassafras March 15, 2012, 10:33 pm

    I just bought a new car in November and could definitely have used some of these tips! I’ll have to keep them in mind next time around.

  • Stellina @ My Yogurt Addiction March 15, 2012, 10:54 pm

    Great skills! My dad uses the exact same method! Maybe it’s a dad thing?!

    • Rosi March 19, 2012, 12:20 am

      My dad does the same thing. I think it is. 😉

  • Laura Ann March 15, 2012, 11:13 pm

    Thank you so much, this is wonderful advice! My car is currently getting dangerously close to being driven into the ground, so it won’t be too long before I’ll be putting this great info to use. Thank you!!!

  • Taylor @ Nuts for Apples March 16, 2012, 12:37 am

    These are such great tips! I’m looking at upgrading pretty soon to a bigger car so this was a great refresher!

  • Jen March 16, 2012, 12:49 am

    I’ll pay travel expenses plus $40! Hahaha…no major purchases planned in the immediate future – just practicing! 🙂

    • Laura March 16, 2012, 8:38 pm

      I was thinking the same thing! We’re good students 🙂

      • Jen March 16, 2012, 10:59 pm

        Great minds think alike! 🙂

  • Lili March 16, 2012, 2:16 am

    Great post, DadHTP!! I need to bookmark this or even print it for future references!!

  • March 16, 2012, 6:33 am

    Excellent advice, all wrapped up neatly in one place. I also like how you keep it professional: no need to get nasty over both sides doing what they need to do. You really should write a book, not kidding.

    • Marla March 16, 2012, 9:34 am

      I agree….
      maybe a book with helpful “life tips”
      along the lines if the posts you have written here.
      While you wait for your grandchild to arrive
      why not start penning your book ?

  • Glenneth March 16, 2012, 6:52 am

    This came at the perfect time as I will be car shopping this weekend. While getting a new car is fun, the process is dreadful. Thanks for sharing!

  • Nikki March 16, 2012, 7:32 am

    What a great write-up! I bought a new car in December (a jetta sportswagon) and the haggling process was so passive aggressive. As we test drove, the salesperson would ask “who’s name is the title going in?” to see how serious we were. We knew better though! 🙂 Also, whenever the manager wrote down his “new offer” he would do it in bright blue sharpie over my initial offer. Eventually I pulled out my own sharpie from my wonder-purse.

  • Charity March 16, 2012, 8:22 am

    I am going to make my hubby read this as we will be purchasing a new vehicle for me after the baby arrives!

  • Megan S March 16, 2012, 8:58 am

    Wow, really helpful! Thanks dadHTP!

  • Mary Carol Reddick March 16, 2012, 9:09 am

    What a great post!! HTPDad – I will come pick you up so you won’t have any travel expenses & give you $75 for your expertise! Ha ha… LOL I’m TOTALLY kidding!! I’m just practicing my new skills! 🙂 (I’ll probably get an F for saying this, but I would probably pay you double for those skills!)

  • Kailey March 16, 2012, 9:18 am

    I have two family members in the car business, so it was interesting to read this from the other perspective! I’ve never had to worry about the whole car-buying process because my dad takes care of it for me (thank goodness!), and we’ve purchases several used cars through dealerships all over the country or independent sellers (NICE cars we get for a huge deal). Anyway, interesting! And thanks for saying sales guys aren’t bad people!

  • Kristren March 16, 2012, 9:29 am

    This made me laugh because you sound just like my dad! He is a consumer reports junky and got my 2011 Kia Soul, brand new with the upgrades for like $1,000 cheaper than what they were listing it as…then we were able to get the extended warranty plus some other warranty while still keeping my payments low. He spent about four hours haggling though, I feel sorry for you poor dads but somehow you are geniuses! Thanks for the great advice!

  • Marla March 16, 2012, 9:32 am

    I found this very easy to read and understand-
    thank you very much for sharing your opinions
    on what for many of is such a stressful ordeal.
    Really appreciate this post!Very well written.

    Best wishes on your transition to non-RV life! 🙂

  • Britt March 16, 2012, 9:41 am

    I’m so glad dadhtp gets to be close to the baby

    Ps. I can’t imagine waiting to find out boy / girl. The birthday is going to be sooooo special.

  • Amanda March 16, 2012, 9:46 am

    Such a great post!! It really helps those of us that dread the car buying experiece!

    Have fun being a papa!!

  • Ashley @ This Is The Place March 16, 2012, 9:54 am

    This was awesome. I haggled for my first car. I actually left one dealership over $300 difference. The guy said “I can’t believe you’re going to walk away for $300!” I said “I can’t believe you’re going to let me leave.” And left.

    Two hours later, he called offering my price. Too bad I was already signing at a different dealership! 😉

  • Kate @ ibrokemyumbrella March 16, 2012, 10:46 am

    Wow. I cannot thank you and Dad HTP enough for putting together this post. I actually cried in the dealership from stress when I bought my first car. Granted, I was 21, and I stress easily. I’m have to buy a new one soon, and have literally been dreading it because of that experience. This made it seem so straightforward and methodical. I love the “remember you’re not a bad person for wanting the lowest price.” That’s so important. Thank you guys!!

  • Jen March 16, 2012, 10:53 am

    When we haggled for my mom’s new SUV at Kendall Toyota, she got the guy all the way down…then offered to bake him rocky road fudge bars if he’d throw in fog lights for free. He did; she showed up the next day with the dessert. (He didn’t actually expect her to, either!)

  • Sara March 16, 2012, 11:14 am

    hey caitlin,
    just wanted to say this is a post i will be bookmarking — thanks for the tips…

    i just started reading the blog a few weeks back (never commented before) and wanted to tell you i’ve quickly become a huge fan — i’m really enjoying your approach to food, nutrition, and life in general!

    Thanks! -Sara

    • Caitlin March 16, 2012, 8:23 pm

      Thank you!!

  • Kelly March 16, 2012, 12:08 pm

    I have always found buying a car one of the most stressful thing in life. I dread it like the worst thing you can imagine. Thank you for this very concise guide to haggling. I hopefully won’t be buying a new car for quite some time but I will keep this so that I know what to do. I find it funny though that a salesman would want to drag this out for hours when their time is money.

  • Angie C. March 16, 2012, 12:33 pm

    Love this, thank you so much! Sales is nothing more than a dance when you know the steps it’s not so scary.

  • Amber K March 16, 2012, 3:26 pm

    The whole idea of haggling still seems stressful to me, but I love how this is all laid out. It “seems” easy. 🙂

  • Amy @ The Nifty Foodie March 16, 2012, 6:49 pm

    I love this post! When I purchased my current car (my first new car), we were very persistent with the deal we wanted and actually ended up with my keys in my old car ready to leave when the salesperson ran out saying they would make the deal. Persistence is key. I REALLY wanted that car, but it’s so true….do not let them know that. 🙂

    I also went at the end of the month, which I hear gives you more leverage as well, since salespeople have quotas to meet. (not sure how true this is)

  • Kaitlyn March 16, 2012, 11:10 pm

    Thanks for this post! It was quite timely as I read it as soon as I got back from two dealerships yesterday! I was feeling defeated because I can’t stand the haggling, why not just be honest? I am also buying a used car and not new, so it is a bit different. I just looked tonight and saw that cars are cheaper where my dad lives (NH, ME, VT) compared to where I live (CO, WY), so I may wait a few months and drive back there. Then I will have my daddy to play the haggler!

  • Mary Nell March 17, 2012, 4:51 pm

    I love the tips. I’m pretty good at doing those things except I tend to fall in love with rare type of car that is in high demand AND I hate that it is such a LONG dance and they don’t just believe me when I say, “This is my lowest price”–they think I’m trying to play a game.

    I was confused by the “invoice cost” versus “dealer cost” so I looked this up and found it defined in this way:
    “So true dealer cost would look something like this:

    Invoice price
    -Dealer cash
    -Customer cash
    =Dead cost

    So now what. Now you need to determine what is a fair profit. Forget about one hundred dollars over cost. When you hear those hype ads for $100 OVER INVOICE!!! that is because of the hundreds or thousands of dollars of hidden profit we just discussed. So what is a fair price? $500 over cost is a great deal for most domestic cars in good supply, $800 to $1000 over is fair for imports and some domestics in good demand, $1500 or more may be necessary on hard to find or specialty cars. “

  • Jenny March 17, 2012, 5:01 pm

    Ok, just hit the print button 🙂 I am going car shopping in about 5 minutes. I am going to use all of your advice. I will let you know if it works (I know it will) but want to give you some feedback 🙂 thanks again for the great post!

  • Emily April 2, 2012, 11:25 am

    Oh man, I wish this applied to used cars, too – it’s such a crap shoot because you never know how much THEY have in the car…

  • Hannah June 26, 2012, 10:38 pm

    How much of this applies to used cars? Any tips there? Halp!

    • Cait December 29, 2012, 2:26 pm

      I second this request! I’m shopping for a used car and would love to hear DadHTP’s tips on getting a fair price for a used car!

  • Bradley Wilson August 28, 2012, 8:20 am

    Geat article, and really grat tips. Thank you so much!

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