10 Tips for How to Buy a Car from a Dealership

A Car salesman advice on how to buy a car from a dealership





So I’ve been married to a car salesperson for 28 years! And one thing he knows is that I hate it when someone tries to sell me something. I want to research, try out the product and make my own informed (or emotional) choice. Many people dread buying a car because they don’t know if they’re getting the best deal or not. Buying from Craigslist or Autotrader can be unsettling because there are so many scams out there. So what do you do when you’re on the car lot and are faced with a live car salesperson? Well, let me give you our 10 tips for how to buy a car from a dealership!

I know I’m biased, but my husband is a great salesperson. The proof is that his customers love him and continue to come back to him because they know that he has integrity. He’s honest, will give them the best deal and will help them find the best car to meet their needs/desires. So I thought I would share some of his advice on the best way to buy a car from a dealership.



Before you buy a car from a dealership - checklist of what you need to know

How to Buy a Car from a Dealership

Here is exactly what you need to do and what you need to know when buying a car from a dealership directly from an experienced car salesman.

1. List Your Needs and Wants

One problem is people go to the dealership and they don’t know exactly what they want or need. They waste their time (and the salesperson’s time) and may leave frustrated that they didn’t find the car they hoped to find.

So first, make a list of your needs and wants in a vehicle. Think about how many miles you’ll be driving and what you’ll be using the car for: Vacations, work, pleasure, errands, taking kids to school, etc. How many different people will be driving the car? How many people will be riding in the car on a regular basis? Be thinking of the size of the car you want and the type of vehicle you want–SUV, truck, mini-van or car. Bringing this list with you or knowing it will help you in buying a car from a dealership–or anywhere, for that matter.

10 Tips for How to Buy a Car from a Dealeship DiscoverCreateInspire.com

2. Decide on Your Budget

Know your budget before you go to the dealership because ultimately, it will determine what type of car you are able to buy. Be realistic. And don’t let anyone talk you into spending more. The questions you need to ask yourself are:

  • How much are you able and/or willing to pay per month?
  • Or is the bottom-line amount most important–the total you will be spending?
  • Are you wanting to finance the car or pay cash for it?
  • If you’re wanting to finance, how is your credit?

Be upfront with the salesperson about your finances so that he can help you as best as he can. Remember that he wants you to be able to buy that car and a good salesperson will let you know your options for financing. If you really don’t know how things work, talk with a friend or family member who has financed a car before. Ask them to go through how it worked for them and maybe even have them go with you when you purchase your car.

10 Tips for How to Buy a Car from a Dealeship DiscoverCreateInspire.com

Financing Vs. Leasing a Vehicle

If you finance your car for lower payments and for a longer time, you may end up being what dealerships call “upside-down” on your car. That means that you will owe more than it is worth–more than you would be able to sell or trade it in for. If you drive the car very little and put very few miles on it, this might work out okay for you. The average car gets 12,000-15,000 miles per year. If you put a lot more than that, the value of the car will go down quicker.

If you are the type of buyer who wants a new car every two or three years, you should really consider leasing a vehicle. You will get all the warranties and you won’t have to worry about resale or trade-in value. You can turn it in at the end of your lease, and lease a new car of your liking. All you have to consider for leasing is the monthly payments.  The monthly payment on the lease of a new car is often cheaper than the payment on a five-year loan on a new car. With leasing, you can have a lower payment on a basic car, or you can have a similar payment to having a loan with more equipment and amenities.

3. Do Your Research Ahead of Time

Once you narrow down the type of car you want, do some research online as to the pros and cons of specific models. Check for: Gas mileage, safety ratings, reliability, and for used cars, check the Kelly Blue Book price compared to what the cars are listed for. For new cars check True Car to get the average selling price for new vehicles.

10 Tips for How to Buy a Car from a Dealeship DiscoverCreateInspire.com

4. Look Up Cars on the Dealership Websites

Check out the inventory on the dealer’s website and be familiar with the prices of the cars you are interested in. If you are willing to drive an hour or two away, sometimes you can find a better deal on the car you like, so be sure to look up area dealerships and check their websites as well. Always call to find out if they have the vehicle in stock before driving far to see it. Talk directly to a manager or salesperson and ask them to hold it for you.  Get the person’s name and phone number of the person you talked to, so that you can confirm it if necessary.

5. Find the Best Salesperson

When you know the basic models you are interested in, start asking friends and family for recommendations for a salesperson. It really makes a difference when you get a salesperson who has integrity and who you can trust.

It’s a good idea to call ahead to make an appointment with the specific salesperson. Ask for them by name when you call or call them directly if you have their number. If you just show up, the better salesperson may be with other customers and you could get shuffled off to a less knowledgable salesperson.

Tell the salesperson on the phone the type of cars you are looking for–make, model, year, color. All the things that are important to you. They either know or can quickly look up what is in their inventory. Also, many car dealerships have multiple stores in their network, so your salesperson



6. CarFax and AutoCheck

For used cars, ask your, salesperson, for the CarFax or AutoCheck. This gives a quality score as well as owner and accident history for every used car out there.

Before you test drive a car - what you need to know

7. Before You Test Drive a New Car

Now that you’ve done your research, it’s time to choose your top two vehicles. Maybe you like one more than the other, but keep an open mind. Things you need to consider:

Are you willing to sacrifice the color you want to save money? Maybe you’ve always dreamed about having that red car or black truck, but what if they have a silver one at a very discounted rate? Are you willing to give in and get the better deal?

Decide what other factors are important to you. Some things to consider:

  • Is it comfortable?
  • Is there good visibility?
  • Does it have the equipment that you want or need?
  • If people are riding in the back seat–is it spacious, comfortable, convenient?
  • Will the trunk size accommodate your needs?
  • Does it have good gas mileage?

8. What to Look for When You Test Drive a Car

Next, it’s time to go and do a test drive. Be sure and test drive both of the cars you’ve picked out. And don’t buy until you’ve driven both! Even if you are convinced ahead of time of what you want, your second choice might surprise you. Or you might get a better deal on it.

Go through the checklist as you are looking at your car. And it really wouldn’t hurt to bring a printed list with you. It’s easy to forget your train of thought as the salesperson is doing his job and going through all of the amenities of the car or giving you their pitch. If the salesperson doesn’t automatically list the amenities, be sure to ask about them. Even see if they have a list of them for each car you are serious about.

When driving it, be sure to drive at various speeds to get a feel for the car. How do the gas pedal and acceleration feel? How are the brakes? Remember, though, that it always takes a little time to get used to a new car. Is this something you could get used to easily.

10 Tips for How to Buy a Car from a Dealeship DiscoverCreateInspire.com

9. Should I trade in my car?

If your car is an older car–say more than 10 years old–you always can sell it for more yourself than the dealer will give you for it. Check the Kelly blue book price to see what your car could sell for before going in to buy a car from a dealership. The Kelly Blue Book will give you both trade-in values and resale values. From there you can make your decision and know if the dealership is giving you a good value for your car.

While selling your car yourself may bring you more money, many choose not to because of the hassle. It can be time-consuming to sell your car yourself. You have to advertise, find time to show it, find a safe place to exchange cash, and then possibly go without a car while you are attempting to buy your new car.  The benefits of trading in a car are that it’s easy and convenient and you can transfer your license plates to your new car which saves a few dollars. The right decision is really up to you.

And did you know that you can still trade your car in even if you still owe money on it? As your salesperson about options.

When you bring in your car to a dealership to trade it in, bring it clean, but don’t spend money detailing it. The dealership will give you less money if you have a lot of junk that has to be cleaned out. Also take any extra keys, books, and title and registration to be ready to trade it in.

tips to buy a car from a dealer

10. More Tips for How to Buy a Car from a Dealership

a. Many people dread buying a car at a dealership because they don’t like the price-haggling process. When possible, go to dealerships that have the prices on the cars and prices online. Be aware of the fine print online–like price doesn’t include destination charges, processing fees, taxes, etc.

b. When being quoted a price, be sure that the dealership spells out to you the cost of the car, any discounts, AND the trade-in value of your car in writing.

c. Depending on the commission/pay plan of the dealership, it is often best to go purchase a car the last few days of the month. This doesn’t matter so much for dealerships that don’t pay on commission. When you call your recommended salesperson to make an appointment, it wouldn’t hurt to ask him if they are paid on commission or not.

d. Don’t go when it is almost closing time. You don’t want to be rushed to make a decision because they are closing.  Go during the day in daylight so you can see the cars better. As mentioned above, for the best service, make an appointment with your salesperson so he is expecting you.

e. Sometimes a dealership will have cars that they are wanting to move–as in they are very motivated to sell. It may be because they have too many of the same color or same equipment, or not very popular color, oldest ones in the lot–like the previous year’s model–or something like that. If you are willing to be flexible on these things, you can sometimes get a pretty good bargain. Ask your salesperson or the manager if they have any cars that they are selling at a special price for these reasons.\

11. Bonus Tip – Rethink the SUV

Lastly, according to my husband, “everybody” wants an SUV. Be aware that they cost more because they are four-wheel or all-wheel drive. The supply is less than the demand, keeping the price of even the used SUVs higher.  Mini-vans can have the same or more space than an SUV and generally cost less. The insurance on SUVs costs more, as well, and the gas mileage is not as good. If you are not needing the space, a sedan or coupe car could be a more affordable option for you.

Hopefully, my husband’s tips for how to buy a car from a dealership will help you get the car you really want and need. Do you have more tips? Let our readers know if the comments below! If you have more questions about buying cars, post in the comments and I’ll be sure to ask my own expert car salesman!

10 Tips for How to Buy a Car from a Dealership DiscoverCreateInspire.com #buyacar #howtobuyacar

71 thoughts on “10 Tips for How to Buy a Car from a Dealership”

  • Great list. I wish I had it last year when I bought a new car.

    • Thank you! Hope it’s helpful for the future! 🙂

  • Great advice ! I always feel uneasy when I go to a dealership to buy a car and this will help so much!

    • Thank you. I hope it does help.

  • Nice article. oe every young person buying a car should read.

    • Thank you. Yes, new car buyers would do well to know this information.

  • Wow, what a great list!! I’ll have to come back to go over it again next time we’re looking for new wheels. 🙂

    • Thank you! Hope it helps.

  • Ugg I think it’s so hard to buy a car. It’s one of those things that give me anxiety. Great tips

    • Understandable. Hopefully these tips will take the stress out of buying a car next time.

  • great tips! I bought my car a few months ago so def could have used some of these 😅

    • Well, there’s next time… 🙂

  • These are amazing and upfront tips. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Awesome. And you’re welcome.

  • I’m dreading having to get a new car in the next few years. I have my 2010 Ford Escape that was a hand me down from my dad. It was the only car I wanted to drive and I love it and have put close to 100k miles on it. I have no idea what I would get next because they don’t make the Escapes the same way they used to. Hopefully I don’t have to decide any time soon!

    • It’s a good idea to get to know some cars ahead of time, just in case. Consumer’s Reports comes out with great lists of cars each year and it’s a great place to start learning.

  • Great insider info! I hope I need this soon! I have new car fever 🙂

    • Haha. Uh-oh. Time to buy!! 😉

  • Great tips. I’ve been driving my car a few years longer than I intended because I hate going to the dealerships!

    • I hear you! Follow these tips for getting a great deal next time.

  • UGH such a timely post as I will need to do this soon. I hate dealing with car sales.

  • Tricia Snow says:

    Great post and tips! I actually enjoy car shopping and negotiating. People have asked me to go with them before! lol

    • Nice! Well, maybe my list has given you more tips to help your friends. 🙂

  • Good tips! We keep cars forever, but you do have to buy one every now and again. I would be nervous to go by myself, but I would feel better with this list. Your husband sounds great, too’

    • Thank you. My husband is great. 😉 Finding the right salesman is key–and using this list for tips.

  • Lisa Manderino says:

    This is great information, we are looking to buy a car at a dealership soon!

    • Awesome! Hope I helped.

  • Thanks for this indepth post. It’s been a few years since we had to buy a car and each time it’s been stressful.

    • Hoping these ideas can take the stress out for your future car purchases.

  • I know I am the odd one out – but I LOVE buying cars! Great tips for all! Now I want to go car shopping!

    • Haha. Well, my husband likes to buy them, too. Hope you find what you like!

  • Great tips, I always find buying a car intimidating.

    • Hopefully, these ideas will help you next time.

    • You’re very welcome.

    • Thank you, and you’re welcome.

  • Charlotte says:

    Great article. Interesting information. It’s great getting insider info.

    • Thank you. Hope it helps some people.

  • Great tips! My car is 2011, so I’m not sure that trading it in will be super helpful. Thanks for the advice.

    • You may be able to call the dealership or take your car in ahead to see what they will be able to offer you BEFORE you go in to purchase.

    • Thank you. It sure can. Glad to help.

  • Great post for anyone getting ready to buy a car! So many people get worked over by salesman, this list will help.

  • All great tips! However, I feel like if I am upfront with a sales person, then I get screwed in the end. If I give them a range…a large range, I can negotiate more. I do not like sales people in general – most of them are only out for themselves or at least that has been my experience.

    • It’s really important to get recommendations to find a good salesman. Letting them know exactly what you want will help them get you exactly that.

  • This was the most informative post I’ve read all year. I’m not currently car shopping, but I hate it with a passion. Your tips (your husband’s tips) are incredibly helpful. Thanks for sharing.

    • Awesome! I’m so glad and you’re welcome!

  • Great tips! I find buying a car overwhelming. However, our last experience was great. It has made me a customer for life. Oh, I won’t give up my SUV. LOL. I am short and it makes me feel safe. 🙂

    • Haha. People love their SUVs. 🙂 Glad you found a good salesperson and dealership to work with.

  • I saved this for the next time we are looking for a car. Thanks for the tips!

  • Great information next time I buy a car.. Thanks!

    • Thank you and you’re welcome. I hope my tips help you to buy a car from a dealership next time.

  • Great tips! My husband went from a teaching career to being a car salesman several years ago, so he understands the frustrating experience that can occur when buying cars.

  • Suzan | It's My Sustainable Life says:

    Great tips for those having to deal and wheel 🙂

    • Yes. It’s best to buy a car from a dealership that has the prices on the stickers and online with no haggling.

  • This is great information! Buying cars can be so stressful!

    • Awesome! You are so right.

  • Love the tips! Buying a car is a super stressful and overwhelming experience for a really important decision. Thos should certsinly help wothblessening the anxiety it can create

    • Thank you. Yes, I hope we’ve helped. 🙂

  • I just recently bought a new car and I did just this but the dealership did not like it because I would not budge from my budget plan. I did finally walk out of the dealership with the car I wanted and the price. Good advice thank you for sharing

  • Car buying for me is like the dentist – not a fun experience. Thanks for writing this to help me out

  • I have needed a list like this. I have 4 teens and all will be needing their own car within the next 4-5 years.

    • Oh, wow Karla. Bless your heart! Hope this helps!

  • We are in the market for a new a car, so this was perfect to come across.

    • Wonderful! Hope it helped. Enjoy your new car!

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