New Cars: Driving a Deal

How to shop for a car online—and get the best bargains.

Style > Best Bargains Package

It had been 11 years since I last bought a car, 15 for my husband. We figured the Internet, loaded with car-buying Web sites, had made price haggling as passé as manual windows.

This time around, we would find out online what we should pay for the car we wanted, get bids from dealers on Web sites like and, then go with the cheapest quote. We wanted no haggling, no games, no bringing in the “manager” for the hard sell. No driving away with a car—and the feeling you’ve been fleeced.

But somehow, even armed with our online research and price quotes, the experience was only marginally better than it had been a decade ago. Here’s what we learned:

1. If you use Web sites that invite dealers to e-mail you with their absolute best price, wait a week (or two) and you may get another e-mail (or two) lowering that price by as much as $500.

2. When you get to a showroom with a printout of the price you’ve been quoted, the salesperson may try to add on as much as $800 for “dealer add-on” packages that include things like mudguards and tire locks. If you want those things, make sure you factor that into your calculations when getting, comparing, and negotiating prices.

3. Once a dealer has your e-mail and/or phone number, he or she is likely to use it—frequently. We got e-mails from three different salespeople at the same dealership.

4. The financing, too, is negotiable. The sales manager at the Honda dealership where we bought our car told us we could finance at 0.9 percent. After we signed on the dotted line, the finance person told us the rate was 5.9. When we complained, he consulted with the sales manager and gave us the better rate. Another option is to find your own financing in advance—you can search the best rates at—and the dealer should be willing to match it.

This article appears in the August 2008 issue of Washingtonian magazine. To see more articles in this issue, click here.


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Susan Baer

Susan Baer is a former Washingtonian editor and Baltimore Sun correspondent who has also written for CNN and the Washington Post. She can be reached at [email protected].