What's the best way to negotiate for a car through email?
July 2, 2009 11:49 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to negotiate for a new car using email?

Note: I've never negotiated to buy a car before.

I've recently begun emailing local Honda dealers for quotes on the model I want, and the responses have been uneven. My basic email is:

"Could you please give me a quote on X car?"


"I have a quote from another dealer for $X; can you go lower than that?"

A couple of dealers have flat out not responded, or have responded without actually giving a quote. This surprises me, given how aggressive the auto sales market is, and especially considering that this is a buyer's market. Are these guys just idiots?

Any advice on how I could improve my chances of getting the best deal?

Thank you
posted by mpls2 to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You'll find that dealers will probably not quote you, an unknown, a price for a car via e/mail. There are too many variables that they need to consider before giving you a price.

Getting the best deal will involve doing your homework on the dealer's cost for the car, knowing what promotions are available, and shopping two or three recommended dealers. But you'll need to do this in person.
posted by HuronBob at 11:53 AM on July 2, 2009

You need to decide what price you want to pay. Go to Edmunds and price out your car using their True Market Value feature. Price out the exact car, options and everything, that you want. Know exactly what you want. Take a few hundred dollars off the TMV price, and offer to pay that.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:59 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You want this really epic comment.
posted by Phire at 12:00 PM on July 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

you'll want to read this!

...on preview, Phire wins.
posted by gursky at 12:00 PM on July 2, 2009

Getting the best deal will involve doing your homework on the dealer's cost for the car, knowing what promotions are available, and shopping two or three recommended dealers. But you'll need to do this in person.

I can't disagree with this any more. Do a test drive in person, but do not buy a car following the test drive. During the actual negotiation, handle everything by email. Make it clear that you will not deal with them in person, over the phone, etc. Email should be your only form of contact with the dealership until you have arrived at a final price.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:01 PM on July 2, 2009

Do a test drive in person, but do not buy a car following the test drive.

Of course, you will buy the car following the test drive. I mean, don't buy a car during the same visit that you test drive. Make it clear to the salesperson that you will not be buying on the day you test drive.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:02 PM on July 2, 2009

Some people do successfully negociate by email.

Great Post with Hundreds of Favorites

Create a throw-away email and giving lots of information about what specific car and features you want. The more detail, the more they are likely to feel that you are real buyer rather than just someone wanting general information.

Suspected formula:

More detail in email to dealers = more responses from said dealers
posted by SantosLHalper at 12:03 PM on July 2, 2009

Go to edmunds.com to blast an email to a couple dealers. There are some other sites that will do similar things, look on AskMeFi for some examples I can't remember off the top of my head.

If a dealer in particular won't respond call them up, ask for a quote, and ask them to email you the quote. Don't be afraid to sound a little confrontational, as long as you don't resort to personal attacks it's fair game.

It's much more convenient to negotiate with email because you can forward offers back and forth. If you can find 2-3 dealers who are willing to correspond with you chances are pretty good you'll eventually reach a good price by playing them off each other, so don't feel obligated to contact every dealer in the area.
posted by rq at 12:05 PM on July 2, 2009

Best answer: Your mileage (heh) may vary, but here was my experience in buying a new Honda a few years ago (when it was a sellers market, especially because I was buying a hybrid which had a long waiting list):

Called all of the dealers around (probably a dozen or so) and asked for their best price. Sometimes it took some "Are you sure that's your best cost, because if it is I'm not buying from you" talk or calling multiple times and mentioning other quotes to get them to reach a final best price. Not coincidentally (in my opinion) other than a few high quotes they all had the exact same final best offer down to the dollar. Several of them also implied that this particular number was going to be the best I would get in the area.

There was only one dealer that quoted me a lower price, and it was only lower by around $500 or so. I ended up going there to buy it, thinking that the difference was worth it. When it got to the point that they had the contract in front of me and I was writing out a check for the downpayment, they said something along the lines of "Wait, hold on a minute" and produced a fax that they claimed was from Honda saying that they were going to have to start charging some extra $500 fee starting that day, which meant that the actual cost would be $500 more. Obviously I was not happy about that and said that the only reason I was buying from them in the first place was because of the amount that they quoted. Their response to that was that on the phone they had said "What if I sold you the car for $X?" rather than "I will sell you the car for $X" which meant that it wasn't legally binding, which is around the time I left and went somewhere else to buy the car.

The dealer I ended up buying from tried to upsell me on the usual stuff (undercoating, extended warranty, etc.) which meant that I had to sit through a video presentation and various hard sell conversations before they finally took no for an answer, but other than that they charged me the same quoted price that I got from everyone else.

So, at least in my case, all of the local dealers were more or less colluding to fix the price at a certain amount, and the one that quoted me a lower price was actually just lying to get me to physically show up so that they could sell it to me at the normal price. My only advice would be to call around to get some numbers, pick one and walk out if they do anything shady.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:23 PM on July 2, 2009

I recently purchased a car and got plenty of quotes via e-mail. Once I knew what a wanted I went to edmunds.com put in all the options, etc. then I sent the e-mail to the dealership via their site. I think I got responses from all of them before the end of the day. There was actually one dealership that e-mailed and called (two different sales people). Also, they knew that I knew the "invoice" price of the car so I got mostly reasonable offers. I went into the edmunds site several times using different zip codes so that I could send e-mails to dealerships further out as well, not sure how many you have in your immediate area.

Just remember to walk away several times before you buy something. If one guy seems to give you a really good deal don't get excited and take it. If you are doing it in person say you need to make some phone calls/move money around whatever just get out. Then e-mail or call the other dealers you are working with and let them know about the offer you just got. Preferably let them know that you are planning to take that offer tomorrow and thank them for their time. If they want the sale and are willing to go lower they will contact you (remember to wait until you get a really good offer to do this). I got an e-mail back from one dealer that asked flat out what they needed to do to get my business. Then I made an offer. Up until that point the dealerships were just competing with each other, and I hadn't even done any haggling.
posted by Feantari at 12:23 PM on July 2, 2009

Best answer: Negotiating by e-mail/phone is easy and without a doubt the most effective way to get the lowest price for a new car. The steps you should follow are this:

1. Decide exactly what you want. Most of the research can be done online, but this may require a trip to a dealership to test drive the car or discover the different types of options available (never agree to a price at the dealership -- walk away if you have to!). Have the type of car you want down to the model, options etc. Be very specific.

2. Locate 5 or 6 dealerships that are within driving distance of where you live. Contact these dealerships by either phone or e-mail, tell them the exact specifications of the car you want, explain to them that you are ready to purchase a car now, tell them that you are contacting 5 to 6 other dealerships for prices and that the dealership with the lowest price wins.

3. If you have visited a dealership for a test drive, and that dealership didn't give you the lowest price, take the lowest price back to the salesman at the dealership you visited and ask him to beat it (he'll know you're serious b/c you met in person, and may do what it takes to get an even lower price).

4. This is the end of your back-and-forth. Buy the car from the dealership with the lowest price.

FYI: I've used this process to negotiate prices for myself and several family members. In one instance I cut almost $5k in price/options off of the original price given by the dealership.

Good luck!
posted by Mr. X at 12:24 PM on July 2, 2009

More detail in email to dealers = more responses from said dealers

Actually, I'm pretty sure the opposite is true. More detail, means more reading, means more brain-dead dealers going cross-eyed half way through your email. That's fine, you don't want to deal with someone who doesn't respect you enough to give you exactly what you're asking for.

Know what you want, and know how to ask for it. And be clear that you're not accepting any other substitutes.
posted by wfrgms at 12:48 PM on July 2, 2009

Not sure if these points have been made, but they're what I learned *after* I bought my first new car :)

1. Invoice is only the starting point when you're figuring out the car's cost to the dealer. Holdbacks are mentioned in the other threads, and they're important. They're essentially a rebate the factory gives the dealer for each car sold--subtract that from the invoice price you find online. Usually they're like 3% of MSRP. Also Google around to see if there are any other factory-to-dealer incentives in place.

2. You don't need to begrudge the dealer their profit. I think 3-5% is reasonable, or so the Web has told me. So add 5% to the price you calculated above and keep that number in mind for the next step.

3. This is important: make sure you're negotiating the "out-the-door" price. When I bought my first new car, I thought I was getting an absolute steal until I actually looked at the receipt I signed. "Processing fees" or "service charges" were invented to catch suckers like me, and they're easy to miss in the sea of taxes and registration fees. So after you calculate the price+profit, look up all the legitimate fees your state and municipality charges add use those to calculate your final "out the door" price. Even if you're not a sucker, it'll save time--you don't want to spend an hour at the dealer and then find out that their quote didn't include some dopey fee. Ignore the signs that say they're "non-negotiable"--let them charge all the fees they like, so long as your out-the-door price remains at or under your target.

4. If you're trading in a car, get a few quotes and look up the blue book value--it's just another thing to negotiate over and an easy way to make your new car look cheaper. Lowballing you for $1000 on your trade-in is like adding $1000 to the price of the new car.

Buying the second car was a much better experience. :)
posted by Garak at 3:10 PM on July 2, 2009

Did this to buy my last car and it was by far the best car-buying experience I've had. I used the comment that's been mentioned above, plus there are tons of websites with advice on how to do this. Good luck!
posted by sbrollins at 3:23 PM on July 2, 2009

My no negotiation email to purchase an Accord was simple and straight forward. I researched Consumer Reports, Edmonds etc. to determine fair market price. Test drove comparable makes and models, made the decision on make, model, exterior and interior colors and also the equipment package. I emailed a couple dozen CA dealers saying that I was going to purchase exactly this specific package from whoever quoted the best out the door final price; no trade-in and no financing. I got about a 50% response and after a couple of calls to make sure that they understood that I was serious about buying and that I'd walked out of dealerships in the past after BS sales pitches I got a firm price commitment from one of the many Bay Area dealerships. I have no regrets or misgivings about the deal I got.
posted by X4ster at 4:28 PM on July 2, 2009

When we bought my first new car (Civic Hybrid), my Dad emailed a bunch of local (for me) dealers. I don't know how much detail he put in the email, but I knew that I wanted a manual and there weren't many more options for the Hybrid back then, it only came with the nice sound system, AC, etc. I think on the Honda website there was a listing of all your local dealers. We ended up succeeding by sheer volume - I was living in Claremont (outskirts of LA county) at the time, and my father, orchestrating all of this, just figured anywhere in LA or Orange County would work. We got a range of offers - I think the car listed for 20 or 21K, the offers we had ranged from 19 to 17.5K, which was actually under invoice. We took the cheapest one, which was a couple hour drive. If we'd realized how far Gardena was, we might have limited the search radius a little more.

My impression was at the time (04), some dealerships were experimenting with an "email salesman" position. These people figured to make it up volume - they could afford to take lesser profits per car by selling more cars. It took contacting a few dealerships to find the ones who did this, but sending emails is easy, right?
posted by hatsforbats at 5:17 PM on July 2, 2009

I bought a car via phone recently, and it was ultra, super, incredibly easy. This assumes that you have already done the test drives, and that you know exactly what you want and that you will not need hand-holding with the selection of trim packages and so on -- if you do, you will need a more traditional sales experience.

Every dealer has an "internet manager" (aka fleet sales, usually). Call up the front desk, ask for internet sales. Tell that person that you are ready to buy X model, Y features, Z color, and you need their bottom-line, out the door price. They will (either on the spot, or phoning back in an hour, or via email -- all three happened with me) give you their price. (Probably this price will be close to what you can calculate via Edmunds and some educated guessing; if it's not, there may be other issues at hand.)

In my case, I actually bought the second highest price, because they were a lot more straightforward and honest, but normally you'd buy the cheapest one, obviously. Talking to the internet sales person, I was told that there are basically two sales tracks at the dealership, depending on how much handholding you need, and on how price sensitive you are; most buyers do very little research and want a very traditional sales experience with lots of interactivity. Fleet sales, on the other hand, are very straightforward, based on volume rather than maximizing profit on any one sale.

I'd assume that you could do the same thing via email, but I like the ability of a phone call to give you a sense of someone's tone and attitude. And in my experience, there was absolutely no need to make threats or talk tough -- you are ready to buy, you are looking for a clear price, and most dealers will have someone who specializes in exactly that.
posted by Forktine at 5:59 PM on July 2, 2009

Do you have a local Costco? For $50 membership fee, you can get Costco pricing on any car. Almost all of the dealers local to me are in the scheme (even those who are not listed in the Costco database). You can check out the prices on the Costco Auto website.
The best thing about the Costco price is that it is absolutely no-haggle. As far as I am aware it is the very best deal that you are likely to get anywhere. You could just email local dealers to ask if they will offer the Costco pricing.
When we bought a new car two years ago (when things were not all that hard for auto dealers), everyone and his dog agreed to sell us a car for Invoice + $100 (the Invoice price on the Costco website seems to be a lot less than the "True Market Value" (or street price) shown on Edmunds.com . When we bought a Toyota, we got an additional $1000 cash back (the current Toyota offer) - as in a $1000 discount on the Invoice+$100 price. You can't beat that for no-haggle and no-hassle carbuying.
posted by Susurration at 8:05 PM on July 2, 2009

I'm doing this right now too. This was a helpful thread.

If you use the "email a dealer" feature through Edmunds, keep in mind that the dealers are purchasing that access to your email. So far, the dealers I've found that way have been nasty sharks who are eager to get me in, and then upsell. The dealers who I sought out and emailed individually through their own sites have been a much better pool to fish in.
posted by Miko at 6:08 PM on July 3, 2009

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