another 'how do I buy a car?' question
April 4, 2017 7:29 AM   Subscribe

How do I negotiate and order a vehicle?

So I'm buying a Volkswagen for my husband. He is fully settled on the model and I've sent the specs to dealerships, who have responded. We are putting 10K down, it's a Volkswagen Golf that runs like 32K or something with whatever fanciness Mr. Llama has specced out.

It has to be special ordered, and the dealerships mostly came back with quotes about 2k off the MSRP, an offer of .9% financing, and the option to take advantage of the incentives in place 'when the car comes in'. For example, right now there is a dealer cash back if you currently own a Volkswagen, and we do. But we would only get that thousand dollar incentive if it was in place when the car arrives.


1) I've gotten 0% financing via the dealers for 60 months on my previous cars--is this just not a done thing any more (both of us have credit scores above 800, if it matters)?

2) I really don't understand the 'maybe it will cost a thousand dollars less, depending on when it comes in, but you're on the hook either way' thing. How can we agree to a price if we're not...agreeing to a price? I've never 'ordered' a car before.

3) Any other tips to get this process completed as quickly as possible?
posted by A Terrible Llama to Shopping (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: oops; one last detail--I might buy this over state lines, depending on what the best option is. I bought my last car across state lines, and it was no big deal, but just noting it in case it was a big deal and I somehow just spaced out.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:38 AM on April 4, 2017

Any "rules" your dealer gives to you are arbitrary and meant to be broken. Your dealer only really cares about the amount of money you give them; they can tweak the numbers any way necessary to complete the deal.

Similarly, so should you.

Present your offer as, "I will give you $xx,xxx to buy this car. Period. I don't care how you do it."

They will either say yes or no. If the answer is no, go to another dealer or increase the offer. Crucially, if the vehicle shows up and they aren't going to take your check, walk away. It's your only leverage to get the price you want.

In other words, the answer to your question is, "don't play their game." All these incentives are just ways of trying to eke out a bit more money out of you by making you think the incentives are the only way you can reduce the price of the vehicle. That's false.
posted by saeculorum at 8:45 AM on April 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

It sounds like there are multiple dealerships in play. I'd send your specs to each dealership and say "Give me a quote with your best (final) price on this car." Then go with the best best price.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:52 AM on April 4, 2017

If you want to save yourself time and trouble, consider using one of the car-buying services out there - if you're a member, Costco is fabulous for this; Consumer Reports also offers such a service. Basically, things are pre-negotiated, and you don't go through any of the "Let me go talk to my manager." BS.
Costco takes their agreements very seriously, I've had such a good experience, I'll never buy another way.
my 2 cents
posted by dbmcd at 8:59 AM on April 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

Yes, use a car buying service. I've used AAA in the past and once you know what car you want to buy, they handle everything. And we got $1k more (100% more) on our trade-in, than anywhere else offered. I never want to buy a car another way again. And we got a better price for the car, the exact model and color we wanted, without waiting more than a week, and they delivered it from 60 miles away with paperwork and drove away with our trade-in. I can't recommend it enough.
posted by mirabelle at 9:28 AM on April 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Don't forget a "car concierge"! I am using one right now for car buying and IT IS A DREAM. Basically you hire someone to do the shopping / negotiating for you, and generally they save you more money than their fee. In my case, I'm paying about $425 for the guy to do all the searching and negotiation. I just have to show up, do a test drive, and if I like the car, sign.

The guy I'm using knows all the dealerships in the area, which ones are honest, which ones are scammy, he knows all the negotiating tactics at the dealership and has relationships with dealers that help him negotiate quickly and effectively.

Give it a try!
posted by yearly at 9:30 AM on April 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh my God, someone could do this for me??? That's a thing???

Is AAA my best bet (rural area; not a Costco member)?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:49 AM on April 4, 2017

USAA also has a car buying service, if you are a member.

That being said, I did not find the prices with either USAA or Costco to be low enough, and I bartered the dealers down below those prices ... but the amount of stress may not have been worth it. It was more legwork and I had to get up and walk away more than once.
posted by freezer cake at 9:56 AM on April 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have twice now used a car buying service through AAA. Each time I've tried to then go and negotiate a better deal than the service quoted me. Not one dealership was able to come close to the savings on the AAA buying service. Also it was supremely no hassle.

A++ would car service again.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:22 AM on April 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

The "when it comes in" thing seems weird to me. My experience has always been go to the dealership and buy the car you want with the options you want. If it needs to be special-ordered, fine, but the deals are applied at the time of purchase not at the time of delivery.

As was mentioned already, your best tactic is a willingness to walk away if you don't get what you think is a fair price. You'd be surprised how far dealerships are willing to bend to make a sale.
posted by howling fantods at 12:38 PM on April 4, 2017

It costs less than $50 to become a Costco member; I did this solely to purchase something that was at least $50 cheaper at Costco than anywhere else, and then months later when it was time to get my car, I used their program. It was great! I highly recommend it. Yes, you could go a bit lower than the pre-negotiated prices, but you're not really being cheated if you don't.

What's so unique about the car that it has to be special ordered? Is it worth latching onto and potentially not getting as good a deal?
posted by destructive cactus at 3:24 PM on April 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Special ordering a car isn't like buying a car in inventory, the factory only runs part of the year, production slots might be booked already. They shut down for retooling for the next model year in the summer? You might be waiting for a 2018. To my knowledge you don't even purchase the vehicle until it's delivered months away, at which point incentives will have changed, I think you just put a deposit down.

If Volkswagen has a European delivery program you might have better luck with custom ordering.

The dealer wants to sell inventory they have, if you want to deal, compromise on your custom car, maybe even have them search inventory Nationwide they can trade for.
posted by TheAdamist at 6:39 PM on April 4, 2017

I used to sell new cars for a living. TheAdamist basically has it. If you can be a little flexible, they might be able to trade inventory with another dealer. I drove many miles on these "dealer trades". The more flexible you are, the easier this is to accomplish. Oh, but if you include silver anywhere in your ranked list of color options, you'll get a silver car. I'd bet on it.

The dealer controls the price of the car relative to the invoice price but the financing and rebates are controlled by the manufacturer and they won't change things just for you. A common deal would be a car with an MSRP of $21,500 less a $1,000 RtD (rebate to dealer) and an invoice price of $19,500. You negotiate about as good a deal as is possible, $100 over invoice meaning you're paying $18,600+tax and fees today. The deal borrowed $19,500 to get the car in their inventory that they've been paying interest on and they don't get that $1,000 rebate until after they deliver the car.

If the rebate is gone when the car comes in and they still honored that price they'd lose $900 on the deal. These rules are the same for every dealer and there isn't enough incentive in selling cars at that large a loss for anyone to break that practice. Besides that, ordering a car gives you a lot of time to change your mind. If you don't buy a car, they typically can't keep your down payment (this could vary by state but it's true in MN). By the way, you should not be writing them a check for more than $1,000 to order a car. You can write a check for the rest of the down payment when the car comes in.

So, go to, build the car you want to buy, make sure the MSRP's match exactly to what you would order (sometimes there are "options" that aren't really optional, like door mats and such). Then you'll have the invoice price and can negotiate on that. If you must order a car, you just have to roll the dice on the incentives.

All that said, I really think that a two-year-old lease return is a much MUCH better value than a new car. Think of it as having gone through VERY extensive QA testing. You might have to be a little more flexible but you'll get a LOT more car for your money and cars are so reliable these days that 25,000 miles is still basically new. A brand spanking new car fresh off the transport has a lot of appeal, believe me, I get it. But used is all I'll buy unless I win the lottery or something.

-Puts banker hat on top of car salesperson hat-

Interest rates have been creeping up and it's generally common for import brands to offer 0.9% rather than 0%. The trick is that the financing is often in lieu of a cash rebate and if you work out the math (cheap financing vs. regular financing+extra cash rebate) it ends up being a wash. It's basically an accounting trick that lets them advertise "0% financing".

I think car buying services are a decent value add for buying used cars but not really for new cars. Those services typically work with the fleet dept. at the same dealers near you so the same costs are in play. Even then, the dealer might beat them buy like $500 at most so if they have a nationwide inventory and it doesn't cost you extra for them to ship you a car from a dealer a few states away or something, go for it. Even if you decide on a used car, there will be a detailed condition report and it'll drive like every other golf so you're safe buying used sight unseen too.

If you must buy a new car, used the invoice price-rebates you qualify for as the dealer's absolute floor. The salesman probably makes $150 on the deal so something like $300 over invoice (less rebates) is a good deal and pretty reasonable to me (this can vary by brand, model, and location) and someone will take that deal. From the salesperson's end, our key phrasing was, "If I could, would ya?". From the customer this becomes, "If you can, I will." As in, "If you can sell me the car for X, I will buy it right now."

But no matter what, you're going to be rolling the dice on those rebates. Avoid ordering a car if you can. Just get a silver one, VW's always look good in of of us...
posted by VTX at 7:37 PM on April 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

I've heard this script/how-to really works: How to Buy a Car Without Interacting with a Human, by Nicole Cliffe. I've never tried it myself, but others swear it worked for them.
posted by jhope71 at 9:16 AM on April 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Shouldn’t I test drive some cars?” No. Can you drive a car? You’re set. After you’ve been driving it for a week, you won’t be able to imagine driving a different car anyway. Why spend a couple hours of your life trying random cars like you’ve flown into Phoenix for business and are trying to figure out where the parking brake is on your rental? It’s a new or certified pre-owned car. They drive.
(From "How to Buy a Car Wihout Interacting with a Human")

This is satire right? You are going to be spending thousands or more on a car, I would think you would want to make sure you actually like it. It doesn't seem like spending a couple of hours is much of a price to pay.
posted by thewalledcity at 5:09 PM on April 9, 2017

Response by poster: This is satire right? You are going to be spending thousands or more on a car, I would think you would want to make sure you actually like it. It doesn't seem like spending a couple of hours is much of a price to pay.

I haven't actually pulled the trigger on the purchase yet but as far as this goes; I bought my car and agreed on a price via email without test driving and Mr. Llama will also. Mine is a Toyota Rav4. Every other car in our town is a Rav4. I figured, how startling an experience can it possibly be? They're the vanilla of compact SUVs. Sure, there might be something better, but for those of us who Just Want It To Be Over eliminating the time spent in the car with creepy sales dude is pretty great and another car might be better but not significantly better especially for those of us for whom cars are an exasperating and depressing commercial experience.

And aside from the step up (literal step up, I'd been driving a Civic) it was fine and intuitive but to your point, most people think it's weird to skip the test drive.

Mr. Llama wants the same car he's currently driving. He loves the company and the design and so on, so he doesn't care either and won't test drive either.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:08 PM on April 14, 2017

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