For her recent car purchase, blogger Kate Sitarz discovered emailing dealerships was key to successful negotiations.
Many Grownups have anxiety about buying a car. Will I be taken for a ride? Will I pay too much? How do I know I’ve gotten a good deal? For my recent car purchase, I discovered the real trick to saving time, money, and headaches, as it turned out, was emailing dealerships.
Step 1: Get an initial quote
I started at a Rhode Island dealership where I took a Honda Fit for a test ride. The sales person encouraged me to drive the Accord, for comparison. Of course, the Accord had a noticeably more powerful engine, but I was set on the Fit for its ability to, well, fit everything. (It also cost several thousand dollars less.) I got a quote from the salesperson along with her business card and quickly left, as I didn’t want to get sucked into sitting down for a serious conversation.
While I did not email the dealer for my initial quote, I still had it as an option, and felt better having gone on a test drive: I now really knew which car I wanted. Plus, I left with the direct contact information of a sales associate.
Step 2: Email competitors
With initial quote in hand, I looked up other area dealerships and sent them emails.
Many were contact forms with generic fields to fill out. A few replies were template emails clearly sent by a robot, but I received a couple from actual humans with addresses to which I could reply. I followed up with a Massachusetts dealership with the quote from the Rhode Island dealer: “Here’s what this dealership quoted for a black, manual, Honda Fit Sport. Can you do better? And how much to install a moonroof?” (I’d decided I’d miss my old car’s moonroof.)
Instead of having to stand my ground in person, something I find harder than via email or even the phone, I was leading the conversation when it was convenient for me and letting the responses roll in while I was at work or out enjoying time with friends.
A manager from the Massachusetts dealer got back within a few days with a significantly lower quote.
Step 3: Negotiate—via email
With the second quote, I emailed back the original dealership I’d visited: “Here’s what this dealership in Massachusetts is offering me. Can you match it or throw in any extras?” No one doubted the quotes, though attaching a screenshot of the email was always an option.
The Rhode Island dealership wouldn’t budge on price, but could waive the registration fee, as well as the delivery fee (the cost to get the particular make and model I wanted to the dealership).
Both dealers quoted similar prices for the moonroof, though the Massachusetts dealer had a speedier timeline for getting the work completed. And, unlike the Rhode Island dealer that would have to get a car sent to their dealership, the Massachusetts location already had the car I wanted sitting in their lot.
While I only pitted two dealerships against each other, I could have contacted more dealerships and slowly eliminated contenders one by one, whether based on price quote or customer service experience.
Step 4: Resist add-ons
The dealership may quote you a price for the car you want that includes features they’ve added, such as window tint, wheel locks, and anti-theft devices. While enticing, they’re often overpriced when the dealer installs them.
Instead of negotiating down the price for these items, ask if the price they’re quoting includes any dealer add-ons. If it does, let them know you are interested in a model that doesn’t have any of these extras.
Step 5: Gather your evidence
Before you head to the dealership, prep your materials. If you have a smartphone, bookmark applicable websites, such as car manufacturer sites that may have financing deals or offers. Take screenshots of emails and web pages to have as a backup in case the dealership you visit doesn’t have Wi-Fi or it stops working. (And of course, you can always bring printouts.)
Come with everything, including all prior correspondence. These are your bargaining chips—and a confidence boost that’ll make you feel OK walking away if the dealer won’t honor the quoted price.
Step 6: Purchase your car
I entered the Massachusetts dealer and asked for the manager I’d been emailing. He came out of his office to greet me but quickly handed me off to a new sales associate.
“Great,” I thought with an internal eye roll.
I tried to cut to the chase with the sales associate: “Here’s the quote I was given. Here’s the financing offer Honda is offering—0.09 percent for five years. Let’s do this.”
Almost immediately the sales associate left our small table on the dealership floor to ask, a question. He attributed it to being new, but it felt like a tactic to wear me down. About the fourth time he did this, several hours into being at the dealership, he tried to tell me the finance offer wasn’t applicable.
Having my phone that had all my email correspondence, along with the Honda website describing the finance offer, I was able to say, “Look, the only reason I’m here today is for this financing deal and to purchase the car at this price.”
With the emails from their competitor, I was in the driver’s seat. If they couldn’t give me the deal they’d promised, I was more than happy to leave and go to the Rhode Island dealership. It kept me from breaking down and giving in to a higher price. I could easily see how the exhausting process would have otherwise made me more apt to compromise.
After I was happily driving my Fit around, I wondered if my email negotiation strategy was a fluke. I decided to try it again to help a friend get quotes. One dealership I emailed couldn’t quote me a price, but told me they could have the car I wanted within three days if I’d commit to purchasing it. I called them to ask for clarification. “We’ll only get it delivered to our location if you agree to buy it,” the salesman told me.
I laughed and said, “How can you expect someone to pay for a car without actually giving them a firm price?” He got angry, but I just smiled, brushed it off, and felt relieved that I didn’t have to waste time sitting in their showroom—and that my friend would ultimately do business with a more honest dealership.
Kate Sitarz is a freelance writer living in Germany. Her work has been featured on Yahoo Travel!, The Huffington Post, and USAToday, among other outlets.