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How to Negotiate the Best Car Price Entirely Over E-mail

Buying a car can be exciting, exhausting, and frustrating all at the same time.  There often seems to be a barrage of high-pressure sales tactics, bait & switching, or hidden traps in the fine print of purchasing a car.  Fortunately, you can have the complete upper hand when it comes to negotiating the best price on your desired car.  It all comes down to the environment you choose to negotiate and there is no better place to do this for a car buyer than over e-mail.  So we've put together this guide to show you how to negotiate the best price on a used or new car entirely over e-mail.

1.  Determine your budget and financing options

The first thing to consider when buying a new car or used car is figuring out what fits in your budget.  There are many factors to consider for the car you want to buy and how you're going to pay for it but they all stem from "What can I afford?"  

If you are purchasing a car you are likely going to be buying it with cash or financing it with an auto loan. Determining your budget for the car price depends on this decision.

If you are going to buy a car with cash make sure that it will not deplete your savings completely.  For example, if you want to buy a $20K car in cash and have exactly $20K in savings, you may want to reconsider using all of your cash for the car purchase and either finance part of it or lower your budget for the car.  It's always good to have a sufficient amount of savings available for a rainy day.

If you are planning on financing the car, make sure you understand how much you can afford to pay in monthly payments.  Ideally you want to keep your debt-to-income ratio as low as possible for your financial health.  If the monthly payments fit in with your monthly budget and you are not overextended, that will help you determine the car price you should be looking for.

Lastly, don't forget to account for the costs associated with vehicle ownership such as car insurance, gas, title fees, sales tax, etc.  They may seem manageable independently, but together they can add up significantly.

2.  Decide on the new or used car you want to purchase

First and foremost you need to decide if you want to buy a new or used car.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each.  For new cars, the major disadvantage is the rapid rate of depreciation that occurs as soon as you drive it off the lot.  However, with new cars you are also getting peace of mind with a full warranty and often have some of the best offers for both financing options such as low or 0%  interest rates or significant rebates on all-cash offers.

For used cars, the major disadvantage is that you don't quite know what you're getting as far as reliability is concerned.  Everything may look good on the outside but it may have unseen issues internally.  Many dealerships offer pre-owned certifications and even extended warranties to purchase as part of the deal offset the risks.  The main advantage for used cars is primarily that you will almost always be getting a lower price compared to a new car.

After you have decided on a new or used car that fits your budget, do your research on the make and model that fits your needs.  Make sure to thoroughly read reviews online that it fits all your criteria for safety, reliability, etc.  Once you have found a make and model that suits you, setup a test drive if you can to solidify your decision.

Do not yet purchase the vehicle where you setup a test drive.  Remember, by removing yourself from the emotional environment of a car purchase, you have the upper hand to negotiate over e-mail as discussed in the following steps.  Use the test drive solely as a way to confirm that it is the make and model car you would like to purchase.

3.  Research all available offers

Once you have identified the car you would like that fits your budget, it's time to do some research.  Preparation and research is the single best thing you can do in a negotiation and it is no different when car buying.

First you'll want to get an idea on the price of the car given the make, model, year, options, mileage, etc. You can use resources like Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds to get a fair market value of the vehicle in question.

To zero-in closer on the market value, you'll also want to get an idea of pricing of the actual vehicle in question by referencing dealership websites and Autotrader to get an understanding of what the vehicle is actually listed for at the desired specifications.

If you want to get even more detailed, you can document in an Excel sheet or Google sheet all of the inventory of vehicles that fit your criteria, the pricing, mileage, options, etc. so that you can get a high & low estimate as well as find the median estimate of the vehicle in order to land on a fair price.  

Once you have an understanding of the available inventory, it is time to e-mail the salesperson and start the negotiation process.

4.  E-mail the dealership or car salesman directly

Once you have set on the car you like in your budget and are armed with all the right research, it's time to email the car dealership to get the lowest possible purchase price.  

Before we go any further, keep in mind that some car dealerships, such as CarMax, are no-haggle sellers. This means they set fixed prices on all the vehicles in their car lot and do not participate in haggling for a lower price.  These negotiation tactics will not work at these types of car dealerships.

For all other car dealers and even with private sellers, you can negotiate the price down and have the upper hand by doing so over e-mail.  

Start by e-mailing the dealership or a salesperson directly and let them know that you are interested in purchasing your desired vehicle.  Ask in the first e-mail what is the best possible price they will be able to sell the car.  You will also want to give context about whether you plan to pay in all cash, finance, or a combination of both with a down payment (and/or a trade-in vehicle) but don't give anymore information than that or any hard numbers.

Early on in the e-mail exchange, the salesperson will try to get you on the phone or have you come in to see the vehicle and negotiate an offer. Simply say that you would prefer to keep the discussions over e-mail as it is simpler for you as a customer to do so.  You can add in other reasons if you prefer such as you are very busy with work and e-mail is the most convenient method of communication for you.

By keeping the negotiation process over e-mail, you filter out the emotional aspects of car buying and become insulated from any high pressure sales tactics during the buying process.

Once you get the seller's "best possible price," tell them that you appreciate the info and will be taking some time to evaluate the offer.

5.  Use competing dealer offers against one another to get to the best price

Once you have a price from the dealer with your desired car, find similar cars from other dealerships and e-mail them to see if they can beat the best possible price that you received from the first dealer.  Essentially, you will be creating a bidding war between dealerships to get the best possible deal on your desired car.  

Even if you do not want to purchase the similar cars at other lots, simply having the information that they can offer a lower price will allow you to negotiate with the original dealership for the best possible price.  

If you are OK with any of the similar vehicles, then you have even more leverage in your negotiation because you will be able to use all of the available offers to compete against one another for the lowest price.  

Once you have created a pool of car deals from different dealerships, you can make a counteroffer to your desired vehicle.

For your counteroffer, go ahead and e-mail the dealer who has your desired car armed and mention that you have considered their "best possible price" from step 4 and ask if they are able to go lower.  Here is where you can mention that you have spoken with other sellers and have found that some of them have been willing to go lower.  You can use the lowest number you received and offer an amount that is even lower in your counteroffer.

So for example, if you got your first "best possible price" from a dealer for $20K and you found another seller offering the car for $19K, come back to the original seller and offer $18K.  It is best to anchor lower than is expected in these negotiations to give you the widest possible range to work with.

You can repeat this cycle with other dealerships until you continue to lower the price as much as possible.  Keep in mind once you get closer to a bottom line price, you can also introduce other levers in the negotiation such as manufacturer add-ons you might like or offering to put more of a down payment down as an example.  In the case of having a trade-in, you can also negotiate your trade-in value with reverse tactics (using the same concepts and finding dealers who are offering more than the original appraisal).  However, with trade-ins, you will not be able to negotiate the value firmly without showing up in-person.

In these e-mails, the dealership will likely still want to get you on the phone or discuss in-person but be sure to stay persistent that you would prefer to keep the negotiation over e-mail. These conversations will go back and forth a few times.

6.  Only agree to come to dealership once price is locked-in

Once you have settled on a good price for the desired vehicle, let them know that you are ready to proceed with the deal as long as the price they mentioned is honored upon arrival to the dealership.  Ideally you can get all the deal terms in writing via e-mail before ever stepping foot onto a lot.

Again, they may try to explain that you need to come in to the dealership to get the final terms but stay firm in your request.  With the exception of signatures, there is no reason they cannot provide all of the details of the final closing costs upfront (otherwise known as all-in costs with taxes, licensing, fees, etc.)  Once they agree to lock-in the price, you can prepare to make the purchase.

7.  Head to the dealership to purchase the car and walk away if needed

After getting the price locked in, it's time to go make the purchase.  You will want to make sure you are prepared to actually make the purchase when you come to the car lot.  This means having all of your purchasing materials ready.

If you are paying all cash, come to the dealership with the amount of cash of the final locked in price.  If you are financing, make sure you are at least pre-qualified with the lender of your choice.  Keep in mind that you will get the best interest rates on a car loan if you have a high credit score.  You can also shop around various lenders for the best possible rate and don't forget to look at credit union offerings as well.

Once you have all your materials prepared, it's time to head to the car showroom.  After arriving at the lot, ask for the car salesperson you had been speaking with over e-mail or arrange a time to meet beforehand.

Take a thorough look at the car and make sure it lives up to its description online.  Here is where you will want to be as detailed as possible to make sure that the offer that was already locked-in is acceptable given the condition of the vehicle.  Take it for a test drive if you haven't already.

If the car has noticeable discrepancies compared to the online description, let the dealer know and that you may need to reconsider the counteroffer based on new information.  Remember you have not signed anything at all yet and there is nothing stopping you from walking off the lot.  Use this power to your advantage and walk away if needed.

Now assuming all is well with the vehicle and the offer, the only thing left to do is sign and pay. This is the dealer's last opportunity to add-in some other hidden cost or charge that was not made clear during the e-mail negotiations.  If this happens, gently remind him/her of the locked-in price that you agreed to over e-mail and use the walk-away power if necessary.  It is unprofessional of them if they do not choose to honor the price they agreed to over e-mail.  

In Conclusion

In this guide, we walked you through step-by-step of how to negotiate your car price entirely over e-mail.  So whether you are buying a new or used car, you can rest assured that you have the upper hand in a negotiation for a automobile when you pick the environment.  Keeping the negotiation process online affords you a tremendous amount of leverage and filters out the inevitable emotions of the car shopping experience.  If you have any further questions, feel free to ask through our support channels or ask us on social media.

About the Author

Harvest helps increase the net worth of the 99% through artificial intelligence and financial automation. To date, Harvest has refunded over $2M in bank fees and interest charges to its members with the ultimate goal of increasing the net worth of everyday Americans by $1 trillion by 2030. Our platform starts with providing immediate relief through bank fee and interest charge refunds, orients a member's financial health with our proprietary PRO Index, and keeps track of net worth over time aided by our suite of financial tools. Check out our 8-step guide on "How to Build Wealth from Nothing" to get started on increasing your net worth.

Disclaimer: Harvest is not providing financial advice. The content presented does not reflect the view of the Issuing Banks and is presented for general education and informational purposes only. Please consult with a qualified professional for financial advice.