A Car Buyer’s Secret Weapon (How To Save Thousands)

After almost a year of looking for our next car, we finally bought one last Friday. There was a lot of waiting, a lot of searching, a lot of research, a lot of strategy. We had chosen what kind of car we’d be getting (Toyota Highlander Limited Platinum) and my husband was (surprisingly) keen on the red color for the exterior. But he also wanted the almond interior because he hates black leather. That was the biggest reason, “we were looking for a vehicle” because of those color specifics.

At first, we were going to get it last summer (May/June 2016) but then we learned that a lot of the features we wanted that were costly upgrades came standard in the 2017 models. Every few years, cars are completely redesigned, configured and upgraded and 2017 was that year for the Highlander, so it made sense to wait. At the time, we thought we’d only wait until September, but there were manufacturing delays that took it to December. From December until now, my husband has been searching for the car with his color preferences. No dice. He even considered changing his mind about the color, but that didn’t last long.

Then last week, he saw that a red Highlander was at a dealership about twenty minutes from his work. It was red, but didn’t have the interior he wanted, but he thought it was worth a look because while it wasn’t the almond color, it wasn’t black either, but some color called saddle. I tagged along, and thought it would just be how it was always going to be. (And he admitted that he had thought this too.) Saddle was described as a dark brown, and that just seemed ugly to me, but also my husband didn’t want black because he was afraid of the seats getting too hot, dark brown didn’t seem much different from black in that regard.

We arrived. We saw the car and we were surprised that we actually liked it. The color is more of a burnt orange/brown which I never thought I could like, but it goes really well with the exterior color and the dashboard (which only comes in black). It was a surprise. I could tell my husband was thinking that the car might be for us and we talked – he knew it was okay, but we still had a bottom line, which meant we had to lose $6,000 off the MRSP. And it is a new car… That was all right, because we had a secret weapon… Me.

“You were amazing. You were awesome,” my husband keeps saying. Because I’m a shark in sheep’s clothing. I managed to negotiate $200 less than the True Car Best. And I had them give us $1,000 trade-in on our car, which had nearly 170,000 miles, was over ten years old and had serious issues: engine, cooling/heating system, doors would not open, etc. (Obviously, we disclosed this and they had their people look at it, so that’s why it was a feat – they knew it was going right to the scrap yard.)

Here’s what we/I did to land an incredible deal.


So important. We (my husband and I) researched how to buy a car the smart way. We learned all about the true cost, how rebates worked, how dealership profits worked, backend deals, sales tactics and strategies, smart buying practices and what not to do. We researched the cost of our desired vehicle, and compared it nationwide. It sounds like a lot, but honestly a few hours and you’re done. Let it sink in and absorb and use what you learned to save several thousand dollars!


Only deal with this person. When you call for prices, don’t give out your info and tell them if they can’t connect you to their internet sales manager, you’re moving on to the next dealership. When you go to the lot, deal with this person, and only this person. Why? They’re used to smart buyers who have done their homework and are much less likely to play any sales games or screw you. They know better because they know you know better. Who did we deal with at the dealership? Yes, the Internet Sales Manager.


One thing I strongly believe in, is to knock whoever you’re working with off balance. It’s like a version of good cop/bad cop except in this version I play to the stereotype of clueless little woman. I let my husband and the sales guy talk about the car. I appeared bored the entire time. I went along, but didn’t ask questions, chime in or act excited but also not standoffish – it was very, “Yeah, it looks pretty,” while flipping through a People magazine. Oh yes, I was glued to that magazine but any gossip rag will work – something brainless. My husband started negotiating but took it easy and when the price didn’t come down enough, seemed to give up. We walked out. (That should be another number, but it would just be a single sentence. You should not only be prepared to walk out, but do it to show you’re not a pushover – unless of course they cave immediately, but I don’t think that ever happens.) When we came back, it was my turn to talk, and boy did I have a lot to say.


Be real and to the point. I’m like this 99% of the time, because being direct is efficient and I like to think I’m both. I’m also a “don’t take shit from anyone person” who isn’t afraid to call it as I see it. When we came back I told the sales person, “I’ll be honest, I liked you until you came back with your counter. I don’t expect us to meet right in the middle, but coming back at only shaving off 10% of the difference was like a slap in the face. It made me think you’re not serious about negotiating. Now we want the car, you want to sell us the car – let’s find a way to make that happen.”

After he closed his mouth from the shock of it, we proceeded to do just that. An hour of back and forth, but I didn’t budge. Sure, I would have loved for it to be lower, but I don’t think it was possible (we bested the current best after all). We got the car at our goal price. Not just above that price, our actual target and not a penny more. On top of that we got them to take our old car. We may have gotten more if we sold it privately, but it had so many things wrong with it, neither of us felt comfortable doing that. Sure we’d disclose, but it still seemed like such a headache that could come back to bite us. No, thank you!


Just like I needed to know this guy was serious, sales people are used to people taking a test drive, seeming super interested and taking off. You need to show you’re serious. A lot of dealerships will hold a car for a fee ($500 is standard) and if you buy the car, it comes out of the purchase price – otherwise you’re out that money. I’m not saying pay the fee, but have your checkbook ready and say you’re ready to do just that. We did and saying we were prepared to do that got the agent’s attention. A few hours later, we had a new vehicle. Just saying.


You have to stick to your goal, but also be realistic. For example, if a new car has the MRSP of $48,000 and the true cost (non-inflated sales price) of $46,000 remember that anything under $46,000 is a “loss” for the dealership. But agents are fine with going under because they get kickbacks from the manufacturer from getting the car off the lot, but they still have to make money. Typically, you can’t get more than 10% off MRSP so let’s say in this example that puts us at $43,200. But the current true car best is $42,200 and you want to really reach for the stars. Don’t back down. If it’s been done before, there is no reason it can’t be done again. (The next and final point explains how to make this work.) But you also have to be practical. Kickbacks aren’t several thousand dollars and no one is going to sell you a car if they actually do lose money post-kickbacks. So if your goal was $40,000 you’re going to need to adjust your expectations. I would say reasonable stops at the true car best, and if you’re really ambitious like I was, don’t push past a few hundred less than that, and only if there is a “reason” like having a nice even figure. (In this example, $42,000.)


Unless the person you’re working with owns the dealership, realize they have very real limitations. So be ready to dig into some creative problem solving. Pretend the example above, the agent could not invoice the vehicle for less than $43,000 – there are other ways they can get you your goal final price. For example, they can give you more than they should on your trade-in. They can throw in the floormats for free (this cost is always built into the sales price), if you need a service plan for the vehicle that you’re going to get regardless, they can heavily discount that plan. What it means for them is that they’re not really going under their lowest possible price ($43,000) but you are still not paying that in the end. You’re paying your goal price of $42,000. It’s a win/win, but be ready to do this yourself. Our agent didn’t come up with the creative ideas to get that price down. That was me. If you want to save money, you need to have the ideas – give them options and let them choose the best way they can give you what you want. I told the guy we worked with my bottom line and gave him a few options and how he could reach it without gutting the purchase price anymore than he already had. He’s happy with the sale and we’re happy with the car and the price we paid for it. No buyer’s remorse necessary!

In the end, we’re both really happy with our purchase. Not just having a car that works, but a nice car (a vehicle of our dreams for the past year) that we really appreciate. And we paid less than we expected to, because I’m a shark (we thought we wouldn’t get out of there for anything less than $1,000 more than what we paid, and they wouldn’t give us anything for our trade-in, which was another $1,000 in our pockets). And our car is just as good as the 2018 models because this vehicle was made with all of the 2018 upgrades and features found in next year’s models. We’re going to have this car for a long time, and I’m just really happy. (I’m also really enjoying the praise from my husband, who is letting me know how much he appreciates the money I saved us.)

I’ll admit, I love negotiating, being a hard-ass and winning. I also like being underestimated because it means when I take someone to the floor, it’s all the more satisfying. If you’re looking to buy a car, remember to be a barracuda and unapologetic about it. But also, if you can stomach being seen as nothing more than a pretty little thing who is quiet and doesn’t get cars – well that can only help you. And if you’re a total guy – bring your significant other or a female friend (they can pose as your spouse) because I swear this method works every time. (We’ve done it with a few other large purchases and it does not fail! 😉 )


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3 Responses to A Car Buyer’s Secret Weapon (How To Save Thousands)

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