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Auto Loan

The People You Meet at a Dealership

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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The parade of people you encounter when buying a car may feel like a confounding tactic meant to throw you off balance — but it’s one that car buyers can also use to their advantage.

You might meet multiple sales staff members and managers, from the first person who calls you about a car to the person who finally hands you the keys. We’ll introduce you to each one, what they want, how they go about doing their jobs and how you can best respond to get the best deal on the lot.

The salesperson who calls you on the phone

You could get a call if you filled out an online form because you were interested in a car. Or, you could get a cold call, a sales call made to you without your permission. While the first might be welcome, most people find cold calls extremely annoying — and “most people” could refer to both you and the caller.

Who they are. The person calling could be a dealership salesperson or an employee at a call center (also called a business development center), which may be part of the dealership or a third party company.

What they want. If the person is a call center employee, their goal is to bring customers to the lot. If the person calling is an auto salesperson, they don’t just want you to come in, they want to sell you a car directly.

How they do it. Both call center employees and car salespeople will use charisma to convince you to come and look at cars. Because call center employees usually receive an appointment-based commission — they may get paid for each person who visits the dealership, whether you buy or not — they might disregard any concerns you may have about credit requirements.

Auto salespeople are paid for selling cars, not getting people in the door, so they may ask more questions to figure out if you are worth pursuing. They don’t want to waste their time on customers who can’t afford a vehicle. If they think you can afford a car, they want to make sure that you ask for them specifically. They may repeat their name often or have you write it down as they have lots of competition, even from other salespeople within the same dealership.

Response tactics. If you simply don’t want them to call, say so and tell them to take your number off the call list. If you are interested in what they’re saying, ask for more information and find out if they’re a call center employee or a car salesperson. If you want, you could set an appointment, but before you go to the dealership, make sure you do your own research on prices or any sale the person described. If you’re serious about getting a car, definitely get an auto loan preapproval before setting foot on the lot. Read more on why you should get an auto loan preapproval here.

The regular car salesperson

That stereotypical guy with slicked-back hair in a plaid suit waiting around like a vulture for you to pull up in the parking lot? He still exists, though he may have upgraded to a polo shirt and slacks. This is the most common job at a car dealership.

Who they are. They are usually very good at dealing with people — however, they are usually not experts in cars, and are probably even new to the industry. There is extremely high turnover in auto sales, due to high stress and long hours.

What they want. They want you to buy a car, but much of the process is out of their hands. They don’t set the prices and, like you, they’re at the mercy of a lender’s decision. If they spend five hours with you and you don’t buy for some reason, they may not get paid for their time or risking their lives on a test drive. They want things to go quickly and smoothly to maximize their chances of selling the most cars. And more to this point, they usually want to build a relationship with you in hopes of future business with you or your family and friends.

How they do it. They’re charming or, rather, they try to be. Each salesperson strikes a balance between being helpful (sometimes to the point of subservience) and being an authoritative figure. Even if they’re new to the industry, a salesperson will probably know more about the car-buying process and prices than you do. Don’t feel bad — it’s their job, while you might only buy a car once every seven years.

Salespeople may negotiate on a car price or monthly payment with you; the level to which they are allowed to negotiate depends on the dealership. No matter who sits down with you to talk about money, a common tool is a sheet called the “four square.” This worksheet breaks down four aspects of a car deal.

An old trick is to discuss everything but the car price in the four square. Instead of writing price negotiations in the price box, the salesperson might write reasons why the price is set, such as “leather seats” and “good gas mileage.” At the end of negotiations, the salesperson may write out and ask you to initial or sign something along the lines of “I agree to buy the car today if the monthly payment is less than $600, with a $5,000 trade-in and $1,000 down.” Notice that the price of the car isn’t mentioned.

Response tactics. Don’t let them get away with distracting you from negotiating on the price of the car. A big and most common mistake is focusing on the monthly payment — focusing just on the payment makes it easier for the dealership to keep the car price high and slip other things into your payment. Instead, focus on the car’s price. Look at the monthly payment only after you get the car’s price — if you get a good price on the car, the monthly payment will follow.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to write on the four square yourself. If the salesperson tries to make you focus on everything but the car price, redirect them. Circle the car price that’s written on the four square and put a down arrow next to it. Say that the price needs to go down before you talk about anything else.

The mercenary car salesperson

These are your typical fast-talkers, paid-on-commission-only salespeople who are drastically aggressive, even when saying “yes, ma’am.”

Who they are. They are experts at making money in car sales. They’ve been in the industry a while and take no prisoners. They can cover a few car dealership job positions and function as a salesperson, closer and finance manager (positions we’ll go over next).

They’re generally not dealership employees, but part of another business that a dealership hires to come in and drive up sales for a short period of time. This makes any social repercussions from their work easy to avoid for both them and the dealership, as they usually do this type of work on the road, far from home, and the dealership can tell any disgruntled customers that person doesn’t work for them anymore.

What they want. Because they are usually straight commission, they’re driven to make a profit, and a large profit at that, on one deal. They probably aren’t interested in networking to build a relationship with you and eventually sell a car to your friends and family.

How they do it. The faster everything goes, the less time you have to think. They will try to hurry you through everything from picking a car to a test drive to signing on the dotted line. Remember, a car deal isn’t just about the car — it’s also about the financing and related products, everything from special wax to warranties, GAP waivers and service contracts. They may also use a four square — and before you realize it, a large portion of your money isn’t even being spent on the car itself.

Response tactics. Slow the process down. Tell them they can go help other customers while you think about something. When discussing monthly payments, tell them to explain everything that the payment includes — that way they can’t slip in a warranty or something similar you don’t want. And if they’re too aggressive, find a manager to ask for a different salesperson or go to a different dealership.

The closer

If a salesperson can’t get a commitment from you to buy a car, they may do a T.O., or a “turn over” to the closer; this is usually the sales manager. It’s the next step up from a salesperson in the hierarchy of a car dealership.

Who they are. Savvy negotiators who climbed their way up from being salespeople; they have years of experience and function as operational leaders in the dealership.

What they want. Their first order of business might be to prevent you from walking away. Their last order of business is to have you agree to buy a car at a certain price or monthly payment. They want you to make a commitment to buy.

How they do it. Establishing a rapport with you is important. You might have spent hours with the salesperson and things didn’t go smoothly (or they probably wouldn’t be there). They know that you see them as a random new person walking in to discuss your personal finances — which is to say, they need to quickly convince you to trust them enough to listen — and maybe spend several thousand dollars.

Response tactics. Look at the logic of what they’re saying. The best way to respond is to have other options. If they tell you, “This is a great price for this car!” show them the car’s value as stated in an industry source like the National Automobile Dealer Association’s guides, a free online resource. If they tell you, “This is the best APR you can get!” show them another loan offer or go get one from your bank or credit union to see if that’s true — it could mean thousands off the total cost. If you’re concerned about multiple hard credit pulls damaging your score, know that you can shop around for the best APR without being penalized; getting multiple loan offers within a 14-day window will not hurt your credit any more than getting one loan offer.

The finance manager

A finance manager’s expertise is to increase the total amount you’re paying for the car deal, one way or another. They can also be called the business manager, the F&I manager (finance and insurance) and, inside the dealership, “the spinner,” because they spin the paperwork around on the desk for everyone to sign. It’s considered one of the cushier types of jobs at a car dealership, as it requires a personal office and a lot of sitting inside, instead of walking around outside in whatever the weather is.

Who they are. They are usually experienced car salespeople who climbed the ladder and went through a certification program. They are on par with sales managers, but specialize in negotiating on two levels — with both lenders and customers.

What they want. They want you to spend more money, largely by convincing you to buy add-ons such as warranties, service contracts and GAP, which helps their bottom line. They also want the lender to give a finance offer that will let the dealership make the most money.

How they do it. They use the same principles as magicians — they show and hide things very selectively. If you agreed to buy the car for a payment under $600, the finance manager might tell you something along these lines: “I have good news! I convinced the bank to lower your payment. They had it at $630 but I talked them down to $615 and that’s with a warranty. Sound good? Sign here. Now there’s also a pre-paid maintenance plan we offer…”

What they aren’t saying in this example is that without the warranty, your payment is actually $580 — and they definitely wouldn’t tell you they increased your APR. So if you agreed to the $615 payment plus the maintenance plan, that’s an extra $54 a month for 72 months — you just paid the dealer nearly $4,000 for things other than the car. We break it down below:

Response tactics. Much like you did with the salesperson or the closer, don’t just say “OK” to a monthly payment. Ask what the payment includes and then talk about the total price for each thing. You should not be required to buy anything in order to get a loan or a better deal on a loan. If they say otherwise, tell them to show the requirement to you in writing.

If your APR is over what you think it should be, tell them to “drop the points and take the flat.” When a dealer makes money by increasing your APR, it’s called making points (APR points). But a dealer can still make money by taking a flat rate from the lender instead of making points. Of course, to know what APR you deserve, you should get preapproved loan offers from other lenders before you go to the dealership to shop for cars.

The general manager

If a dealership is a kingdom, the general manager (GM) is king — this person is at the top of the hierarchy of a car dealership.

Who they are. They are in charge of the entire dealership, from the janitors to the managers. They are ultimately responsible for dealership profitability and are held to that by the owner(s). They may have started their careers as a salesperson.

What they want. If you as a customer meet the GM (unlikely, though it does happen occasionally) one of three things could be happening. They’re making rounds to raise customer satisfaction scores, acting as a sales manager to keep their skills sharp and retain the respect of the managers by doing some “floor work” — or there’s a huge problem that needs their attention, in which case expect a quick decision and quick result.

How they do it. Depending on what their mission is, how they accomplish it will vary, but quickly and with authority generally applies.

Response tactics. If you believe the dealership flubbed, make your case. GMs want happy customers and are usually busy, so they may side with you quickly. If they don’t, know that you have other options — there are other dealerships to try.

The service writer

After you buy a car, this is the main person with whom you’d interact if you take your car back to the dealership for servicing, from oil changes to complicated repairs.

Who they are. This person interacts with you if you go for an oil change or car repair. They put the appropriate orders in and deal with any warranty companies — in fact, they may literally run back and forth between the mechanic bays and the customer waiting area.

What they want. They want you to be happy so you’ll continue to come back for servicing and so you may buy more accessories or services from them. There are often bonuses and prizes for service writers who sell parts, accessories and future services to customers.

How they do it. The shadier service writers might tell you that you need parts when you don’t, or that you must have a more expensive part when a cheaper one would do just fine.

Response tactics. Look up what the part costs online. Manufacturer parts (such as Toyota, Ford, Chevy parts) can be three times more expensive than aftermarket parts (ones not made by the manufacturer). If you doubt something needs to be fixed or they refuse to use a less expensive part, get another opinion by taking it to an independent mechanic with a good reputation.

People behind the scenes

There are some people behind the scenes you probably won’t officially meet at a dealership, but may impact you nonetheless.

  • Porters. They may drive off in your trade-in car or bring your new car up to you. In the service drive they could take your car to the mechanic bay and back to the customer area. They drive cars to and from different car lots.
  • Detailers. They clean cars inside and out both as basic upkeep on the cars that are for sale and as a final cleaning after you decide to buy the car, before you receive the keys.
  • Finance director. This person is the head of finance managers. They could step in if there’s a complication with car title paperwork if you need your new car registered out of state or your trade-in has an out-of-state title or registration.
  • General sales manager. This person trains sales staff and is the head of sales managers.
  • Internet sales manager. This person is usually the head of the internal dealership call center, if it has one, and works with the marketing team to post the vehicle details and photos you see online.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Auto Loan, Reviews

LightStream Auto Loan Review

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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If you’re in the market for a quick, affordable and hassle-free way to finance your next car, a LightStream auto loan should definitely be on your radar. It’s particularly well-suited for deal-seekers with good credit who don’t mind working with an online company when it comes to financing their cars. If you’d rather work with a local company that can offer in-person support, however, you might want to skip this lender.

How LightStream auto loans work

LightStream offers a wide range of options for financing your next ride, including:

  • Purchase of a new or used car, either from a dealer or an individual
  • Auto loan refinance (except it does not refinance its own loans)
  • Auto lease buyouts
  • Loans for motorcycles, as well as boats and RVs
  • Classic car loans

Auto loans at a glance:

  • Starting APR range: 3.49%–9.49%
  • Fees: None
  • Loan amounts: $5,000–$100,000
  • Terms: 24–84 months
  • Credit requirements: Minimum 660 credit score
  • Mileage or vehicle restrictions: None

LightStream offers the same starting rate whether you’re buying a new or used car from a dealer, something you don’t see at other lenders. But keep in mind that the lowest rates go to those with the best credit who opt for the shortest loan terms possible and use autopay to make their car payments.

Satisfaction guarantee

If you see a lower rate elsewhere, LightStream will beat any verified offer with a rate that is .10 percentage points lower. It also promises a $100 guarantee within 30 days if you aren’t satisfied with your loan experience.

How to apply for a LightStream auto loan

The only way you can apply for a LightStream auto loan is through its online form. It is an online lender, after all, so you should be comfortable with handling your business details — including the loan application — online. You’ll need to:

  1. Acknowledge receipt of LightStream’s statement on the use of electronic records.
  2. Agree to receive electronic records.
  3. Agree to use electronic signatures to sign your loan documents.

You’ll also need to have a Visa or Mastercard credit card to apply, which LightStream uses during the verification process.

You will be asked to provide:

  • The purpose, term and amount of desired loan
  • Your name
  • Your address
  • Phone number
  • Social Security number
  • Employment information
  • Annual income
  • Total amount of assets and equity in your home

From there, LightStream may contact you for more details and documentation. If approved, you’ll need to sign your loan documents electronically and provide LightStream with your bank account details. The money will then be deposited into your bank account, which means you’ll need to pass it along to the seller, whether that’s a dealer or private seller. LightStream will not send the money to the seller directly.

It’s important to note that LightStream doesn’t offer any preapproval options, but if you apply and are approved for a loan, you are under no obligation to accept the loan.

How to qualify for the best rates

LightStream requires good credit at a minimum, but looks for excellent credit when giving the best rates. It defines excellent credit as:

  • Five or more years of significant credit history.
  • A credit history with a variety of account types such as major credit cards (for example, Visa, MasterCard, Amex), installment debt (vehicle loans) and mortgage debt if applicable.
  • An excellent payment history with no delinquencies or other problems repaying debt obligations.
  • A proven ability to save as shown by some or all of the following: liquid assets (stocks, bonds, bank deposits, etc.), cash down payments on real estate, retirement savings and little, if any, revolving credit card debt.
  • Stable and sufficient income and assets to easily repay current debt obligations and any new loan with LightStream.

Pros and cons of LightStream auto loans

LightStream offers the convenience of an online lender with the backing of a brick-and-mortar bank as the online arm of Truist, the bank created by the merger of  SunTrust Bank and BB&T. But it’s important to weigh all of your options carefully when choosing an auto loan. It’s one of the biggest purchases you’ll make, after all.

Pros

  • Wide variety of loans: New, used, refinance and lease buyouts loans are available on a wide range of vehicles. Unlike other lenders, LightStream doesn’t place restrictions on your vehicle’s age, make, model or mileage.
  • Decent rates: We’ve seen lower starting rates at credit unions, but you’ll have to meet membership requirements. LightStream has no membership requirements and provides the same starting rates for new and used vehicles as well as refinance loans.
  • No down payment required: LightStream finances up to 100% of the car’s cost. Of course, it’s always best to put down as much as you can afford on an auto loan. This will help you save money over the life of your loan and avoid becoming underwater on that loan.
  • Quick funding: If you complete the application process and are approved by 2:30 p.m. EST, you could receive funds the same day.
  • Good reviews: LightStream auto loan reviews are generally positive.

Cons

  • Good credit required: To qualify for a LightStream auto loan you’ll need a credit score of at least 660 or better.
  • No preapproval process: Unlike many lenders, you’ll have to complete a full application in order to see your rates and terms. Still, the process is fast, and if you complete your rate shopping within a certain time period, multiple applications should not impact your credit any more than a single application.
  • No face-to-face service: If you’re the type of person who likes to seal the deal with a handshake after signing the documents, you’ll want to stick with some place local.

LightStream vs. Capital One

If you’d like a bit more of a guided approach to the car-buying process,  Capital One’s Auto Navigator loan options might be better for you. Rather than sending you cash directly that you can use on whatever car you want to buy, Capital One’s Auto Navigator service lets you first get prequalified for financing, and then shows you which dealers in your area may offer based on the type of car you want to buy and the financing you can afford.

If any of the offerings pique your interest, you can then finish the application and buy the car. It’s still a good idea to compare the offer with other new and used car loan rates.

LightStream vs. Carvana

Carvana works similarly to Capital One Auto Navigator in that you can prequalify for financing and browse real cars in your area that you may then be able to buy. It’s important to remember that Carvana only sells used cars and its financing is only available on Carvana cars. But it is possible to finance here with poor credit — Carvana requires borrowers to be 18 years old, have no active bankruptcies on their credit report and earn at least $4,000 per year.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Auto Loan

How to Buy a Car Online — from Start to Finish

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Visiting a car dealership lot can sometimes feel like walking on a knife-edge. Salespeople could pressure you into spur-of-the-moment decisions that could leave you buried up to your eyeballs in debt for the next several years.

Buying a car online can be a much smoother and well-informed experience compared with traditional car buying, but it does require a bit more legwork on your part. Before you dive in, you’ll want to make sure you’re well-informed on how to buy a car online.

Part I: Traditional vs. online car buying

Curious about buying a car online but unsure of how the experience compares to traditional car buying? The processes are similar in a lot of ways, but skipping the dealership can actually give you a leg up as a buyer.

The troubles of traditional car buying

Before the internet revolutionized everything, there really was only one way most people bought a car: They’d visit car lots, find a car they liked and then sit down with a car salesman to work out an agreement. This led to the dreaded negotiation process.

“There’s all this back-and-forth and, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go talk to my manager,’” said Jack Gillis, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America and author of “The Car Book.” “Well, the guy goes back and has a cup of coffee and lets you sit there and steam for a while, then he comes back and gives you some song and dance about why they can or can’t do something.”

Because most people treated car dealerships as one-stop shops for buying a car, they often wouldn’t be informed about the full range of cars, financing options or trade-in choices available to them. Without these bargaining chips, consumers are at the mercy of the car salesmen.

How buying a car online empowers the buyer

With online car buying, it’s possible to complete every phase of the car-buying experience — from finding the right car to negotiating — entirely online.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of buying a car online is that it puts you in greater control of the car-buying process and no longer at the mercy of the salesmen at one dealership. You can expand your options for cars, financing and trade-ins, and then use your findings to negotiate for your best price possible.

“The whole digital part really is empowering for the buyer because there’s so much information that you can use to make an informed decision,” said Matt DeLorenzo, managing editor of KelleyBlueBook.com.

The downside of all this power is that it requires a bit more legwork on your part to bring all the pieces together. On the bright side, doing your homework can save you thousands of dollars and ensure you get the best car possible.

Part II: 7 steps to buying cars online

Step 1. Choose the right car

It’s important to choose a type of car that will best fit your needs. Do you want a fuel-efficient vehicle for short commutes? Do you need to haul around large amounts of cargo? Do you have a large family or a small one? Thinking about questions like these can help you zero in on what kind of body style (truck? SUV? compact car?) will suit your needs.

Once you narrow down a body style, it’s time to research what specific makes and models of cars might be best for you. Good research websites include Edmunds, Car and Driver and Kelley Blue Book.

If you’re buying a new car, you might be offered certain options and add-ons from the dealer, such as VIN window etching or rust-proofing. Before you go signing up for every option offered (and sign away your whole paycheck in the process), it’s important to research these options. You can face big markups and can easily get these add-ons yourself if you decide you need them down the road.

Step 2. Determine the price you want to pay

Next up is determining how much car you can actually afford. The more conservative rule of thumb is the 20/4/10 rule, but if that’s not possible for your budget, make a concerted effort to try to meet the 10/5/20 rule. Here’s how the two rules break down:

Rules of Thumb for Transportation Costs
20/4/10 Rule10/5/20 Rule
Minimum down paymentMake a minimum 20% down paymentMake a minimum 10% down payment
Loan termFinance for no more than four yearsFinance for no more than five years
Monthly transportation expenses, including insurance, gas, etc.Total expenses shouldn’t exceed 10% of your monthly incomeTotal expenses shouldn’t exceed 20% of your monthly income

These rules could help you set a cap on your car-shopping budget. For example, if you have $3,000 saved, it might be a good idea to avoid buying a car for more than $15,000 ($15,000 x 0.20 down = $3,000). From there, you can assess any financing offers to make sure that you’re not spending more than 10% of your income on the car and that your financing doesn’t stretch beyond the four-year mark.

You can narrow your car search down even further using these budget caps. If a car’s MSRP is far outside of your budget, weed it out of consideration. You can use websites like Kelley Blue Book or the National Automobile Dealers Association to research the current prices for new and used cars in your area.

Step 3. Get approved for financing online

It’s important to get preapproved for an auto loan before you actually go shopping. Getting preapproved for a loan does not mean you have to take the financing; rather, it helps you stay within your budget and gives you a bargaining chip in negotiations.

You can easily get preapproved for an auto loan online through websites like LendingTree, which is the parent company of MagnifyMoney. Using our auto loan marketplace, you can fill out one online form and potentially get offers from several auto lenders at once, depending on your creditworthiness. It’s also a good idea to check around with local banks and credit unions, which may offer deals locally.

You’ll generally need a high credit score to qualify for the best auto financing offers. If you don’t have a high credit score, you will likely be preapproved for a loan, but it may come with higher interest rates. If you’re outright denied for a preapproved loan, you may need to consider shopping elsewhere or waiting a little while so you can take steps to increase your credit score.

If you are qualified for preapproval, the lender will give you a preapproval letter. Make sure to keep a copy of this letter, and bring it with you when it comes time to negotiate a price on the car you’ve chosen.

Step 4. Choose the right source

Once you get to this point in the process, it’s time to cast your net and see what cars are out there.

One place to look is AutoTempest, a comprehensive website that searches several websites, including Craigslist, for specific makes and models. If you’re looking for one particular brand, don’t overlook your local dealership’s website. Other possible websites to go to scope out cars include:

We also made a list of the best online car-buying sites that you can check out to help you in your search.

With the power of the internet, the whole world (or at least the whole country) can be your virtual car lot. If you’re able to travel to pick up your new vehicle, you might be able to save a trunkful of cash by broadening your search.

For example, if you live in a snowy climate and are looking for an all-wheel drive car, you might try looking in a warmer area. “There might be better incentives on all-wheel drive cars in, say, Arizona than in the Northeast where they got a lot of snow,” said DeLorenzo.

Step 5. Get quotes

Once you’ve identified your targets, the next step is to find out how much they’ll cost. You’ll negotiate your final price in the next step, but this step sets a starting point.

Contact the dealership directly and ask for a quote for each vehicle you’re interested in. It’s important to do this as the price may have changed or the vehicle may have been sold. But perhaps the main reason this is crucial to do is so dealers will be motivated to give you a better price than what’s online, and it puts the starting line for negotiations much closer to the finish line.

Email or call the dealership and ask for their internet sales manager, as this is the person you’ll work with through the negotiation process. Give them the VIN or stock number of the vehicle you’re interested in and ask for a quote. Then, ask them to email it to you so you have it in writing.

It sometimes can be difficult to get a dealership to quote a price, but it’s important to insist that dealers give a price estimate for the make, model and year. If quote collecting isn’t your thing, you also can hire a service to do this for you, such as CarBargains. For $250 and a detailed description of what you’re looking for, CarBargains will collect at least five different dealership quotes for you.

Collecting these quotes gives you the bargaining power you need to negotiate prices down as low as possible in the next step.

Step 6. Time to negotiate

Ah, the dreaded negotiation. Since you’ve already gone through all of the steps to be an informed consumer, negotiating your price will be a much smoother process. Specifically, you’ll be negotiating the price of three separate items: vehicle price, financing cost and trade-in value.

Vehicle price

This is the most important piece. You can — and should — present the offers you’ve received in the prior step. Did someone offer $12,500? Show that emailed quote to another dealer and ask if they can lower their price to $12,000. Car dealerships are usually very easy to negotiate with online.

“If you think about it from an efficiency point of view, an online salesperson can be working more deals at one time than somebody on the floor who’s physically with one person,” said DeLorenzo. “Sometimes it’s actually more cost-effective for the dealer to sell it through or do a lot of the negotiation online.”

Car salespeople will often try to upsell you on add-ons when negotiating the price for a car. “They may say, ‘Well this will only cost you 10 bucks more a month.’ Well, yeah, and that’s $120 over a year. Over five years that’s $600, $700. You can’t let bells and whistles cloud your judgment,” said DeLorenzo.

Stick to the basic total numbers, not the monthly payment, and don’t let yourself get distracted.

Trade-in price

Chances are that you already have a car that you want to trade in to help defray your costs. Most dealerships will accept trade-ins, but be warned: You will probably get much less than if you shop around for trade-in prices on your own.

Websites like Kelley Blue Book allow you to find a fair trade-in price for your vehicle. In addition, you can use a tool on Kelley Blue Book’s website called “Instant Cash Offer” to get bids from dealers on your car.

“The beauty of having something like that is that it sets a floor for what your car is worth,” said DeLorenzo. “You’ll know you’ll get at least that much in trade or in an outright purchase, and that’s important leverage to have when you’re negotiating a new car deal.”

Additionally, you can try selling your car yourself through sites like Craigslist. Generally, going this route will net you your best price for your old car, although this may take more time and energy than simply driving onto a car lot with your old car and driving off with a new one. Here’s more on what to know before you trade in your car.

Financing cost

The final piece of the puzzle is how you’re going to pay for your new car. Since you’ve already taken the time to be preapproved for an auto loan, this step should be simple.

Show the dealer your preapproval letter and ask them if they can beat it. If so, great. If not, then you know you’ve already secured the best auto financing deal possible.

Step 7. Making the final purchase online

Once you’ve lined up the three pieces of the puzzle — the lowest car price, the lowest financing price and the highest trade-in value — it’s time to make your decision. Most dealerships still require you to physically come in to complete the final paperwork signing. However, that’s beginning to change.

“Savvy dealers are beginning to digitize as much of that kind of paperwork [as possible], to just make it easier to buy a car from them,” said DeLorenzo. “It works out better for them, too. I mean, if they’re able to get you in and out quicker, they can sell more cars quicker.”

But as far as completing the entire purchase process online? “I think there are dealers who are willing to do that,” DeLorenzo said. “The question is, do you want to do that?”

For now, you’ll likely still need to do some of the physical aspects of buying a car, such as taking it for a test-drive, in person. Perhaps someone will invent a virtual test-drive machine in the future!

Part III: Staying safe while shopping for cars online

Luckily, outright scams aren’t too common when it comes to buying cars online, according to Gillis. Many car dealers are subject to consumer-friendly regulation by the Federal Trade Commission. Still, there are some things to be aware of when shopping for cars online.

Beware the bait-and-switch

One situation that Gillis has seen involves a bait-and-switch technique when consumers arrive at the dealership to complete the purchase after negotiating everything online.

“You’ve got it all squared away. You get to the dealership to close the deal, and all of a sudden, ‘Oh my gosh. I can’t believe it, someone just came in and bought that car, but we have another one here that actually has a few better features on it, and it’s just the color you wanted, and it’s only gonna cost you $20 more per month,’” Gillis said.

If this happens to you, be prepared to walk away from the dealership as they’re likely just trying to weasel more money out of you.

Get an inspection from an independent mechanic

If you’re buying a used car, whether at a dealership or from someone you found on Craigslist, you should absolutely get an inspection first. Everyone has heard horror stories about buying a lemon (or worse, being the person who bought the faulty car). The seller will surely tell you that the car is in perfect shape, but how do you really know? Getting an auto inspection by an independent mechanic is perhaps one of the best ways to protect yourself.

If you’re unable to take the car to your own mechanic, DeLorenzo recommends a service from AiM Certify. For as little as $129, you can book an independent mechanic anywhere in the country to travel to the dealership and perform an inspection for you. You’ll get back a full mechanical report complete with actual photos of the car.

Try before you buy

If you’re not happy with your choice, you may have wasted tens of thousands of dollars. That’s why it’s crucial to take a test drive before you commit.

“Most of the problems that consumers end up not liking about their vehicles could have been determined in a test-drive,” said Gillis. “For example, it’s hard to park, or the back seat really isn’t that comfortable, or the trunk really doesn’t hold that much, or when changing lanes, there’s a big blind spot in the back.”

Jenn Jones contributed to this article.

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