How to Negotiate a Car Price Online

If there's one thing that people universally dislike, it is negotiating the price of a car. Typical consumers know they are unskilled at the process, and many find it embarrassing and even nerve-wracking. What price should I offer? Am I going to pay too much? Will the salesperson think I'm a fool? Such questions fill the buyer with dread and doubt. 

How to Negotiate Car Price Online

Bargaining, haggling, and negotiating used to be a common part of buying almost anything, dating back to the town markets and bazaars of 150 years ago. But these days, many consumers don't even want personal interaction with the people and stores they buy from, much less to go through the alien and uncomfortable process of negotiating price. 

Buying a car online can relieve those stresses. Some online car purchases involve no negotiating whatsoever, and both the buyer and seller are fine with that. But if you've done some car-buying research, you probably have heard if you want to get the best price and the best deal, you have to negotiate. 

So, can you negotiate a car price online? It's not only possible; it might also be the best way to purchase a car.

Advantages of Buying a Car Online - Find the best car deals!

As we outline in How to Shop for a Car Online, using the magic of the internet for your car, truck, van, or SUV purchase has multiple advantages. 

Hundreds of information sources, including the JDPower.com website, are available to help you hone your vehicle selection. Beyond that, resources like this one are at your fingertips to help you decide what you should pay, whether the vehicle you are looking at is a brand-new or a used car. Since knowledge is power when you're negotiating a vehicle's price, having these free resources puts you in the figurative driver's seat.

Also, other aspects of the online buying process are firmly in your favor when you negotiate. Here are some of the critical advantages to negotiating a car price online:

  • No sales pressure
  • No time pressure
  • No face-to-face interaction
  • Opportunity to shop several deals simultaneously

These factors offer you incredible advantages as a negotiator compared to walking into a dealership, meeting a salesperson at the door, and wending your way through the traditional sales process. By approaching the negotiation online, you immediately separate yourself from the run-of-the-mill shopper. You also position yourself as a smart, no-nonsense buyer who wants a good deal done quickly. 

Believe it or not, dealers like that kind of customer.

Be Prepared When Negotiating the Price of a Car Online - Find the best car deals!

As with many things, your success with online car negotiation depends on how well you prepare for it. There is no substitute for research in a vehicle purchase, and before you can negotiate the price of a car online, you need to know a great deal about the vehicle you seek to buy.

Among those pieces of information are:

  • Model year (e.g., 2021)
  • Make/Brand (e.g., Toyota, Chevrolet, Honda)
  • Model (e.g., Camry, Tahoe, Pilot)
  • Trim level (e.g., LX, LTZ, EX-L)
  • Color
  • Important options

You won't be successful going into negotiations by saying, "I want to buy a car." You need to set your sights on a particular car with clearly defined attributes. Along the way, you might shift your focus slightly, give up an option, change your color choice, or consider a vehicle with more equipment than you had initially decided upon, but we advise you to know exactly what you want. And this advice applies to both new- and used-car purchases. 

Since you will be negotiating price, you also need to know with a high degree of accuracy what price the vehicle you are seeking to buy commands in the marketplace. Again, the internet is your friend here because sites like this one can give you a very close approximation of the going "market price" for just about any car out there. 

By doing your research before you start any negotiations, you can determine what you should expect to pay. This knowledge is absolute gold when it comes to negotiating a car price online.

Can I Trade My Car Online? - Find the best car deals!

If you plan to trade in your current vehicle as part of the overall online car buying transaction, you need to know a few things about it as well. Here are the essential items:

  • Model Year/Make/Model/Trim
  • Current trade-in value (from online research)
  • The amount, if any, you owe on your car loan

Having this information at your fingertips is critical to negotiating the overall deal for the best result. 

That said, making the disposal of your current car a separate transaction from the new-car purchase might better serve you. Of course, if you have a loan on the trade-in, you will have to jump through some hoops to sell it privately, so you might find it more convenient to trade it in or sell it to another dealer rather than a private party.

Get Pre-Qualified for a Loan

Just as you need to know the price you are willing to pay for the car you want to buy, you also need to know the rate and terms you can expect on an auto loan you might secure to pay for the vehicle. 

There are online finance and banking sites that allow you to comparison shop loan rates and availability. Gaining pre-approval from a financing source will give you valuable knowledge about the loan terms you can expect. More importantly, it also gives you a basis for comparison if the dealer offers you a loan arrangement during your negotiation. Just be sure to compare offers based on the same down payment and term in months.

With all this research and preparation complete, you are ready to narrow in on the vehicle you would like to explore buying. You can search new and used vehicle listings right here on JDPower.com, or you can use manufacturer or dealership websites to view inventories of what's for sale right now at a dealer near you. When you find a vehicle that meets your requirements, it is time to take the next step.

Contact the Internet Sales Manager or Fleet Sales Manager - Find the best car deals!

Once you have lined up two or three vehicles that you believe could be the right car for you, contact the Internet Sales Manager or the Fleet Sales Manager of the dealerships with the individual cars in stock. People in these two positions are typically experienced in online vehicle sales. They can cut through much of the back and forth you would get if you dealt with a traditional car salesperson at the dealership. 

You can initiate contact by email, by chat on the dealer's website, or by telephone. Just by seeking contact with the Internet or Fleet Sales Manager, you have separated yourself from the average car buyer, and you can cement that impression by being straightforward in what you say.

You can start by telling them you noticed a particular vehicle the dealership has in stock, that you are strongly interested in buying it, that you are a "cash-buyer" (thanks to having the cash or by pre-qualifying for a loan), and that you are willing to listen to the dealer's financing options. 

Again, you can do this by email, chat, message/text, or telephone. No matter which of these communication methods you choose — and there is no reason not to use several — you avoid the face-to-face sales pressure you'd experience in the dealership. 

Furthermore, there is no reason you can't simultaneously contact the Fleet or Internet Managers at several dealerships if they have vehicles in inventory that interest you. It is to your advantage to let the dealership personnel know that you are shopping several dealers for the best combination of service and price.

After you initiate contact, be patient as you wait for responses. You might get a very enthusiastic and helpful response from some and no response at all from others. That alone should guide your search. 

Once you are engaged in discussions with one or more dealerships, you can then continue the negotiations via any communication method you choose. If you want to do it with the least potential to get deluged with unwanted communications, email or chat might be the best choice. 

Since you are approaching the purchase process from an educated and professional standpoint, and since you know what you are willing to pay based on your pre-negotiation research, you are in a perfect spot to conclude the purchase quickly and successfully. 

Your preparation motivates the sales manager to deal with you because they know with a high degree of certainty that they will complete the sale. Additionally, the sales manager knows that you are quite likely to buy a similar vehicle elsewhere if they don't make a deal with you. 

Summary - Find the best car deals!

Preparation is the key to success when you negotiate a car price online. If you take the time to get specific about the vehicle you want to buy, to determine what you are willing to pay for it, and to either have the cash to purchase it outright or a pre-approved car loan, you'll perfectly position yourself to negotiate and quickly close a deal at a fair price you can be proud of.

Jack R. Nerad has covered car buying, auto retailing, and the automotive industry for more than three decades. He has held editorial director posts at dealership, consumer, enthusiast, and market research publications; appeared on television as a car-buying expert; and hosts a popular podcast. He is the author of several books, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Buying or Leasing a Car.