Buying a New Car
Updated September 2020 Fact Sheet PDF
A new car is second only to a home as the most expensive purchase many consumers make. According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, the average price of a new car sold in the United States is almost $30,000. It is important to know how to make a smart deal.
Think about what car model and options you want and how much you are willing to spend. Do research so you will be less likely to feel pressured into making a hasty or expensive decision and more likely to get a better deal.
Negotiations have a vocabulary of their own. Here are some terms you may hear when talking price.
- dealer sticker price: usually on a supplemental sticker—a.k.a. the Monroney sticker price plus the suggested retail price of dealer-installed options (such as additional dealer markup [ADM], additional dealer profit [ADP], dealer preparation, and undercoating)
- invoice price: the manufacturer’s initial charge to the dealer, usually higher than the dealer’s final cost because dealers receive rebates, allowances, discounts, and incentive awards, and generally includes freight, a.k.a. destination and delivery—if you are buying a car based on the invoice price (examples include “at invoice,” “$100 below invoice,” and “2% above invoice”) and freight is already included, make sure freight is not added again to the sales contract
- base price: the cost of the car without options but including standard equipment and factory warranty (printed on the Monroney sticker)
- Monroney sticker price: the base price, the manufacturer’s installed options with the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, the manufacturer’s transportation charge, and the fuel economy (mileage); affixed to the car window; required by federal law; and legally removed only by the purchaser
Read library, bookstore, and Website publications that discuss new car features and prices. These may explain the dealer’s costs for specific models and options.
Shop around for the best possible price by comparing models and prices from ads and dealer showrooms. You may also want to compare car- and broker-buying services.
Negotiate on price. Dealers may be willing to bargain on their profit margin, often between 10% and 20%. Usually, this is the difference between the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) and the invoice price. The price is a factor in the dealer’s calculations regardless of whether you pay cash or finance your car, and negotiating affects your monthly payments. In other words, negotiating can save you money.
Consider ordering your new car if you do not see what you want on the dealer’s lot. This may involve a delay, but cars on the lot may have options you do not want, and that can raise the price. However, dealers often want to sell their current inventory quickly, so you may be able to negotiate a good deal if an in-stock car meets your needs.
If you decide to finance your car, be aware that the financing obtained by the dealer, even if the dealer contacts lenders on your behalf, may not be the best deal you can get. Contact lenders directly. Compare the financing they offer you with the financing the dealer offers you. Because offers vary, shop around for the best deal, comparing the annual percentage rate (APR) and the length of the loan. When negotiating to finance a car, be wary of focusing only on the monthly payment. The total amount you will pay depends on the price of the car you negotiate, the APR, and the length of the loan.
Sometimes, dealers offer very low financing rates for specific cars or models but may not be willing to negotiate on the price. To qualify for the special rates, you may be required to make a large down payment. With these conditions, you may find that it is sometimes more affordable to pay higher financing charges on a car that is lower in price or to buy a car that requires a smaller down payment.
Before you sign a contract to purchase or finance the car, consider the terms of the financing and evaluate whether it is affordable. Before you drive off the lot, be sure to have a copy of the contract both you and the dealer have signed and that all blanks are filled in.
Some dealers and lenders may ask you to buy credit insurance to pay off your loan if you should die or become disabled. Before you buy credit insurance, consider the cost, and whether it is worthwhile. Check your existing policies to avoid duplicating benefits. Credit insurance is not required by federal law. If your dealer requires you to buy credit insurance for car financing, it must be included in the cost of credit. That is, it must be reflected in the APR. Your state Attorney General also may have requirements about credit insurance. Check with your state Insurance Commissioner or state consumer protection agency.
Trading in Old Cars
Discuss the possibility of a trade-in only after you have negotiated the best possible price for your new car and after you have researched the value of your old car. Check the library for reference books or magazines that can tell you how much it is worth. This information may help you get a better price from the dealer. Though it may take longer to sell your car yourself, you generally will get more money than if you trade it in.
Service contracts that you may buy with a new car provide for the repair of certain parts or problems. These contracts are offered by manufacturers, dealers, or independent companies and may or may not provide coverage beyond the manufacturer’s warranty. Remember that a warranty is included in the price of the car while a service contract costs extra.