4. Locate and Test-Drive the Car
By now, you've settled on a few car candidates. You should see them in person before making a decision. Hundreds of dealerships throughout the country list their car inventories on Edmunds, and in many cases, you can sort by color, trim level and features. This is a better way to shop than configuring a car at the automaker's website and hoping you will find one with that set of options in the real world. All the listings you'll find on Edmunds pages are real cars with a variety of options. Most will have a locked-in price that should be comparable to what others are paying.
If you follow the steps below with Edmunds, a salesperson from the dealership will contact you to schedule a test drive. If you found the vehicle on another site, call the dealership's internet sales department to request more information. In either case, keep these do's and don'ts in mind:
- Do verify that the car you want is still in stock. It might have been sold recently, and online inventories can take a while to catch up.
- Do ask the salesperson if there are any dealer-installed options. Many new vehicles are sold with add-ons such as nitrogen in the tires, all-weather floor mats or theft protection packages. These can easily add $1,000 to the sale price.
- Don't just show up at the dealer on a busy weekend or late at night. Waits may be long and you may not get the salesperson's full attention.
- Do schedule an appointment for a test drive. Early in the week and in the morning are good times. Having an appointment means the car will be waiting for you when you arrive.
- Don't just drive around the block. Take the time to see how you and your family fit in the car and see how it handles on a variety of roads.
- Do ask yourself the following questions: Are the controls easy to use? Is there enough cargo space? Will a child seat fit? (Bring it with you and test it.)
- Don't feel obligated to buy the car the same day. Feel free to take a night to think it over.
5. Check Sale Price and Warranties
Once you have a target car, it's time to focus on getting a price. We recommend using one of these two ways to get a price quote on a car:
- Call, text or email the internet sales department of three dealerships that have the car you want. Ask each for the total selling price, including any additional accessories that may have already been installed on the car. The best price will be obvious. You also can take that quote and ask the other dealerships to beat it. If you plan on leasing, this is the way to go.
- You can save time and trouble by using Edmunds to get a locked-in price that's designed to be comparable to the average price that others are paying in your area. Make sure you ask the salesperson to email or text you a breakdown of the "out-the-door price," with all the taxes and fees factored in. That lets you see the total amount you'll be spending.
You also should ask for a preview of products the dealership plans to offer you after you buy a car — such as paint protection, an extended warranty and possibly a prepaid maintenance plan. Usually, you won't hear about these extras until much later in the shopping process, but we suggest you get some information now to relieve pressure later.
Here's how you do it: Call the dealership finance manager and ask about these products and services. They may be of value to you, but just know that the price is often negotiable and you don't have to buy them when you buy the car unless you intend to fold their price into the purchase contract.
6. Review the Deal and Dealer Financing
Now that you have a price quote for the car, your big question is probably whether it's competitive. Edmunds uses the term "Average Price Paid" — also known as Edmunds TMV — to measure this. It's the amount that others are paying in your area for a similarly equipped car. If you need more information or if you'd like to bounce ideas off someone with car-buying experience, take a few minutes to tell our Shopper Advice team about your situation and we'll pair you with your very own Edmunds car-buying expert for free assistance. By answering a few questions about your upcoming lease or purchase, you'll give us a better picture of your situation so we can make recommendations. This is a free service from Edmunds to help car shoppers get the best deal they can.
It's important to keep in mind that an average price paid is exactly that. Some people have paid more and others paid less. Some shoppers are only happy if they grind their way to a rock-bottom price. But for most shoppers, that usually isn't worth the hassle and frustration. If your price quote is above the average, it's not necessarily reason to walk away from a deal. Here's why:
A car's price isn't the only factor that determines a good car deal. You also should look at the interest rate, the loan term and the value of your trade-in, if that's part of your deal. There are even some intangibles, such as how the salesperson and the dealership treat you and the time you save in the shopping process. Those are all factors in a good deal. In fact, at this point in the process, you may be able to improve parts of it.
In Step 2, you got preapproved for financing. Now that you're close to purchase, there's a chance that you can get a better interest rate at the dealership.
To see if that's possible, let the dealership run a credit report and assess your interest rate. Or, if you know your credit score, tell the finance manager what it is and the rate for which you'd qualify. You can give your information to the finance manager over the phone. Some dealerships have credit applications on their websites and you can fill one out. If the interest rate is lower than the one in your preapproved loan, go for it. If not, you already have a good loan locked in.
7. Close the Deal
If the price, financing and fees look right, it's time to say yes to the deal. From here, you can proceed in one of two ways: Buy at the dealership or have the car and paperwork delivered to your home.
Most people tend to wrap up the sale at the dealership. Once you've agreed on a price, the salesperson will take you to the finance and insurance office. Here, you'll sign the contract and purchase any of the additional products we discussed earlier, such as an extended warranty.
The alternative is to make the sale contingent on having your new car delivered to your home or office. This is a great time-saver and allows you to close the deal in a relaxed environment.
Wherever you finalize the deal, review the contract carefully and make sure the numbers match the out-the-door breakdown. Be sure there are no additional charges or fees. A good finance manager will explain each form and what it means. Don't hurry. Buying a car is a serious commitment. And remember: There is no cooling-off period. Once you sign the contract, the car is yours.
8. Take Delivery
Whether you take delivery of your car at the dealership or at your home, it should be clean. The gas tank should be full. Give the car a final walk-around, checking for any dents or scratches that might have occurred during transport.
Finally, let the salesperson give you a tour of your new car. The rundown should include showing you how to pair your smartphone via Bluetooth and demonstrating other important features and safety devices. All of this information is in the owner's manual, but let's face it, very few people ever read the manual, which can be hundreds of pages long. If you don't have time for a complete demonstration when you sign the contract, set up an appointment a week or so later. With the amount of technology that comes in most new cars, that walk-through is important and very useful. You'll learn tricks and shortcuts you might not find on your own.
And now there is only one more thing to do: Enjoy your new car.