How to buy a car: Nine keys to success

Research reviews, prices, safety and fuel economy ratings online to narrow your selection.

Visit dealers to test drive and inspect vehicles on your list. Do not buy at this point.

Research actual sales price data at and to determine the lowest price in the current market. Use the California DMV fee calculator to derive the “out-the-door” price, including all taxes and fees.

Email the Internet sales managers at five big dealerships, asking each if they can beat your best out-the-door price.

Wait two days for responses. Take the lowest offer and send another round of emails, asking dealers if they can beat the price by a “meaningful amount.”

Send the new lowest offer around one last time, asking for better bids. Make clear that you are ready to buy today.

Call the general manager or senior sales manager at the dealer with the lowest price. Confirm that the car is available at the agreed price — with no extra fees.

Ask the dealer to call you when the sales paperwork is completed and ready to sign. Don’t go to the dealer until that is done. Say you are refusing in advance all added warranties, prepaid service plans, paint coatings, etc.

Visit the dealer to inspect the car, sign the paperwork and have the sales agent explain basic car functions, especially how to use the infotainment system.

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