Ask LH: What Bonuses Should I Ask For When Buying A New Car?

Ask LH: What Bonuses Should I Ask For When Buying A New Car?
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Hey Lifehacker, I’m planning on buying a car soon and am wondering what sort of extras I should try and squeeze out of my dealer? Should I aim for accessories such as a GPS and car-backing camera, or just try for a discount? Thanks, Buying A Car

Car dealership picture from Shutterstock

Dear BAC,

Just be careful that those “extras” don’t morph into premiums you end up paying for. In the hallowed words of George Costanza from Seinfeld: “First they stick you with the undercoating, rust-proofing, dealer prep… Suddenly you’re on your back like a turtle!” (I’ve always wanted to quote that line. But anyway.)

Personally, I’d push for a cash discount over free add-on features. This stuff is harder to quantify and could actually work out cheaper as aftermarket accessories. Plus, you can put the savings towards an inbuilt GPS or car-backing camera of your choice instead of being stuck with whatever the dealer offers you. In other words, forget about the bells-and-whistles and concentrate on getting the best price you possibly can.

Landing a great deal on a new car is dependent on a range of factors that have very little to do with your haggling skills. For example, you tend to get bigger discounts on cars that are either slow sellers or have very high profit-margins. So it definitely pays to do some research in this area. Naturally, you should also take time to compare the promotions at multiple dealerships to get an idea of what’s feasible.

Timing can improve your bargaining power by a significant margin too. As a general rule of thumb, the end-of-financial-year period (June) is the best time to purchase a new car. This is when dealerships are pushing to reach their sales targets, resulting in bigger discounts and incentives.

You can also find good deals at the end of the calendar year when dealerships are trying to get rid of old stock to make way for new models. (Whenever a car receives an update, its predecessor experiences a sharp drop in value.) Anecdotally, February tends to be a slow month for all spending which could result in some excellent deals.

If you need a new car straight away and don’t want to wait for the above months to roll by, try haggling at the end of the month rather than at the beginning. Prices tend to be more negotiable at this time, because dealers need to meet their monthly targets and are subsequently more eager to make a sale.

If you’re interested in a specific car, it might be worth registering your interest on AutoGenie. This is an online car buying service that essentially sees dealers bidding for your business. You list the car you want and then choose the best offer. Once an offer has been selected, you move straight to the purchasing process with the price already agreed upon.

You can pick up some additional car buying tips here. If any readers have bargaining advice or haggling hacks or their own, let BAC know in the comments section below.


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  • I may be in the market to buy a new car soon, this is useful information.

    When you know your trade-in is not going to be worth much, what’s the best strategy to get the best deal you can out of it?

    • You really need to focus on the price you’re paying after trade-in, rather than the amount you get for your old car. If you get too hung up on that price and push them for extra, they may just get that money back by not moving as far with the car you actually want to keep.

    • Basically you want to talk in terms of “change over” (use this terminology) price, you want to reduce the amount of money you need to exchange to buy the car, that way they can take money off the price of the car or increase what they give you for the trade, it doesn’t really matter to you, but it will for them so let them decide that and stick to negotiating your change over amount.

    • Agree with dawgax – don’t worry so much about the trade-in as what you will get for the whole deal. They can drop the price, throw in extras, raise the trade-in. If you can, get your car detailed before you get it valued, and keep all the servicing information to show that you are ‘one careful owner’. We spent a few hundred dollars on detailing two cars we traded in, and we are pretty sure we recouped our money on the trade in prices (and then some), because it looked like we had looked after our vehicles.

  • Price check like anything else: Once you get the ‘I cant go any lower than this’ price out of them, contact a few other dealers (even if they’re not local). Ask if they can beat the price. They’ll try to get you to come in, but you can usually get a figure out of them. Repeat as necessary.

    A couple more:
    -A guy new to the dealership will sometimes be willing to cut into his commission just to get some sales.
    -Unpopular colours will be discounted once they’re the only ones left. If you see notice they have a lot of brown cars in the lot, you can probably get an extra $500 off.

    Oh, and of course: Never buy anything they try to sell you after you’ve signed the contract. They push hard on the finance and tinting and special fabric coatings because it’s almost free money for them.

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