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Personal Finance > Autos

Car buying for wimps
Want a good price but hate the idea of haggling with the "sales manager"? There are other ways.
September 14, 2004: 12:57 PM EDT
By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Do you just love the idea of going into an auto dealership and negotiating hard for hours to get the lowest possible price? If you do, click the Back button now, because this story isn't for you.

But if you're shopping for a car, and dread the prospect of dealing with an aggressive salesman, read on. There are other ways to buy a new vehicle.

One method might be just to buy a Saturn. But many argue that Saturn's no-haggle pricing policy is no different from paying sticker price at any other auto dealership. Besides, you might not want a Saturn. A lot of people don't, you know.

No matter what model you want, buying a car doesn't have to involve game playing and gut checks.

Which method you choose is partly matter of personal style. For example, how much help and advice do you want with the process? Are you just looking to shorten the negotiation or do you really want to bypass the auto dealership experience altogether?

Before you purchase a car using any of these methods -- or using any method, for that matter -- be sure to check either's True Market Value or Kelley Blue Book's New Car Blue Book value for the car. If the price you're getting isn't close to that or lower, you're not getting a good deal.

Of course, you will have to interact with a dealership at some point, if only to sign paperwork and get your car at the end of the process.

Take heart, though. You may not have to actually go into the dealership. Most dealers will deliver a new car to your home or office.

Buy it at Costco

Yes, you can get a car from Costco. Or Sam's Club or BJ's Wholesale Club. All of these discount chains offer auto buying programs. So do other clubs and organizations.

Usually, you decide what car and what options you want and you're presented with a reasonably cheap no-haggle price. Just go in and see the service's designated salesperson at the dealership and sign on the dotted line.

"Would I tell you that you couldn't get a better deal than Costco's negotiated? No," said Pat Callans, Costco's vice president member services.

The lowest possible price isn't the point here. A good, low, fair price without all the hassle is what these discount club auto buying operations offer. They also offer customer service reps to talk to if you have questions and someone to complain to if you the auto dealer doesn't treat you right.

Approach the dealer on-line

Through the Web site Autobytel, you can get a price quote from a car dealer in your area. You can even negotiate a lower price entirely on-line, via e-mail, without going to the dealership.

CNN/Money does not necessarily recommend any of the companies mentioned in this story.

In most areas, Autobytel will get you just one price quote. Other online sites, including Yahoo! Autos,, Kelley Blue Book and AOL Autos (through a partnership with will generate multiple price quotes from dealers in your area. AOL is a division of Time Warner, the parent company of CNN/Money.

In most cases, auto dealerships pay a fee to the On-line company for each quote request they receive. Usually, once you get price quotes, you take it from there. You can continue negotiations, if you wish, either via e-mail or over the telephone.

Pay someone to call for you

At Carbargains, instead of being paid by car dealers, the service is paid for by you. For a price of $190 a member of the staff will call several dealers in your area -- they guarantee at least five -- and ask them for a price on the car you want.

Since Carbargains has no business relationship with any auto dealers, staffers can contact any dealers in your area to get price quotes.

Other sites offer you multiple quotes via e-mail for free, though. Compared to that, $190 is a lot of money. What's the advantage with the Carbargains method? For one thing, you're not limited to dealers that have a business relationship with the Web company.

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Carbargains will also sort through all the quotes for you and watch out for any funny business. That means fewer quotes like, "We don't have exactly the car you want, but we have one in blue with heated seats instead, and you can have it for...."

By talking to dealers directly over the telephone, the folks at Carbargains say they can make sure you're getting truly accurate competitive pricing information, said Robert Ellis, the company's director of operations.

Just buy it on-line

CarsDirect offers the closest thing you can get to buying a car on In fact, if you go to Amazon and click on "cars," way down on the left-hand side, you go to CarsDirect.

In addition to lots of new car research tools, CarsDirect offers up-front no-haggle pricing. They have a staff of "pricing experts" who pre-negotiate the car prices you see on the site.

Once you've selected the vehicle you want and the options you want on it, you'll see the price CarsDirect is offering. (Actually, the price is displayed throughout the process, so you can see if you're optioning up a bit too much.)

If you really want to make sure you're getting a good deal, CarsDirect offers a "low price guarantee," which says that if you get written price offer for the exact same vehicle, CarsDirect will refund the difference. (Of course, if you want to go to all that trouble, you may as well just do it yourself to start with.)

If you don't want the prenegotiated CarsDirect price, the site also offers simple dealer price quotes, just like other sites do.  Top of page

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