How to get the best price when buying a car

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Buyers of new cars have never had it so good, a motoring expert has claimed.

Car sales are falling, the number of vehicles being built is dropping, and dealerships are worried about old stock sitting on their forecourts.

“Our research shows it has never been a better time to buy a new car,” Darren Moss, deputy editor of What Car? magazine told the BBC.

“But it is up to consumers to go in and ask for [the best price].”

Why is now a good time to buy?

Last year, UK car sales saw the biggest annual fall since the financial crisis, according to the industry trade body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

The total number of sales was lower in the years immediately after the financial crash, but things had looked a lot better for the industry more recently.

However, in the past couple of years, buyers have been more cautious and they have remained so this year. The SMMT’s latest data for May showed a 4.6% fall in sales compared with the same month a year earlier.

All that means dealerships are keen to shift some of their stock and manufacturers are giving them the leeway to do so. For customers, that potentially means bigger discounts. The vast majority of new cars are sold on finance deals.

“New cars are priced with a margin of manoeuvre in mind,” says Mr Moss. “If you do not haggle, you could end up paying over the odds.”

What types of vehicles have the best deals?

Customers might find that the less popular cars have the biggest discounts, as the most common ones may be sold fast even in a tricky financial climate.

The time of year can also have a significant effect on when a vehicle is popular and so dealerships are less prone to cut the price.

For example, convertibles are naturally more desirable in the summer and 4X4s in the winter, so buying out of season may be sensible to get a good price.

There are often better deals at the end of each quarter as dealerships try to hit targets, and quieter weekdays may see staff in a better frame of mind to negotiate, the Money Advice Service says.

It also points out that March and August – just before new registrations are released – can see the older stock sold off cheaper.

How can buyers get the best price?

The universal advice is to haggle. Dealerships will even expect buyers to do so.

That might not come naturally to many people – but consumer advisers say that there are some key tips to ensuring buyers start off on the right foot.

Negotiating expert Derek Arden says that before arriving, buyers should have worked out exactly what make, model and specifications of car they want to buy. This extends to the extras such as sat-nav and other bolt-on insurance deals.

The Money Advice Service suggests doing homework on the correct price for a car – especially if buyers are trading in their own old one. It suggests using websites such as Parkers and What Car?.

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Money saving blogger Miss Thrifty says that customers should be brazen, but know when to back down when haggling.

Meanwhile, Mr Arden – who give talks about the art of negotiation – says that building a rapport with the sales staff tends to help. However, he says the key is being prepared to walk away.

“It is amazing that when you get to the door, they may have a ‘Columbo moment’ and call you back,” he says. Columbo was a TV detective who often delivered the killer line just as a suspect was about to leave the room.

He says that sending a follow-up email directly to the member of staff within 24 hours with a final offer can sometimes work.

The Money Advice Service suggests that hagglers always remain friendly and polite, but hold back some information – such as being a cash buyer – for later in the conversation.

What if I’m too nervous to haggle?

It is natural to feel nervous, so Mr Arden suggests taking a friend for support.

“It gives you confidence, offers the chance to take a time out, and you can always play the good guy, bad guy routine,” he says.

Mr Moss, of What Car?, says research can help confidence.

Miss Thrifty says that making eye contact, going for it, and being prepared to haggle time and again all helps to conquer the nerves.

“If haggling takes you out of your comfort zone, it’s only because you need more practice,” she writes in her blog.

There is always the option of avoiding a dealership and buying from a broker, who will negotiate the best price for customers. There are downsides such as being unable to test drive the car, and having to deal primarily online rather than in person.

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