My New Car Negotiation & Trade-In Strategy Enacted

If you’ve been following along, you know that my previous dying car, a 2000 Pontiac Grand Am, was on its last legs and I needed to move quick. At last check, I had decided that my best car buying strategy was to go new vs. used, due to the inflated prices on used cars at the present time.

Beyond that, given the current incentives on new cars, I found the best new car value to be the Chevy Malibu, as GM was offering a total of $3,500 in rebates. Additionally, I had $2,000 in cash rewards from an old GM card I used heavily a few years ago, for a grand total of $5,500 off, before negotiation.

I didn’t want to stop there though. So I started researching.

Researching Car Prices Before Negotiating

The base Malibu was plenty of car for me:

  • 17″ alloy wheels with performance tires
  • power windows, doors, seats
  • keyless entry
  • AC
  • 6 air bags
  • cruise
  • automatic trans w/ manual tap shifting

…all things you typically have to pay up for on entry level cars. For me, to ask for anything more? Greedy.

new car negotiation tips

Before you try to negotiate with a dealer, it’s important to know EXACTLY what car you want. I wanted the base Malibu, with no additional options.

Once you know that, find out what the MSRP is. MSRP is a good “I should never pay more than this” starting point, but that is all. For the Malibu, the MSRP was $22,870.

The next price you should find is the dealer cost. You can find this at

TrueCar listed this at $21,654 for the base Malibu, before rebates.

TrueCar also lists the market average of what that car is selling for. The Malibu LS was averaging a sale price of $22,406 (before rebates).

Let the Car Negotiating Over Email Begin

Armed with this info., my next step was to email 5 Chevy dealerships. You can find a contact email on their website or the email address for their internet sales manager (all dealers have one these days).

I would much rather do all of my negotiation work BEFORE going to a dealership so that you can avoid any chaos or sales tactics when you arrive, but that’s just me.

My email read like this:

“I am interested in buying a Chevy Malibu LS, with no added options, this weekend. Please give me your best offer on this vehicle including all fees, but excluding tax, title, registration, and any cash rebates or incentives from GM.”

You’ll notice that my simple email:

  1. Lets them know that I’m a serious buyer.
  2. Tells them I am comparing offers.
  3. Tells them exactly what vehicle I was looking for (if they don’t have it on the lot, they can find one).
  4. Asks for the best price THEY can give me – forget all the automaker incentives.
  5. Allows me to get an apple-to-apple comparison between offers.
  6. Asks them to include any and all fees so there were no surprises when I get to the dealership.

Did I get what I asked for from any of the dealerships? Hell no. Of course not.

Dealerships negotiate for a living. If they can confuse you, make it seem like they are offering you something other dealerships are not, or just make you tired of asking for answers, they win.

Rule #1 with negotiation: don’t be the one to make the first offer.

Most tried to work in the cash incentives (offered by GM, not them) to sweeten the overall price. I had to ask them to not do this. You have to push and push hard. I went back and forth with each dealership over email as few as 10 times and as many as 20 times before I got exactly what I was looking for. STICK TO YOUR ORIGINAL ASK.

Finally, I got responses from 4 of the dealerships, while one would only offer to “beat the best offer”. Sorry, but if you can’t even give me a price, you’re not going to get my business. Tell them as much, if this ever happens to you.

I had to tell a few I was heading out to another dealership right now before I got their actual offers.

Two offers were over the $22,870 MSRP. One was $22,500. The best offer came in at $21,914.

Given that the dealer cost was just $260 under that, I was happy with this offer, so long as the dealer kept to its word of no additional fees.

On to the Dealership

I went to the dealership. They had the car I asked for and they said they had (if they don’t have what they said they did, you should walk out). I took the car for a test drive, and it checked out. It was time to sit down and continue the negotiation.

I decided not to push further on the $21,914 offer, given it was the best I had received by a decent amount, and was not much higher than the dealer cost.

We then went through the paperwork on the car, and indeed, there were no additional funny business fees. If there is “funny business”, that is another reason to walk out – a negotiation tactic in its own right.

Trade-In Negotiation

Next, it was time to discuss trading in ole’ Grandy. Before going to the dealership, I researched Grandy’s market worth so that I knew ahead of time what I wanted to get out of any trade-in negotiations.

KBB priced the trade-in value at $1,084 and the private-seller value at $2,119 for “good” condition (the description fit). Given Grandy’s recent issues, I felt much better leaving her at a dealership than selling to a private party. If I could get $1,500, I’d be satisfied.

The appraiser at the dealership looked at Grandy and came back with an offer of $1,200.

I countered at $2,100. They countered at $1,600. I told them to throw in some floor mats.

Done deal.

Of course, they tried to sell me some rust-protection, extended warranty crap. I said “no”, as they expected.

When all was said and done, the final out-of-pocket was:

– $956 Dealership negotation
– $2,500 GM Chevy Malibu consumer cash
– $500 auto show bonus
– $500 GM loyalty bonus (for trading in the Grand Am)
– $2,000 GM card cash back
– $1,600 trade-in
= $14,814 (before tax, title, registration)

Not bad! There were no good financing offers, so I paid in cash.

Could I have done better? Maybe a tad if I had REALLY pushed it, but I think I did pretty good for myself. In the end, I was satisfied with the price and the purchase.

If I don’t sell her this year, maybe you’ll be hearing the story of ole’ Mally in 15 years. Of course… it might be by then.

Car Buying Discussion:

  • What car negotiation tips do you have?
  • Have you negotiated over email before? Did the dealer keep their promises?
  • What is the most off of MSRP you have purchased a car?

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