Before You go to the dealer
Find out what your price range is for your new car. Be realistic, especially about what you’re willing to sacrifice to pay for it. Are you really willing to live in your car? Think about the hygiene. Even though most modern cars have windshield washer jets that are powerful enough to be used as a bidet, most communities have bylaws in place to prevent exactly this from happening.
Research what features on the car you actually need. Do you really need a shizzle-fozzle-link suspension, or 30 decagram engine? If you don’t understand these basic terms, a car salesman will forcibly have his way with you in the prison-yard of unexpected metaphors that is the used car lot.
Once you know your price range, and the features you’ll need, narrow down your choices to a few specific cars. If you walk onto a car lot without knowing specifically what you want, there’s a good chance that a salesman will talk you into buying something that’s not what you really need. This is how most Saturns are sold.
Once you’ve picked out your favorite non-General Motors car, find out how much it’s actually worth. Online car price websites can give you a general idea of what your target car’s true worth is. Take that number, multiple it by two, and subtract one. Now you know what the dealer will try to charge for it.
On the lot
When looking at a car for the first time, go over it very closely. Put your face inches away from it, and examine every bit of it’s surface. Make sure to squint at it, as if you’re blinded by all of it’s imperfections. The salesman will notice this, and remember it when negotiating with you later. The more you squint, the more you’ll be able to knock down the price of the car. Renée Zellweger is renowned for her ability to purchase cars at bargain basement prices.
There’s lots of things you can find out about a car before getting in it. How heavy is it? Can you lift it with one hand, or does it take two? If the car is too light, the dealer may have over inflated the tires, and may also be a cartoon character from the 30’s.
Ask lots of questions. Ask about the cars features, and ask about it’s history. Ask about the salesman’s personal life. Ask if he’s ever seen peanuts in his poo but not been able to remember the last time he ate peanuts. An off balance car salesman is a less dangerous car salesman.
On the test drive
On your test drive, make sure to drive the same way you do in real life. Does your daily commute involve driving around corners at 70 miles per hour? Does it involve clipping curbs, and kicking the car up on two wheels? Does it involve flying off ramps that send the car crashing through the back of a drive-in movie screen displaying the Miracle of Birth so that to the audience it looks like the true miracle of birth is that Jetta’s sometimes come flying out of women’s vaginas at alarming speed? It’s better to find out that your car can’t handle this kind of driving on the test drive, instead of in a situation where it really counts. Like a job interview.
If possible, get a second opinion on your car from someone you know. When I take a test drive, I like to take the car past my various ex girlfriends houses and scream out the window, “Hey! Look at me! How do you like me now! Who’s got emotional problems in their fancy car!? You see this guy? He’s my boyfriend! You did that! You made me gay!”
In the Dealership
When negotiating, your main tactic is going to be your ability to walk away. Be prepared to walk away at the drop of a hat – many experts suggest carrying a hat around with you for exactly this reason.
Ask to see the cars history. Ideally, your car will have complete service records, and won’t have been used as a taxi, or in an R. Kelly video.
When the subject of price comes up, get very vague, and make veiled comments about avoiding hidden service fees. When they explain that fees are a normal part of business, acknowledge that, but claim that you don’t want to charge them any more than you have to for the pleasure of your business.
One of a car salesman’s favorite tactics is to get you to sign something before you even begin negotiating. It will be some meaningless non-binding document, but it can intimidate some buyers. What you do is try to get the salesperson to sign something in return. Anything will do. Write “I promise to be a good friend” in highlighter on your forearm, and try to get him to sign it. When they don’t, storm out, crying.
Eventually you’ll have agreed on a price which is way more than you originally wanted to spend; so much so, that the only way you can viably afford the payments on your new car, is to sell it. But never mind that! Congratulations friend! You’ve just bought an massively depreciating asset with borrowed money! You’re living the American Dream!