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How to: play your cards right with the dealer

When shopping around for a new car don't feel bullied into buying by an over-enthusiastic salesman - take your time and pick the vehicle that best suits your financial and practical needs.

If you have decided that you want to step into a brand new car with its unique new smell, pristine bodywork and interior and only a few delivery miles on the clock, you have several sources – a dealer, importing or a car broker. And at none of these should you pay the manufacturer’s advertised price.

For most people the first stop is the dealer’s showroom. Be under no illusions about what happens here. The idea is for you to get enthused about a car and for the salesman to part you from as much cash as possible.

The first step is easy enough. Visit the showrooms selling the sort of car you’re interested in. This assumes you have some flexibility, but even if you’re totally wedded to the idea of buying a particular brand, it makes sense to compare what other carmakers’ similar vehicles are offering in terms of price and features. Sit in the car to get a feel for it. Then go away. Take time to reflect on different models and makes.

When you have a shortlist of one or two vehicles you should ask for a test drive. The idea of a test drive from the dealer’s point of view is to get you in a one-to-one situation where you can hear about how wonderful the car is and where the salesman can start to work out your budget and be thinking of extra things he can sell to you. The test drive from your point of view should be about discovering whether the car is pleasant and comfortable to drive, and has the sort of performance and features you want.

So a 10-minute spin around the block doesn’t help much. Ideally you want the car for a full day, but that’s rarely an option. But ask to try the car on different types of road – urban, rural, motorway, on hills and on the flat. And if you have particular concerns, such as whether it will fit easily in your garage, and assuming you live fairly near the showroom, ask to try it out. The degree to which the salesman is willing to cooperate will vary, and you, as the buyer of a very expensive piece of equipment, must make up your own mind as to whether he is trying hard enough to accommodate your reasonable requests.

Before you get to the point where you start talking seriously to this showroom about money, it’s worth ringing around the country to ask other dealers in the same brand for their best price on that particular car. You might be amazed to discover that some will immediately quote a much lower price as the starting point for negotiations. It gives you an idea of where to expect haggling to start with your local garage. And, if you’re getting nowhere locally and the best price is in Penzance or Inverness, don’t forget that delivery shouldn’t be a problem anywhere in the UK from any dealer.

If you want to save a bit more money, you could ask about ex-demonstrator models. These will certainly come with a handsome discount, but they’re in big demand and short supply, so don’t hold your breath waiting for one. Unless you’re very lucky and very pushy, the salesman will be far keener to sell the brand new version for which he can relieve you of more money.

It is important when dealing with a showroom to remember exactly what you want and not be talked into things you don’t, such as a more powerful or better featured model, extra warranties, insurance, enhanced paintwork protection or expensive finance. In negotiations the salesman will ask numerous questions about what you want and about your budget. It makes sense to be honest about what you want, but don’t be immediately swayed to opt for something you’re not totally sure about. If in doubt, go away and think about it.

Remember that some times in the year are slacker for dealers, so you may be able to negotiate a better price. It wouldn’t be unusual to find a 10 per cent or more discount in December, while in busier months you won’t get more than a few per cent off. And when business is slow, there may be lots more “special offers” about. Just make sure you read the small print to ensure any offer is as good as it sounds.

Equally, very popular models will “sell themselves” so the salesman doesn’t have to work too hard on his generosity; you will have to pay more and could face a longer delivery time.

In negotiations over money, you should have researched the current on-the-road price for the car and preferably checked what alternative suppliers, such as car brokers, are offering. The showroom may not be able to match a broker price, but it should give you a rough idea of a price to aim at. A good website to visit is www.whatcar.co.uk. Here you will not only get reviews of new cars, but a target price you should aim for.

Finally, be careful with any trade-in. If your car is a few years old, you will get an idea of what it’s worth by looking at similar models on the forecourt. Then take off a few hundred as the realistic selling price, the cost of servicing and cleaning and the dealer’s profit margin. If that adds up to an even £1,000, it’s hardly unreasonable.

If your car is older, expect to receive the “bottom book” price, as it’s likely to be sent off to auction. Know this value beforehand by checking one of the used car price guides, such as Glass’s , available in many newsagents.

In any case, weigh any trade-in price along with any discount on the new car’s price. A smaller discount and a big trade-in may seem attractive, but represent poorer value than a moderate discount and a moderate trade-in figure.
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