Tips for the negotiation process

Buying a new or used car can be a complex process with a lot of moving parts. If drivers aren't careful, they can quickly find themselves paying much more than they initially bargained for.

Fortunately, there are some easy tips that buyers can keep in mind to help make the negotiation process a bit easier on themselves. Despite the public perception, most car dealers aren't looking to swindle their customers. It would be naive of shoppers to think, however, that salesmen and dealers won't be attempting to maximize their profits.

MSN Autos recently spoke to several consumer advocates about some tips that could help buyers save a bit off of their next purchase. With these in mind, shoppers can help themselves negotiate the best possible deal.

As a starting point, Jeff Bartlett of Consumer Reports told the news source that it's helpful for shoppers to think of the process as a series of steps. Keeping these steps separate is key to understanding everything that's going on and avoiding potential pitfalls.

"They're looking at making money off you in stages," he said. "So it's important for customers to keep the stages separate and not lose track of what's going on."

For many buyers, one of those stages will be a trade-in. Swapping a used car for a new one can be a powerful tool that can work in the buyer's favor, but many dealers will use the trade-in value to distract from the actual purchase. They might make a generous offer on the car only to recoup the money by inflating the new car price, or vice-versa. The best strategy is for buyers to simply avoid mentioning the trade until the final price is locked in. Negotiate them as two separate transactions to make things easier.

Locking the final price of the car in can also help on the lending front. Buyers seeking a loan will have a whole other set of factors to worry about, including monthly payments and interest rates. So it's a lot easier to think in these terms once the actual price is known. Dealers make most of their profits off of financing, so those who plan on paying cash may not want to advertise it right away. That will tip salesmen off to the fact that they'll have to be very rigid with their pricing, since they won't be recouping any expenses through financing.

Finally, the news source reports that one of the more common mistakes that buyers make is simply not comparison shopping. Drivers may get locked into a specific model or settle for one of the cars for sale on the lot. It's important to test drive a number of different models and shop around for the best price. Shoppers shouldn't be afraid to quote a price from one dealer to another – this is a great way to drive down the cost of a vehicle.

Buyers who are really looking to save should keep in mind that new car lots aren't the only places to find vehicles. Often, better prices can be had on lightly used cars at their local dealer or auto auction.