Anyone Use CarBargains.com Price Negotiation Service?

The car buying strategy that I hear recommended most often is to

  1. decide on which car you want, down to all the options
  2. e-mail (or previously fax) the fleet managers of 3-5 local dealers, and ask for their best deal
  3. pit each of them against each other until you have the “best” best deal
  4. go in, sign paperwork, drive away happy

Sounds easy, but in practice seems like it might be tedious and time-consuming, not to mention uncomfortable for those that don’t like to haggle. However, I keep hearing mentions of CarBargains, run by a non-profit, will do all the negotiating for you if you pay them $200 ($175 if you are a subscriber to Consumer CHECKBOOK magazine).

Seems like it might just be worth it, but I haven’t heard any in-depth testimonials that aren’t on their site. Their press section includes several positive reviews from such magazines as Money and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. They also offer a money-back guarantee if you can beat their price “without using their information”, although that would be hard to prove…

Has a reader out there actually used CarBargains recently? If you’d be willing to share your experience in detail, please contact me directly. I’d like to write a post with detailed price quotes and model information. If you participate and agree to having me interview you, I have some ideas for compensation. :)

Comments

  1. I bought my car using the strategy mentioned in your post. It works. Even after taxes and off-the-lot depreciation, my car was worth more than I paid for it. I got a great deal.

    I am a person who hates haggling. For whatever reason (maybe because most of it was via email), the process was not terrible. It also wasn’t particularly tedious or time-consuming. I would feel a little cheated if I paid someone $200 to do the little bit of work it actually involved. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to pay people to do work, but I think the price point is a little bit high for what is actually involved.

    A flat $200 fee doesn’t provide them with an incentive to give you the best deal possible. It only provides them with the incentive to do a “good enough” job. I would much rather they base their fee on a (small) percentage of how much they save you versus (say) MSRP.

  2. so they are essentially saying they can either (a) save me $200 worth of my time, or (b) $200 worth of cash. i am curious what their client base looks like. is it people who have no time to car shop and want to save the time, people who are afraid to haggle, or people who are frugal…. i cant imagine the frugal spending $200 on this.

  3. The fax-a-thon method is specifically for people who are uncomfortable negotiating. The technique is very simple:

    1. Fax a complete description of the car you want to the 5-10 closest dealers.

    2. Take your best response and write on it, “Can You Beat This??” in big letters and fax it to your top few dealerships.

    3. Go to best dealership and purchase automobile.

    Not sure how carbargains improves on this strategy.

  4. ‘Sounds easy, but in practice seems like it might be tedious and time-consuming, not to mention uncomfortable for those that don’t like to haggle’. Actually, not really tedious at all compared to, say, going to multiple dealers and trying to swing a bargain. It’s really quite simple as long as you know what options you want in your vehicle (and most auto companies now have fairly detailed brochures available online).
    I did this on a purchase i made in August, and i believe i saved a couple thousand $$ compared to the best deal i was offered as a walk-in. All you need is a template that you modify slightly to the 5 or so different dealers. Definitely research what to say and what not to say before sending the letter, but then all you do is check your email. The only drawback is that some dealerships are just arcane when it comes to email and believe the email is just a way to schedule a phone or walk-in appointment.
    I was able to lock in a great price in August, before offering up my old truck for the $4,500 rebate. All in all, we drove off paying less after tax than than the best deal i was offered as a walk-in customer, pre-tax.
    I couldn’t see paying the $200 when there’s just no guarantee you would get the best deal with them.

  5. The reason this works is because fleet managers have a different motive, they’re focused on moving vehicles and they’re not tied to profit on sale of each individual vehicle like the general car salesmen are. And i don’t think they like to haggle over prices either, so either you take the price they give you ore go to the other dealer, it’s no skin off their back.

  6. @Roberto – I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s exactly the strategy Carbargains uses – the fax-a-thon.

  7. just bought a car recently. My advice:

    1. go to a dealer and see what they offer u for xyz.
    2. Next use (cant recall if its edmunds, cars.com) that lets you email several dealers close by for the exact car u want.
    3. Wait back and relax
    4. offers pour in

    I even said dealer x is offering xyz (-$100 from what they told me) + 3 oil changes (not true) and got some to match it.

  8. I use this method for myself and family members for the last 4 car purchase similar to what has been posted.

    1. Decide what car you want, model, color, options. Have a second color in mind.
    2. Find out invoice price online, rebates, Edmund, TrueCost.
    3. Go to Cars Direct.com and email several local dealers and request to respond through email. Dealer that gives the best price, I go down to pay a visit.
    4. Arrive at dealership, test drive car, sit down and negotiate price a little more, I like to buy below invoice. It’s not often I purchase a vehicle so I don’t mind doing a little work.

  9. For our past three cars, we used the Excel spreadsheet at http://www.carbuyingtips.com to calculate the bid. It’s especially good if you have a laptop, as you can bring it to the dealership and update the numbers as the “boss” returns ‘em.

  10. i bought a new car and i went to one honda dealer but after seeing he wouldn’t budge below 17,500, i walked out. i decided to not go to a dealearship till i had a quote. I called around and while some wouldn’t budge, i managed to negotiate deals over the phone. One guy called and i said I’m sorry, i just accepted an offer by a different company. He said how much are they offering, i said 16,700, he said if i knock $200 off will you come, i said yes. And i did. i got the car for about 800 below invoice. MSRP was 19.xxx so that was a great deal. Will i pay someone to do that little piece of work for me? if a young female right out of college can do it, i think most ppl can do better. i think $200 is excessive. Heck, it’s 65 more than the registration and licensing fee the dealer charges. I’m not a very frugal person and i’ll pass on this.

  11. I’m not sure why you think the process you outline is tedious. The whole process probably takes under an hour. Plus it is very enjoyable when you pit the best dealers against each other.

    I followed this method to purchase my car. Here is the exact quote I received from the second lowest priced dealer:

    “Some people will do anything to get a better deal. Some Honda dealers will say or do anything to sell a car. Either way there is no reason for us to beat or even match this bogus price quote. I can assure you that you will pay more than the quoted $18,100. This is what they do . . . all the time. As Michelle told you earlier, we have much more to offer than price. We don’t need to loose money to sell our product. If you are unable to appreciate this and price is all that matters to you, I am just not interested in your business.”

    I was able to purchase the car at that price with no problems from the lowest priced dealer.

  12. Jeff – I love it. Out of curiosity, can you remember exactly what “Michelle” told you was the “much more to offer” than the best price?

    Tim

  13. Here is the exact email that Michelle sent to me:

    “We have been able to stay in business for over forty years and still manage to sell new Honda cars in spite of these guys, because we have much more to offer than price. My husband (the Internet Sales Manager) has been with us for over a decade and he is empowered to do what needs to be done in order to take care of our customers. Your salesperson at this dealership can do nothing for you beyond the sale, and won’t be employed there when you need help. Thus, they only care about selling a new car now and will do or say anything to get you to come in . . . to include outright lie to you.

    We sell the car at the price we quoted without gimmicks and games, and offer our customers a long term relationship rather than a one time sale. This is worth paying a bit more for.”

    I didn’t want a long term relationship from a car salesman. I wanted the lowest price.

  14. Jeff,

    I just bought a car last weekend with the same tactics. Same thing happened to me. I also got the car I wanted with the lowest dealer.

  15. i don’t know about checkbook per se, but everytime i hear “nonprofit” my antennae goes up. I mean, a nonprofit doesn’t mean the guy running it can’t take a huge salary and/or bonus. yeah it’s non-profit in theory, but in reality it’s profit

  16. Al Smart says:

    Thank you for this post. I’m buying a car this summer & your post will help me.

  17. eh, wasn’t that bad, emailing 5 dealerships and getting them to bid each other down. took about 5 days for me to have 2 offers at invoice and 2 more just a hair above. patience is a good thing. definitely beats talking to any of them in person.

    and, actually, my salesperson told me that with specialized internet departments at dealerships, they know there are people like me (us) who know exactly what they should be paying for to get a car. they realize there’s no way around it.

  18. Ok all – there are a lot of people on here that will do the car negotiation for themselves.

    I did a BUNCH of work and ended up with $17,000 for a $21,450 2010 Jeep Patriot Sport with some options. (Package 24E to be exact.)

    That’s only 79% of sticker or almost a 21% savings from MSRP.

    I’d like to ask – anybody who did a ‘fax-a-thon’ or otherwise email/internet negotiated – did you get a price close to that (discount wise)?

    I may be wrong – but I would be willing to say that you didn’t get a price as heavily discounted. There is a reason for this – and the main reason would be the extra legwork involved to ultimately get a price so low is beyond most peoples’ tolerances.

    So a car negotiation service where you pay $200 or even $500 might not be so bad when you consider you’re probably going to get a price that $1,500 lower than even what you negotiated on your own. So net – you’d still be ahead $1,000 and you did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to get it done. (Other than research and fall in love with the car.)

    Post your response – I’m very curious to get your feedback on my comments.

  19. yeyolee wrote, “i don’t know about checkbook per se, but everytime i hear ‘nonprofit’ my antennae goes up.”

    I subscribe to Checkbook (CarBargains’ parent org) for ratings of local service providers, and it’s awesome. I don’t see any evidence that they’re an org that abuses the nonprofit label (unlike, say, some health insurance companies).

  20. I’ve used carbargains twice to buy vehicles and was unable to find another dealer to beat my carbaragains price.

  21. Mike – I’m curious to know – when you got your carbargains price – how many other dealers did you actually check with? And how did you do it? Send them the carbargains in writing- walk in, etc? Who did you talk to? Salesperon – manager? GM?

    Thanks.

  22. I used it in 03′ to buy my Tacoma. The dealer I test drove with offered 10% off sticker but the winning Car bargains bid was $100 under invoice. I used it again to buy an 07′ BMW 530. I took the car bargains price to the dealer I test drove with to give him (sales manager) the option to match the price and close the deal on the spot. He was unable to match the price. I then took the car bargains price to the dealer on my side of town and offered to write him a check on the spot if he could match the deal, but he could not. My father in-law out of state had a relationship with a dealer that he thought could beat the deal, but he also couldn’t. In 2010 I wanted to buy a 2011 Audi S4, but Car Bargains was unable to help me since they did not have the invoice information yet. I did the fax and email game that the other bloggers spoke of. After getting my best price I went back to the sales rep I test drove with and gave him the option to match the price. He matched the price without a big fuss, which leads me to believe that I got a fair deal but nothing out of the ordinary. I’ve been in sales for over five years and have a good friend that has been selling new cars for over ten years. Quote requests come in constantly. If times are slow you might get a somewhat aggressive price but not many people are going to give you a really great price because as far as they are concerned you’re just like everybody else shopping around. The quote to closed deal ratio is very low because the majority of people asking for quotes are not qualified prospects. They usually are not serious yet about purchasing. The customer doesn’t believe sales people and sales people don’t believe customers, so good luck convincing a sales person that you are ready to buy (I’ve heard it plenty of times and watched nothing happen). What Car Bargains does is qualify you as someone who is ready to buy a vehicle. The dealer knows that you are a serious prospect since you put down $200 to get your best deal. If you were just shopping around, you wouldn’t pay $200 to get some bids that you MIGHT react on. Hopefully this helps. I just put in Car Bargains request last week for my wife’s SUV. If you check back with me at the end of the month, I can give you an update on how that went. Hopefully that helps and best of luck to anyone out there “playing the game”.

  23. Mike, I am in the market to buy my wife a 2012 SUV (Honda) and was wondering how your Car Bargains request went with the purchase of your wife’s SUV.
    I am working on a strategy now using TrueCar, Consumer Reports, etc. And then doing the Email game once I find the price I feel is fare. Thanks.

  24. Willy,
    We purchased (on order) a 2012 Lexus GX-460. The winning carbargains bid was $1500 over invoice from a dealer about 100 miles north of us. Surprisingly my local dealer matched the bid. I also checked TrueCar. TrueCar’s winning bid was from a dealer about 100 miles away at $2500 over invoice. So for me CarBargains saved me $1k minus the $200 fee to get the report. If you go w/carbargains and beat the price let us know. It’s an intresting game and hopefully it works out in your favor.

  25. Would this strategy work:
    1. First, email the dealers and get the lowest quote possible
    2. Then, use Car Bargains to see if they can get a lower quote
    3. If not, is that enough proof (a quote obtained prior to Car Bargain’s) to get your $200 back from Car Bargains?

    At the end of the day, you still get the lowest price you can get?

  26. I’ve bought about half my cars in the last 20 years using Carbargains. It’s possible to do the same thing they do and save yourself the $200 (they state as much on their web site), but it takes at least a couple hours of your time, and I believe (but cannot supply proof) that in some cases, they either have better contacts with the dealerships (esp. when fleet sales and internet sales are separate), and/or are taken more seriously and given better prices as their buyers are closer to purchase.

    Several years ago I bought my sister a 2006 Subaru Legacy as a gift, and the lowest price Carbargains found was from Stevens Creek Subaru. My BIL took the Carbargains print out to his closest Subaru dealer, showed them the printout, and they just said they couldn’t match the price, and that if he could get it, he should buy it from Stevens Creek Subaru. We picked the car up a week later. In one of my early experiences a dealer who could not match the lowest Carbargains price I had told me the lowest quoting dealership wouldn’t honor their quote. He was wrong.

    My father is looking for a Prius now and I will probably get a quote from Carbargains. My free time is worth more than $100/hr.

    Carbargains is a legit consumer review/advocacy magazine in the SF Bay Area. They have reviews for things like physicians, dentists, handymen, carpet stores, etc. I subscribed twenty years ago for the discounted Carbargains service, but kept my subscription as the reviews are very useful, esp. knowing which dentists rate poorly for “gentleness”.

  27. I have used car bargains on 2 occasions, once to buy a 2004 Honda Odyssey and once on a 2009 RAV4. Both times I believe I got a great deal. I would have to actually go back and look but I think the Honda was $500 under invoice and the Toyota was $1100 under. I found the $175 to be reasonable as it saved me several hours of work, headaches, and hassle. Both times I got quotes from 8 Dealerships within 3 days and they also spelled out the what they will charge for documentation fees, fee to search for car off the lot and also price of accessories. I found this could make several hundreds difference in price. I would definitely recommend their service.

  28. I just used CarBargains to get a quote for a 2012 Prius for my father. These prices are for Northern California. Prices ranged from $500 under invoice (three dealerships) to $500 over invoice (two dealerships). The best price I found on my own by contacting Internet sales managers through dealership web sites was $100 over invoice. So Carbargains was able to beat the best price I could find by just shooting out emails by $600.

  29. redstorm_ says:

    I used this service and it wasn’t worth the cost. They did give me a price that I could use at the dealer but it was virtually the same as the dealer was offering and seemed to be retail compared to some car pricing sites I used. Also, if the vehicle is popular you can forget any ‘deals’ since the dealerships can easily say–go somewhere else EVEN if they supposedly lose a sale which they won’t on cars that many people want. I just think you can do better on your own.

    They did offer to refund my money when I complained but I didn’t want them to think I was trying to take advantage and get something for nothing AND they did provide what they said they would….I just thought it crap!! Very disappointed in this service and will never use them again…I dealt with the sales guy myself and got what I consider a fair price for a popular model that was hard to locate in our area at the time.

  30. I just placed an order with CarBargains to find a deal on a 2013 Mazda CX-5. The best price I’ve been able to get negotiating over email is $500 under invoice, so it will be interesting to see if they can beat that. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

  31. @SB – Look forward to hearing your results!

  32. Hey guys!

    Has anyone done fax-a-thon and then CarBargain to gauge them lately? Any updates on how CarBargain is doing this summer season?

    I’ve done modified version of fax-a-thon to buy our 2011 Subary Tribeca back in 2011 when it got it for $3000 below invoice. But these days I find myself in situation where I don’t have time to do it again.

  33. Greg Welte says:

    I have purchased three cars through Carbargains. A 1997 Yukon, 2003 Ford F-250 truck, and a 2009 RAV-4.

    Each time the bids came in ranging from $500 to $1,000 below “invoice” to some amounts above invoice.

    All sales included factory incentives, such as a discount of a couple thousand for the truck. Also, I received the Cash-for-Clunkers rebate on a trade-in for the Rav-4.

    The only complaint I have is that, in most cases the dealers insist that you take a car from their existing inventory, and do that within some rather short time period, such as a couple weeks. An exception was the Yukon, which I ordered, and then awaited delivery from the factory.

    I will use Carbargains again.

  34. Greg Welte says:

    An additional comment.

    My reasoning was that my first use of Carbargains was a gamble. But if the gamble failed, I would pay for the gamble by spending $ 200 less on the car I ultimately bought, to cover the loss on the gamble.

    Education costs money. And I am willing to take reasonable gambles.

  35. I used carbargains.com and found that it give you only a promise of a discount but it does not give you a final price. You still have to contact the dealership and do that on your own and especially find the particular car you want. Carbargains does not bring you the best deal also, I got a few deals that was much better. I tried it and all I got was just 200.00 less in my pocket, you can try several free service and some research, but it still comes back to timing and the car. How motivated is the dealer to get rid of that car. I got a bunch of garbage stuff from carbargains that didn’t do me any good. It just depends on the old demand and supply. If you are patient, then you can get a good deal by using the free service like cars.com, carwoo.com, autobytel.com and many more. Don’t get yourself locked into the price online, by saying I want a final price. Make them give you a quote but many times they will still negotiate if there is a motive for them to do so.

  36. Gary, you’re mistaken. I used CarBargains and it gave me the best deal. What they do is quote you a markup or markdown from invoice or sticker. You can easily calculate the price in the simple worksheet they offer you. It’s a proven fact that you cannot beat CarBargains quotes unless you’re having an affair with the dealership owner haha, I kid, but it’s true. They’ll offer you your money back if you beat their quote, I personally guarantee you CANNOT beat their quote or even come close.

  37. Barry – I personally guarantee you that I CAN ABSOLUTELY beat their quote and go WAY BEYOND what they can get for a price. The elbow grease I put in to drive that price to the bottom is NOT worth the small fee they charge. (i.e. the hourly pay for man hours is not going to be translated into profit for them considering the price paid by a consumer for the service.)

  38. I Did beat their price and they refused to give me my money back because I used car bargains. Catch 22 !
    My friend got the identical car, identical options, two weeks earlier for less money than even I. She didn’t
    use carbargains–perhaps She could get my $$ back?

    The worksheet gives one a false sense of security and does not jibe with the way the dealership has invoice, options, fees etc. listed so one is at a distinct disadvantage when attempting to negotiate best prices. You show up assured and find you are comparing apples to oranges and are left holding a semi-useless ‘worksheet’. Unpleasant surprise, and even more unpleasant when trying to get restitution from carbargains! Buyer beware.

  39. I have never used car bargains or any other negotiation service but I buy and sell lots of cars. I can tell you that calling 5 dealers is not the way to go. Most people buying cars do little research and buy without thinking. They only want to drive a few miles to pick the thing up. In the past I have saved many thousands of dollars by driving a few hundred miles. You may have to call 15-20 and play them against eatch other. If the service offered that, I think they would easily be worth 200 and maybe upwards of 500.

    • Why do you buy and sell lots of cars? I do agree it sounds like the service may save you the most if you are willing to drive to the best deal. Is that time worth it? It depends.

  40. I am thinking of using carbargains to buy a car for my Mom this summer. I bought a 2012 Honda CRV in July of 2012 and got what I feel was a fair price using TrueCar data via ConsumerReports, dealer research and a Costco discount. My feel is that the process was not as easy as stated on any of the research sites. It takes time and research. You need to make sure you are comparing apples to apples. You need to work from the invoice price and ignore the MSRP. You need to budget time at home, e-mailing and dealing with the dealer. You need to really enjoy the ‘game’ of saving money via haggling. You still need to deal with the dealership and all the BS there in terms of fees (most of time was spent taking or lowering BS fees off the final Bill of Sale, not the pre-tax price of the car). I am willing to try the carbargains route and see how it goes later on this summer. The one thing I notice from the comments that the service does that I know I don’t have the time to do is pit dealers against each other in a large area (100 mile radius).

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