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Car buying secrets revealed: 10 top tips to get a great deal

With the arrival of the new ‘20’ plate registrations, we reveal the top 10 tips to get a great deal on a new car in 2020

The new-car market is rich, varied, and populated by hundreds of appealing models, each cleverly marketed and vying for your hard-earned cash. 

So with the new 20 plate models now in showrooms, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to getting the best deal. Don’t visit a dealership or open a configurator before scrolling down and reading our top tips.

There have never been more purchase routes for buyers. Traditional dealers vie with online brokers and intermediaries for the attention – and wallets – of motorists. 

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But however you buy your car, you’ll need to make sure that you buy right. It’s crucial that you do your homework in order to choose the best model, select the correct finance and get the most from both your dealer, and the car you order.

That’s why we’ve covered the 10 top tips of car buying. Here you’ll find some familiar, and not so familiar, gems of information and advice, all of which are intended to make the whole car-buying process just that little bit easier. 

1. Gather a range of offers

For some, there’s nothing as reassuring as putting your faith in a traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ dealership. A franchised dealer will have familiar branding and offer a full range of vehicles from whichever manufacturer it’s affiliated to. Plus, you’ll be able to take a test drive and discuss your options face-to-face with a member of sales staff. It also offers the best opportunity to negotiate. Many buyers enjoy this part of the process, but others baulk at the idea. 

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Yet whether you love or loathe the process, there are things you can do to make it easier and more productive. Scan manufacturer and dealer websites for the best incentives, and search through online brokers. They’re not always affiliated with a particular brand, but printouts of their best deals will help sharpen your deal-hunting skills, and give you the best possible starting point for negotiations. 

2. Don’t pay over the odds for options

Think option prices are set in stone? Think again. You can use them as bargaining chips and try to get them thrown in at a discount, or even for free. A set of floor mats might retail at £100, but the cost to a dealer is a fraction of that, making it an easy way to sweeten a deal.

But for the really savvy car buyer, there’s another way. As part of your research, write a list of the features you really want. You might find that they’re extras on the trim you’re looking at buying, but you might be able to spend a little more on the next trim level up to get that must-have kit, and maybe a little more. If you’re lucky there might be a cost-saving, because higher trim levels can offer better value – particularly if you’re buying on finance – since they can mean cars hold their value better. 

3. Time the deal right 

Plenty has been written about choosing the right time of the month or quarter to get the best deal.

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But it’s also worth considering the times when dealerships are at their quietest, because a dealer that doesn’t have many people walking in off the streets is more likely to cut you a deal than one who has potential customers queuing round the block. 

School holidays are often busy times for dealers, because many working families take time off. The same is true of Bank Holidays, Easter and Christmas.

4. Treat sales staff with respect

The stereotype of a car salesman isn’t a particularly positive one, but manufacturers and dealers invest heavily in training their staff to deliver a first rate service. Not every dealer is perfect, but it’s an industry that’s been improving steadily over the years. Despite this, some car buyers walk into dealerships on the offensive, making demands they know the sales staff can’t meet, or taking a combative attitude. 

What’s often forgotten is that sales staff are people too. And, like anyone else, they’re more likely to go the extra mile if you’re polite and approachable. That’s not to say you should be a soft touch, but there’s no reason not to be friendly; it could work to your advantage.

5. Do your homework

It’s not just the cost of the car that you’ll need to factor in. Insurance, fuel and road tax can have a huge impact on your monthly outgoings.

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Younger drivers in particular should keep a close eye on insurance. That sporty number might look good on your drive, but the increase in premiums could easily equal one or more of your monthly finance repayments. Fuel is another consideration. The latest WLTP economy standards are closer to what you’ll get in the real world, but you may see both WLTP and older NEDC figures in sales literature; be sure you’re comparing like-for-like before assuming one car is thirstier than another. 

Perhaps the biggest sting in the tail could come from company car tax changes, though. They’re extremely complex: choose your car poorly, and you could face a spiraling annual tax bill. 

6. Be patient (or ready to compromise) 

New, unregistered cars tend to come in two flavours: totally new ‘factory orders’, and those in ‘group stock’. Neither will have turned a wheel, and neither will have found an owner – yet. Factory orders are cars which are built specifically for buyers, with options they want, and in a colour of their choosing. Depending on how complex or unusual your request is, you may have to wait weeks or months for delivery, so it’s important to ensure that the value of your part-exchange doesn’t decrease to the point that you have to foot a shortfall. 

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If you’re willing to compromise, you could get a car that’s almost perfect far sooner. Many dealer networks buy brand-new, unregistered cars, which take up space, and don’t get any newer sitting on forecourts. That means an unregistered car could be yours, along with an appealing discount.

7. Always be prepared to walk away

No matter how advanced negotiations are, you should always be prepared to walk away if you feel you’re not getting a good deal. It’s the nuclear option in the haggler’s handbook, because once you’ve walked out of the door, there’s no going back to that particular dealership – unless the sales executive follows you out and gives you what you want. 

Ultimately, as a new-car buyer, you can walk out of one local dealership and into another to buy what is, to all intents and purposes, an identical car. Sales staff know this, and won’t want to give you up. Use the threat of walking as a last resort, because it can only be done once, but it’s an action that can be particularly effective.

8. Don’t overspend

There are few things in life as good as taking delivery of a new car, but it’s easy to get carried away. Once you’ve worked out what you can afford, you’ll need to work hard to stick to your budget. Think about the features you need, and those you want. Is it really worth increasing your repayments by £40 a month for something you’ll rarely use? Our guide to top tech gives you an idea of the kit our testers find worthwhile.

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Watch the dealer doesn’t try to get you to increase your budget, either. One trick is to ask you what your budget is, and then increase it by a small amount. Very soon, £200 a month has swelled to £225 or £250. And it’s amazing how two or three options can add another £1,000 a year to your outlay. Be ruthless with what you agree to. Another £25 a month can easily cost you £1,000 over three years after interest.

9. Get it all in writing

What is it people say about a verbal contract? The only agreement that’s worth the paper it’s written on is the one that outlines the deal in its entirety. That means getting the value of your part exchange, the full finance illustration and the precise specification of the car you’re buying, including all options, in writing, in full. 

Don’t be pressured into signing on the dotted line there and then. Take the paperwork home, mull it over; even ask friends or family to check it over. Only once you’re happy with the deal and everything has been fully documented should you put pen to paper.

10. Understand your finance options 

It’s easy to buy the right car badly, and nowhere is that more true than when it comes to finance. Personal Contract Plans (PCP) are a popular route to a new car, because the headline monthly repayments can be remarkably low; some ‘monthlies’ can be less than a high-end mobile phone contract. However, in order to access these deals, you may need to lay down a fairly hefty deposit. Many motorists are happy to do this because a PCP offers a good degree of flexibility should your personal circumstances change, and gives you the chance to buy the car outright at the end of the deal.

PCPs work well, but what if you prefer the idea of having a brand-new car every few years and aren’t bothered about ownership? Personal leasing is the answer.

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For less money up front, and broadly comparable monthly repayments, you can park a new car on your drive every few years. But whichever option you pick, you should sit down, work out what you can afford, and think about whether you might want to keep the car once the finance agreement ends. 

Insight: super credits help make super deals 

Even if the thought of emission regulations makes your eyes glaze over, know this: 2020 is the year dealers are likely to be bending over backwards to sell you an EV or a plug-in hybrid. 

The reason for this is that from this year, car makers need to start meeting EU rules that require them to sell model ranges that emit, on average, no more than 95g/km of carbon dioxide. To put this target into context, the average car sold in the UK in 2019 emitted 127.9g/km, so many makers have a way to go. 

To make 95g/km more achievable, the EU is granting manufacturers concessions, one of which is termed ‘super credits’. This means that every car sold in 2020 that emits less than 50g/km of CO2 – a target that only EVs and PHEVs can hit – counts as two low-emission car sales for the point of view of recording CO2 emissions, which helps to bring fleet averages down.

This is likely to result in more attractive deals and discounts for EV and PHEVs, which are there to be taken advantage of by savvy customers.

Thinking of skipping the dealership for your next car? Click here for our guide on how to buy a car online....

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