5 Tips for Getting a Good Deal on a Car

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The Internet has changed the car-buying process. Thanks to websites like AutoTrader and Craigslist, shoppers can peruse new and used vehicles all over the country from the comfort of their living room. Wholesale and retail pricing information is readily available, making it easier to negotiate a good deal. And new web-based services help take the aggravation and uncertainty out of buying a car. Here are five tips for how to save when buying a new or used car.

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Whether you're looking for a new or used car, first decide what specific make and model you want. Once you've narrowed your choices, websites like AutoTrader and Cars.com make it easy to compare prices on new, used, and certified pre-owned cars, giving you a sense of the overall market and range of prices. For more detailed information, websites such as TrueCar show actual prices paid for new vehicles and estimates of true dealer costs.

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According to Edmunds, auto dealers' Internet sales departments generally focus on selling at high volume rather than maximizing profit from each individual sale. Accordingly, you may be able get a lower price online from a dealer than you can in person. If you're not in a rush and have a specific vehicle in mind, you can tell several dealers what you're looking for and how much you're willing to pay. Then sit back and wait for the best offer.

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Buying a used car directly from the owner presents great potential for savings because the seller may not know the market or may be in a hurry to sell. But as with any used product, there's a chance of getting burned as well. To limit the risk, get a Carfax report on a potential buy to determine if the car has a lien or salvage title, or if the odometer has been rolled back. Major accidents and some service information is often included in the report. Carfax, which acquires information from insurance companies and other sources, is widely used, but buyers should beware that there is no single source of information about used cars that is guaranteed to be complete.

If you're shopping for a used car online, Craigslist and Ebay are two of the largest marketplaces. The auction bidding system on Ebay eliminates direct negotiations, but you need to be careful about getting swept away and overbidding. For ease of mind, Ebay offers purchase protection on eligible vehicles sold in its marketplace, which protects you if you pay for a vehicle that's never delivered and from some other potential losses. Craigslist doesn't offer any guarantees, although we did find a helpful guide to buying a vehicle through the site. Negotiations are common for Craigslist sales, providing more room for potential savings.

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A recent survey by Edmunds found that 83 percent of those polled prefer to avoid negotiating the price of a car -- 21 percent would even forgo sex for a month rather than haggle. If you're buying a new car and don't want to do the negotiating, find an experienced negotiator who will do it for you. Cheapism spoke to Michael Rabkin, president of From Cart to Finish, who has been negotiating on behalf of car buyers for more than 21 years. Rabkin charges $249 to secure guaranteed quotes from local dealers. He deals directly with sales managers whenever possible, and claims to get consistently good prices thanks to his familiarity with the process.

Although it won't negotiate for you, the Costco Auto Program conducts surveys and sends out mystery shoppers to dealers around the country. Approved dealers can become part of the program, which secures prices for members on new and certified pre-owned vehicles. Edmunds offers a Price Promise service that guarantees sales prices, often below the average price paid in the area.

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If you're buying a used car from a dealer there's usually some negotiation involved, but Carvana is a negotiation-free option for buying used cars online. Cheapism spoke with co-founder Ryan Keeton about the company, which selectively buys and sells accident-free used cars. Delivery is free near Atlanta, Charlotte, and Nashville, and costs a few hundred dollars in other cities. If you prefer to pick up your car, Carvana will cover $200 of the travel costs. Carvana claims that its low overhead translates to savings of about $1,500 per car compared to the Kelly Blue Book price estimate.