Smart car buyers know they should never pay full sticker price.
But what's the right target price? And what if you weren't born
with the haggling gene? If just the thought of doing battle with
the dealer makes you want to take the bus instead, a car-buying
service may be for you. We checked out a few services to see how
good the deals are.
SLIDE SHOW: End-of-Year Car Deals
Join the club.
The most popular car-buying service is Zag. Never heard of it?
That's not surprising -- it's the company behind the affinity
buying services of American Express, USAA and AAA, among others.
The service is free (or a free membership perk) and offers
pre-negotiated prices on new cars with participating dealers. Not a
customer or member of a group associated with Zag? Just go to
To be certified by Zag, dealers must agree to pass on 100% of
the cash incentives they get from manufacturers -- including dealer
cash. Each pricing report has a link to TrueCar (Zag is owned by
the company) to show you how good the price is.
The process is simple. Choose the model, trim level and options.
You'll be offered the lowest prices from three local dealers. You
print a certificate with the price and take it to the dealer. We
shopped for a 2012 Ford Fusion SE and found it for nearly $2,700
under invoice, including a $1,500 cash rebate. (Deals on used cars
are available through many affinity groups that use Zag's system,
Costco offers its members a buying service, but it's less
transparent than the Zag services. Logging on to
and entering your membership number will get you access to dealers
with pre-negotiated member prices, but the prices aren't available
online. Getting the member price from the dealer was also
difficult, but a Costco spokesman told us that the Fusion SE would
sell for $500 below invoice. That didn't include the $1,500 cash
rebate (rebates have to be factored in separately).
Keep in mind that dealers pay a fee to affinity and club
programs such as Zag and Costco for the business. There are lots of
similar services out there, but ask a few questions before you sign
on. Does the service state its best deal in addition to the invoice
price and the sticker price? Does the price include all the options
you want? What about fees? Taxes, tags and title fees probably
won't be included, but document fees and regional advertising fees
should be. No matter what service you use, run a report on the
model you want at
to see its assessment of a good (and great) price.
Negotiators for hire.
Clubs that offer group discounts and accept dealer fees may not
land you the lowest price. The best prices often come from services
that will do the haggling for you for a fee.
One of the least expensive negotiating services is
, the buying service of the nonprofit Consumers' Checkbook
organization. For $200, it will get bids on the model with the
options you want from five local dealers, asking them to compete
against one another. You get a detailed pricing report from each
dealer and can go to any of them to purchase your vehicle, but
you're under no obligation to buy. CarBargains shops for
Best New models each year and routinely gets prices at or under
invoice on redesigns and brand-new models.
is the Cadillac of buying services. It charges $595 to $1,195,
based on the price of the car. But in addition to finding the car
and negotiating the price, Authority reviews the contract and even
de�livers the vehicle to you. The service also
negotiates each part of the transaction -- dealer-installed
options, the price of your trade-in, the financing and extended
warranties. If you have done the haggling yourself but are not sure
you've gotten the best price, Authority will take a crack at
getting a better deal. If it can, you split the difference; if it
can't, you pay nothing.
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