Edmunds.com is probably the leading website that people tend to reference in articles like these, but I'm telling you that you don't need to go there at all. Sure, the site's got a wealth of information about the car that you want to buy, invoice pricing as well as what others are paying in your area, but that's not nearly good enough. Think about it for a second. What others are paying is just the average of everyone who bought a car in your area. If the buying pool consisted of ten people with five paying invoice and five paying full sticker, the site would show a number between sticker and invoice.
Now, did you get a good deal by going with that price? And don't believe that no one pays sticker either. There are tons of people who pay full retail (or close to it) on cars. Another problem with these websites is that they don't keep track of the miscellaneous fees that all car manufacturers tack on, which ultimately means that dealerships can mark them up and make money off you. Unless...
The Real Solution
Next time you buy a car and you want to get a VERY good price, all you have to do is visit the forums. Go to your favorite search engine and type in your car and the word forum (or message board), and a bunch of sites where enthusiasts meet and chat will pop up in the results. Click through and start reading. You can find all the issues people are having, look at pictures of your favorite car with every option imaginable and also find out all the fees and ways dealers can rip you off. But that's not all. There's a 100% chance that you will not only find invoice pricing for your car and all the options available but the deals other people are getting as well.
Quite often, you will even be able to locate a few dealers who can offer you a price that is better than 99% of the ones you can get anywhere else. Armed with this information, you basically have two options: go with the dealer if he's close enough, or print the email and just go to a dealership that you like and ask them to match the price. Since you already have a solid offer with the exact options you like, all the normal sales tactic like up selling shouldn't work anymore. Either they can match the price, or they cannot. Most of the time, they will go to the manager's office and just match the price you give them, and you are done.
This Takes Work
The process I just described is by no means instantaneous. After all, it takes time to read the message boards and to figure out all the fees and deals that people are getting. But I love it. I actually find that the more I read about people's passion for a car I plan to get, the more I know whether the car is right for me. The more I read, the more I actually understand the options for the car and what is best for my own circumstances, and the more I read, the more I know whether now is the right time to buy the car. No more regrets. No more "Oh I wish I knew about that rim option" and no more "I didn't know you can get a great deal like that!"
It REALLY Saves Me Money
This saves me money in three ways.
The negotiated price. If no one is getting invoice on that particular model, then there's no point to be upset about not being offered that price. While there's always someone who will get the best price, it won't be just ONE person.
The fees. If you don't check, you will never know that the price of your car can contain system training fees, bank lease fees, and a money factor that the dealership can mark up. Since some are justified and some needs to be eliminated, how can you make an informed decision if you don't even hear about them until the very end?
Options. Like everything else, not buying it saves you the most money. Knowing other people's experiences can only help you decide whether, for example, that compass in the rear view mirror is that useful. For some, it might be a "must have". For others, it might not be worth the $500 it may cost. You decide.
The Best Part...
Money aside, the best part about spending the time to research is that it builds anticipation so the car will be that much more enjoyable when you actually start being the owner of one. If you want to get the most value, a used car is still the way to go, but if you ever buy new, this is the best way.