Car dealerships make money many ways. One of the most surprising? By leveraging your emotions.
Walking away from the table is often your best tactic, but after finding a car you love, you might not want to say goodbye. Knowing how and when to walk away will ensure you’ll never have to overpay.
First, Negotiate in Good Faith
Long before the question of walking away arises, it’s important that both parties act in good faith. For you, that starts with knowing exactly what you want. Before contacting a dealership, decide which make and model interests you and research that car’s market value.
Use this information to calculate your ideal sale price, as well as how much above that ideal price you’re willing to pay (your worst-case scenario). Keep sales taxes, fees, and other costs in mind. When you email the dealership, make an offer that you think is fair based on your research.
Once you have a number in place, resist the temptation to negotiate further. After all, you’d hate it if you went to the dealership and it had reneged on your deal. Speaking of which:
Good faith for a dealership means honoring an agreed-upon price. The dealership makes a sale, and you get a car—at a price you both like. Typically, both sides of a negotiation will have a “worst case” price—for the dealership, it’s the absolute minimum it will accept for a vehicle, and for you, it’s the absolute maximum you’ll pay for that vehicle. A fair value is one that falls between these two prices. But if it becomes clear you can’t agree on a fair price, it’s time to walk out the door.
When to Walk Away
But leaving the negotiating table is easier said than done, especially if you’ve spent a big chunk of your day at the dealership—according to CarGurus data, the average shopper spends roughly three hours in the dealership before buying a car.
Of course, some dealerships may hesitate to commit to prices via email at all, asking to talk in person instead. At this point, you can leave the negotiation before you even arrive at the dealership. Your decision will depend on whether you want that specific car or are fine pursuing a different one. Remember: There are plenty of perfect cars out there for you.
If the dealership refuses to honor an out-the-door price you previously agreed upon via email, that’s another instance when you may have to walk. Whether you do so will depend on what number the dealership now wants. Is it fair or above your worst-case price? By how much? You need to avoid becoming so invested that you overspend.
How to Walk Away
It’s understandable to feel emotional when a negotiation nears a breaking point. But if you choose to walk away, you should still be as polite as possible. After all, the deal is not dead until the dealership sells the car to someone else.
Explain that you’re a serious buyer with a serious offer. You’ve done your research and won't negotiate above your worst-case figure. As a last resort, ask the salesperson for their own worst-case price. Even if they won’t reveal it, this question might lead to you finding common ground.
If you still want to walk out, mentally prepare for some blowback from the salesperson. They may say something like, “You won’t find a better deal anywhere else.” Don’t let this dissuade you; stick to your fair price, stand up, and walk out of the dealership.
As you’re leaving the dealership (on good terms), give the salesperson your contact information and tell them you’re still interested in the car—at your desired price. Tell them to reach out if they can meet that price. Add a little urgency by reminding them that you’re shopping around, so you won’t wait forever.
What If the Dealership Never Calls You Back?
Car dealerships need to sell cars. So, even if you walk out, you shouldn’t fall completely off its radar. Don’t be afraid to follow up a few days later. The best time to call is at the end of the day on a weekend.
Ask to speak with the salesperson you worked with before to see if they’re now able to meet your price. If they’re not—and you remain unable to find a middle ground—it’s time to move on for good.
The Bottom Line
Walking away is a negotiation power play. Be confident, knowing your offer is fair. This action could seal a deal—or end the negotiation altogether. But if you’re polite when you leave (nobody wants to give a good deal to a rude customer) and persistent when you follow up, you could still agree to a sale later and drive away with your dream car at the right price.