Line up financing: Before you contact a dealer about a car, make sure you have financing lined up. That way, you're ready to wheel and deal if you run across the perfect car. If you already have a good relationship with a lender who offers car loans, check his rates and terms. To get an idea of rates in your area, check out the auto-loan section of BankingMyWay.com and search by ZIP code. Nationwide, rates are averaging around 6.8% for a 36-month loan and 6.96% for a 60-month loan, according to BankingMyWay.com.
Take stock of your situation before applying for a loan. Check your budget to see how much you can afford as a monthly payment. If your credit is only average --700 points or less -- you may not qualify for the best rates. Consider increasing the down payment.
Negotiate: Even if you find a good offer online, don't be afraid to negotiate the price when you contact the dealer. Companies like Toyota and Saturn require dealers to stick to the advertised price, but most other companies do not. If you are nervous about negotiating in person, try it over the phone.
If you know the make, model and options package you want, call up four or five dealers and ask them for their best price. If the online price beats their offer, tell them they have to do better. If they can, circle back to the dealer who posted the online price and ask for a lower price. Once you've given all the dealers a second chance to go as low as possible, choose the best deal. By doing the negotiating over the phone, you end up avoiding the pressure of sitting in a sales office, face to face with a salesperson.