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Car buying tips: To haggle, or not to haggle

Whether a customer should haggle depends on a

Whether a customer should haggle depends on a variety of circumstances, experts say. This buyer in Kittanning Pa. takes possession of a new truck on Nov. 19, 2015. Credit: AP/Keith Srakocic

Haggling for a car is as American as apple pie — and a stress point for many buyers.

Even as many car shoppers like the simplicity of no-haggle shopping, others still want to mix it up with a salesman.

Here’s a brief guide to when — and when not — to dicker over the sticker.

No-haggle pricing comes and goes

No-haggle pricing goes in and out of fashion, according to Doug Overturf, owner of Overturf Volkswagen Audi Kia in Kennewick, Washington. Overturf says he thinks many people actually want to negotiate: “It’s human nature to want to get something extra, to get a better deal than their neighbor.”

An Autotrader.com survey found that 56 percent of all car buyers — including millennials and women — want to negotiate to buy a car because they “do not yet trust flat-rate pricing.”

Car pricing: "a sea of confusion"

When car shopping, consumers are barraged by a multitude of factors: sticker price, invoice price, sales price, internet price and a host of incentives they may not even qualify for. Basically, automotive pricing is “a sea of confusion,” says Jim Dykstra, a former car dealer who created the subscription car buying site Vinadvisor.net, which pulls in all the figures — even taxes and fees — and totals them, similar to a TurboTax presentation.

Used-car superstore CarMax Inc., with 165 stores in 38 states, has made fixed pricing a cornerstone of its strategy. The Richmond, Virginia-based company offers no-haggle sale prices for used cars and will give you a written quote on your trade-in that is good for seven days.

Tips for the car buyer

Here are a few tips get a good deal and peace of mind.

Are no-haggle prices really nonnegotiable? Negotiating at a corporate outlet, such as CarMax, where no-haggle is a clearly stated company policy, is probably futile. But at independent used-car lots that display handwritten “no-haggle” signs, it could be worth a try.

Are no-haggle prices a good deal? It depends. Always consult online car buying guides and accurately enter all the information for any car you’re considering. If the no-haggle price matches the “dealer retail” price listed in, for example, KBB.com, seriously consider taking the deal.

What if the no-haggle price is higher than the true market price? Remember that price isn’t the only reason to buy at a certain car lot. So if the price is higher, but the car comes with an included warranty or a return policy, it might justify paying a slightly higher price. And remember, a fast and stress-free sales experience is worth a lot.

THE UPS AND DOWNS

Saturn’s no-haggle policy was popular with many buyers, but the company died in 2009, partly because its cars lagged behind the competition.

Toyota’s Scion models, sold at no-haggle prices, were meant to appeal to millennials weaned on internet transparency, but Toyota announced in February that it would end the Scion brand.

And now, Tesla is upending the business by letting customers pre-order its luxury electric cars at fixed prices.

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