I accidentally discovered a great way to buy a NEW car. This could work for a used car if you could find cars that are more apples-to-apples.
Pick 3 dealerships—best if it is during a slow time for car sales—at least one of them needs to be about a 2 or 3 hour drive. Call each dealership, get a salesperson, tell them what you have for a trade in OR down payment then communicate by text or email. Share each price quote with the others.
I call it “Car Salesperson Hunger Games.” NOTE: You are to be nice to each of them. If you find out that one salesperson isn’t quite so nice, simply ignore them, call another dealer if you can find one.
Get the best deal... then find another salesperson to throw into to ring. If they immediately won’t play, you’ve probably got a good deal. Also, if the local dealers start throwing in free service/oil changes, they know you aren’t going to drive 2 hours for that.
You’ll be busy exchanging text messages, but otherwise, pop some popcorn and enjoy the fun.
Each time you get a quote—watch the top line as well. They count on you looking at the bottom line. Might be a good idea to print each one, and take notes.
Last but not least, don’t be so proud of the final price that you won’t walk out if you don’t get the best loan interest rate. They can sneak that in at signing time to make up for giving a good deal, thus negating everything that you’ve spent hours trying to accomplish.