A Negotiation Coach Walks into a Car Dealership – Here’s What Happened

It was time. “Buy a car” has been on my to-do list for longer than I’d like to admit. And not because I’m lazy. Dealerships give me anxiety. I don’t want to be SOLD to – or pressured. My hands get clammy. And then there’s that annoying voice that says “Lins, you should know how to do this – you teach this stuff.” (#nothelpful)

Spoiler alert: I’m on the other side – I picked up my new-to-me car last Saturday. 🍾And I got it at a great price because I took my own advice (while also navigating a negotiation hangover – more to come on that!)

Here’s me coming clean about my process and the reframes it took for me to finally go through with it.

This experience will help you let go of the shame surrounding something on your list, cross it off, and get back to what’s more important.

Step 1: Carry the mental load around for at least 8 months; my inaction is justified by telling myself I probably don’t really need a car. Ask friends for advice. Annoy my husband by constantly bringing it up and how I don’t want to do it. And gulp – can he just do it for me? (yeah, not my finest moment).

Any of this sound familiar?

Step 2: Start to do research and continue to do so …for 4 months. The result: an idea of the car I wanted (a Honda like I have), what it costs, and trade-in / sale value of my current car.

Step 3: Go on our winter trip.  ✈️I’ll deal with it when I get back. Riiiight…

Step 4: More justifying for 6 months and then BOOM – I gotta make a change. It’s GO time.

Step 5: Set a deadline. I give myself ‘til the end of July  (even though with used car buying it’s better to wait ‘til August. That’s when the new cars come out and if you’re buying used, you can use that point to haggle).

Step 6: Do all my research again – get the latest $$ ranges and check inventory. Ah, there’s options in NY and I’ll be there next week – I’ll do it then!

Step 7: Come up with a negotiation strategy. I use what I know from salary negotiation: I come up with my 3 numbers: my walk away #, my target “all-in” price, and my wish/anchoring range. Example:  “I can pay between $15,500 – $16,500.” My target “all-in” being $16,500 and my walk away being anything above $17K.

Step 8: Dealership day. 😖

I picked a nonsense fight with Colin on the way to the first one. That’s how tense I was. I even pulled over and asked “how about we just go home?” He talked me into going. We test drive my first car. Turns out the dealer was a lovely man who didn’t pressure me at all! What?!! #mindblown

We leave because I never accept the first deal. 

I visit 2 more dealerships that day. The next 2 guys are exactly what you picture car salesmans to be. I don’t let it bother me. I test drive 4 vehicles. They try to get me to divulge if I have a trade in and whether I’d need financing (their tactics to jack up the price) – all before telling me their bottom line price. I don’t fall for it.

I almost close a deal at the last dealership for the day.

The car checks out at the mechanic – except for a cracked taillight that I didn’t see and they can’t repair until next week. This is why you always ask to do a pre-purchase inspection with a reputable mechanic.

Step 9: I drive my old car back to VT feeling defeated, grumpy, and very sweaty (the A/C no longer works).

Step 10: I double down. After all, I was so close! I find the same car in VT.  I test drive it right away. I make an appt. with my mechanic to check it out. It checks out. I negotiate a similar deal with this dealership (minus trading my car in – which SAVES me money b/c they were going to use it for parts and charge me for disposal). I sell my old car to a private buyer (it still works!) and reduce my overall all-in price by $500. SCORE!

I think negotiation is over, but then comes talking to the finance person. We have to talk extended warranty. As soon as I hear those words, I think “don’t be a sucker, Lins.” He shares all the details with me and that I’d need to commit today. Of course I do.

I’m in a major negotiation hangover. This is a real feeling.

This is where you’re so close to getting what you want but your willpower is waning. And they are making you feel like you’re inconveniencing them (e.g. a tactic). You want to throw the towel in. DON’T.

Ok, back to the scene: I can’t figure out my next move. I take a breath and go back to research mode. I call my mechanic and tell him the details. He thinks it’s a good idea and gives me an initial offer to make. Wanting to be on the other side of this convo, I go back in and say “My mechanic says to pay no more than X.” Apparently what I’ve offered is at cost for the dealership. I am silent. He gives me an offer $200 more than mine. I wait. He waits. I ask if he can meet me in the middle. He does. And you know? I *almost* didn’t ask the middle question and it would’ve cost me $100.


Lessons learned:

  • Limiting beliefs are real.💯 As I said before, I teach negotiation and I still carried the assumption I wouldn’t be able to negotiate at a dealership. Now I know I can apply the same skills I teach and they work.
  • Things happen for a reason. I ended up saving myself $500 by giving it another go in Vermont.
  • Practice truly is the game changer with negotiation. I was a changed person walking out of the last dealership. I knew what to expect and felt prepared. The quickest way to get comfortable with negotiation is to negotiate.
  • This process reminds me how critical taking action is. It wasn’t until I acted like a car buyer (by going to dealerships), that I felt motivated to see the process through.


So there you have it. My journey with car buying. A process that took waaaay too long but like most things that are hard – I learned a ton from.

Keep practicing your negotiation skills!