Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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What is CarBargains?

Thank you for your interest in our CarBargains service. We believe our one-of-a-kind service is, as hundreds of customers have told us, "the only way to buy a new car". Since 1991, CarBargains has helped more than 15,000 customers obtain the best deals on new cars.

Why would I use CarBargains?
  • Our expert staff collects bids from at least five dealers in your area.
  • Because we force dealers to compete for your business, you will get the best possible deal.
  • Many price quotes are secured below dealer's invoice cost.
  • Bypass hassles and high-pressure sales tactics.
  • Avoid the need to negotiate.
  • Unlike most other shopping services, CarBargains accepts no kick-backs from dealers and is in no way affiliated with any group of dealers.
  • We deliver real price quotes. Unlike other car-shopping websites, we do not deal in vague "suggested" or "target" prices. Each of our customer's orders are competitively bid on from dealers near you and we obtain written confirmation from the lowest bidders.
  • You'll have our nonprofit consumer organization and expert staff with you and on your side throughout the purchase process.

Who provides the CarBargains service?

CarBargains is a service of Consumers' Checkbook, an independent, nonprofit consumer organization, founded in 1974 with the help of funding from the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs. Consumers' Checkbook's mission is to provide consumers information to help them get high-quality services and products at the best possible prices.

Consumers' Checkbook is supported by subscription payments and donations from individual consumers who subscribe to our magazines and by fees for our information services, such as CarBargains. We do not accept support from the businesses we rate and our publications carry no advertising.

How does it work?

  1. You tell us the make, model, and style of car or truck and whether you wish to purchase or lease (Toyota Camry, four-door sedan SE, for example).
  2. Within 8-10 days for purchase or 3-5 days for lease (our current turnaround times), we get at least five dealers in your area to bid against one another to sell or lease that make, model, and style. Each dealer commits to a dollar amount above (or below) "factory invoice cost" for which it will sell or lease the type of vehicle you want. We obtain written confirmation of the lowest bids.
  3. We send you a report that includes:
    • Dealer quote sheets, which show how much above (or below) factory invoice cost each dealer has agreed to sell or lease your vehicle, and the name of the manager responsible for the commitment.
    • Factory invoice cost information for your type of car or truck, showing what all dealers pay for the base vehicle and for each possible option.
    • Other useful information: An estimate of the value of your used car; low-cost financing options; pros and cons of extended service contracts; how to get the best deal on an extended service contract; and more.
    • In addition, for leases, detailed financial terms for each dealer's recommended lease plan and, if different, the lowest cost lease plan available at each dealership. Information on each lease plan's contract provisions for early termination, disposition fees, end of lease purchase options, insurance requirements, default, and excess wear and tear. An index table that shows you how each dealer's quote compares for lowest monthly payment and a detailed worksheet that allows you to calculate your monthly lease payment, minus tags, taxes, and title.
  4. You contact a dealership (presumably the lowest bidder) and:
    • Identify yourself as a CarBargains client;
    • Select the specific vehicle you want;
    • Use the information we've supplied to determine the factory invoice cost of the vehicle you've selected;
    • Purchase or lease the vehicle at the confirmed bid price. Bids are also confirmed for factory orders (if applicable) and local dealer trade to ensure the availability of your vehicle.
  5. We encourage you to contact us with any questions. And we ask that you send us a photocopy of your final sales contract to help us monitor the system.

Can I do it myself?

If you don't wish to use our CarBargains service, you'll still want to use our methods. The only power any consumer has in the car buying process is the threat of competition. If you are on your own, your best strategy is to gather extensive information on dealer costs and hidden allowances and to try to get at least five dealers to bid against each other.

Our service brings big advantages to this bidding process...
  • Because our staff are experts, we can be sure all costs—advertising association fees, dealer-installed options, processing fees, etc.—are explicit in dealers' bids, not added on later.
  • Because dealers know we'll get low bids from other dealers, each dealership knows it will have to bid very low to have a chance of winning. We remind dealers of any ongoing factory-to-dealer incentive programs, manufacturer holdbacks, carry-over allowances, and other factors that give the dealer room to cut its price. Also, dealers know that we know the market. They know that if we don't get good prices locally, we can get prices from out-of-area dealers who will deliver locally.
  • Dealers know the bidding is for real. They know we'll actually get at least five quotes. In addition, they know that a consumer who has paid for the CarBargains service is almost certain to buy now from one of the quoting dealers, so refusing to quote means losing any chance at a sale. In contrast, when you call for a bid, the dealer may not believe you will bother to get bids elsewhere. Worse still, dealers often make statements like "shop around and I'll beat any price'' or "come on down and I'll take care of you" — leaving you with no more information than you started with. In addition, dealers may believe you're just casually shopping and therefore may not treat you seriously.
  • We are a witness to each dealer's quotes. We get signed commitments, and the dealers know we will follow up. In contrast, if a customer gets quotes by phone, the dealer may believe it can back out without serious consequences.

How is CarBargains better than other types of services?

There are other services that promise to help consumers purchase cars.

Many services sell factory invoice cost printouts that are supposed to help you negotiate for a car. But because of "hold-backs," factory-to-dealer incentives, and other allowances, these printouts don't tell you what the cost to the dealer really is. More important, even with one of these printouts, you are on your own to figure out what is a reasonable markup and to get a dealer to agree to that markup.

There are also services that promise to find you a good deal from one of a list of pre-committed dealers. Some of these services get commissions or other financial benefits from their selected dealers. Even if such financial arrangements don't exist, there's a good chance that the dealers affiliated with these services won't be those with the best prices for the car you want. Non-affiliated dealers may be getting larger cash incentive payments from the manufacturer, may have excess stock of the kind of car you want, or may simply be willing to accept a lower profit. In contrast to these other services, the CarBargains service, since it has no ties with any dealer, is designed to find dealers that have the best prices at the moment.

A third type of service is that offered by auto brokers, who promise to go through a dealer to secure a car for the customer at a good price. The problem with auto brokers is that you have no way of knowing whether the broker is really getting you a good deal. The broker may always deal with a particular dealer, may allow that dealer a big profit margin, and may add an additional markup that the broker keeps. In contrast, the CarBargains service has no relationships with dealers, guarantees to get at least five dealers to bid competitively, will include in the bidding any dealer you request, and gives you copies of all the bids. Everything is in the open.

One of the largest car shopping services is TrueCar. CarBargains routinely beats the best TrueCar price in head-to-head comparisons. In fact, CarBargains customers save $1,456 compared to the best TrueCar price. We've created a blog to keep track of our prices compared to TrueCar at CarBargainsbeatsTrueCar.org.

What is the "factory invoice" cost?

The "factory invoice" cost is theoretically what the dealer paid the manufacturer for the car. The dealer will actually have a printed invoice that shows this cost figure. It is less than the "manufacturer's suggested retail price'' (MSRP), which is the "list price'' shown on the window sticker of the car. The manufacturer's suggested retail price is the price for which the manufacturer theoretically thinks the car should be sold to you. Actually, almost all cars are sold below the manufacturer's suggested retail price and some cars are sold below the factory invoice cost.

How is it possible for a dealer to sell a car below factory invoice cost? It is possible because the factory invoice usually doesn't reflect the true cost to the dealer: dealers often get "holdbacks,'' factory-to-dealer incentive payments, end-of-year-carryover allowances, and other allowances that reduce the cost below what the factory invoice shows.

We use the factory invoice cost figure only as a reference point for dealers' bids. The factory invoice cost for the same car with the same options is the same for all dealers. So, if one dealer bids, for example, $200 below invoice and a second bids $400 above invoice, you know that the first is $600 lower priced than the second.

Do I have to decide what options I want on the car?

No. You need only tell us the make, model, and style of car you want. The dealers bid an amount above or below factory invoice cost. We send you a factory invoice cost printout that shows you the invoice cost for the base vehicle and the invoice cost for each possible option. So you can add up the invoice cost for whatever vehicle you decide you want, with whatever factory-installed options it has on it. Then you simply add (or subtract) the dealer's agreed markup (or markdown) from this total invoice cost figure. (For some few vehicles, dealer quotes are made as markdowns from MSRP.) Thus, you can figure the price you need to pay for any car of your choice before you even talk with the dealer.

Exceptions to the rule:

1. Some makes like Honda, Acura, and Volvo rely heavily on dealer-installed options. Since there is no set invoice cost for dealer-installed options, we will ask you what options you "might" want when you have us shop these makes of vehicle so that we can also solicit bids on the dealer-installed options.

2. There are sometimes certain options or option packages that dealers frequently consider as separate styles, and they calculate their markup/markdown bids differently for vehicles that have the option versus those that do not. The Navigation System option is a good example, although there are others like Tech Package, Entertainment Package, depending on the make of vehicle. Vehicles "With Navigation" (w/NAV) are frequently considered as a separate style at the dealer level. In these cases we will show a separate style listing for the vehicle, specifying the presence of the option or option package, to be sure that you select the proper vehicle and that we get the correct dealer price quote.

How do rebates work?

Often manufacturers offer factory-to-customer rebates. Your CarBargains report will tell you whether the car you are buying carries one of these rebates. If so, you will be able to get this rebate directly from the manufacturer, or you can have the dealer apply the rebate to your purchase price, further reducing the price of the car.

Manufacturers also often have factory-to-dealer incentive programs. These are sometimes referred to as "dealer rebates.'' This is money the factory gives the dealer for each car sold. The dealer can use the money for advertising, employee bonuses, extra profit, or many other purposes--or the dealer can pass this money along to you as a price reduction. One of the purposes of the CarBargains bidding process is to use competition to squeeze this incentive money out of the dealer in the form of a price reduction for you.

How close will the dealers be to my home?

When you order our service, we identify dealers close to you and get them to bid. (You can have us include or exclude a dealer of your choice.) CarBargains contacts at least the five closest dealers to you based on your zip code.

What if you have not yet decided on what car to buy?

There are many sources of information to help you choose the type of car you want. Our CarBargains service steps in only after you have made that decision.

An excellent source for comparative information to help you choose among new cars is The Car Book. The Car Book, which is published annually by the non-profit Center for Auto Safety, can be purchased for $23.99 at many bookstores nationwide or accessed online for a $9.99 monthly fee at https://www.thecarbook.com/. You will also find information on new cars in Consumer Reports magazine and in various special interest auto magazines available on many newsstands and in libraries.

Do dealers live up to their commitments?

We get dealers' bids by phone and then confirm the best bids by fax or electronic verification. The dealers know that they will not get future opportunities to bid if they fail to follow through as they should. Failure to honor a confirmed bid has been a rare problem. Should any problems or questions arise, CarBargains is only a phone call away.

Is there a guarantee?

If you are able to buy the same car that we shopped for you at a price lower than the best quote included in our report, in the same bidding area and time period, without using our information, we will gladly refund our entire fee, with proof of purchase.

How long will it take to get my report?

Reports ordered online may be sent by email or U.S. Postal Service Priority Mail. Please specify your desired delivery method when you order. Our current turnaround time for leases is 3-5 days and 8-10 days for purchases, but this time varies based on demand. Allow two to three additional days for delivery of mailed reports. In a rush? Call us at 800-475-7283 and place your order directly with one of our CarBargains representatives.

Why don't you need to know color?

Color is subject to availability. Once you decide which dealer to buy from, you contact the dealer and tell them the color you want. They will let you know if they have or can get the vehicle. The dealer bids we get are good for any vehicle that's available for the dealer to sell.

CarBargains is not a locating service or broker. We are bidding the same pool of cars in your area. We assume that all cars in that inventory are available to all dealers - either in-stock or through dealer-exchange.

I was told it is better to buy a car at the end of the month, is that true?

Most customers have to deal with salesmen whose salaries are commission-based and who have to reach sales bonus numbers by the end of the month. But, we at CarBargains negotiate with Sales Managers and higher-ups who know their dealership's lowest price and it is their job to sell as many cars as possible all the time so anytime is a good time to buy when using our service.

Can I have you shop in multiple areas?

CarBargains is designed to have dealers compete for your business. In order to do so, we need to create a playing field that assures competitive bidding. We do not bounce around from area to area. You tell us a zip code located within the 48 states that you want us to start shopping. We then contact dealers in an expanding circle from the zip code given us, until we get a minimum of five dealers to compete for your business. Thus, the shopping area is determined by where the dealers are in proximity to the zip code you select. If you want us to acquire bids in a different area, it requires an additional fee.

Will you tell the dealer my name?

No. We never reveal the name of our CarBargains customer to the dealer when shopping the vehicle. You are known to them as "The CarBargains Customer". Rather, we provide you with a person to contact at each dealer that submits a bid. You must then make initial contact ONLY with the person that is designated on their dealer quote sheet.

What about trade-ins?

For vehicles that are ten years old or newer: We offer you a general price range of what you could expect for your trade-in value. Note: The estimate we give is not binding but should give you a general sense of what a potential buyer might offer you. Please have any pertinent information about your vehicle ready for trade-in estimate.

What about tax, title and tags?

CarBargains bids do not include tax, title and tags. Dealers are legally bound to apply tax, title and tags appropriately.

Save thousands on your new car

Our expert staff will reach out to collect bids from at least five dealers in your area - getting you the best deal possible on your next car.

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Our expert staff is ready to help, or you can learn how to do it yourself.