There's nothing like driving off a dealer lot in a new pickup truck. However, the experience leading up to that point isn't always fun — and can even be stressful and overwhelming. Worse, you may pay more than you should and maybe end up with a truck that doesn't meet your needs.
The best way to have a smooth, stress-free, pickup-shopping experience is to do your homework ahead of time. Start by determining how much passenger room, payload capacity and towing capability you need. Read expert reviews and visit online owner forums for insights and potential pitfalls. We'd also advise checking reliability ratings. Gathering basic information before you set foot in a dealership will give you an edge and could save you thousands during negotiations. Here are some pointers to consider:
- Check for incentives. Manufacturer websites will typically list available incentives by model. Other incentives may be available to you, such as offers for military personnel or students. Check around ahead of time — don't rely on the dealer to tell you what's available.
- Know the value of your trade-in.National Appraisal Guides have valuation tools that let you key in basic information to get an idea of what your current vehicle is worth. Keep in mind that accessories don't always add much, if anything, to value. If the accessories are detachable, consider keeping some favorites for your new truck or selling them separately.
- Choose your dealer wisely. Some dealers are upfront than others. Ask for references from friends and colleagues before shopping and check the Better Business Bureau for complaints.
- Shop for financing ahead of time. Your bank or credit union may offer better finance rates than the dealer along with a painless pre-approval. It's worth shopping around, even if you end up financing your truck with the dealer. It's also a good idea to know your credit rating ahead of time, because that will be a factor in the loan rate you get. Credit bureaus such as Experian and finance companies such as Credit Karma offer free credit score reporting that is quick and easy.
- Consider buying from stock. Unless you're set on a certain color or set of features, buying from dealer stock can save money and time. Dealers are more likely to negotiate on a truck that's been sitting on the lot for a while. As a bonus, you won't have to wait for your new truck to come in.
- Shop at the end of the month. Those rumors you've heard about finding better deals at the end of the month are true. Dealers really do have monthly sales goals and are more likely to deal toward the end of the month. Carmakers reward high-performing dealers with their own incentives, and more sales also can increase dealers' allotment of desired models.
- Don't be afraid to walk out. Finally, keep in mind that one of the most effective negotiating tactics is also one of the easiest. If you don't like the deal, move on. Chances are, you'll hear from the dealer before you get home. If not, you can always go back if you don't find a better offer on a better truck.
Cars.com photos by Mark Williams