Shop online or at least start there
This is not the same as research. Do this only after you know what kind of car you want – and how the inventory in your area stacks up. Those research sites, particularly Blue Book and Auto Trader, can tell you if everyone has the minivan of your dreams or no one does. The more inventory in your area, the more leverage you have as a buyer.
Sometimes you’ll find the same car listed in multiple places – by the dealer and by one or more third parties. Check vehicle identification numbers (VIN) and photos to be sure and then use the lowest offer as your starting point.
I made this a priority for van number two, which was a used minivan I found online and then negotiated to test drive through the dealership’s online sales department. Turns out the price offered on the dealership’s website beat the floor price by a couple thousand dollars.
Years later, I shopped for the family’s second car – not a minivan – online as well. This time, I went through my bank which also holds my car insurance. Via the bank’s website, I checked the boxes for what I wanted and it spit out three options from three dealerships in my area and the pre-negotiated price for each.