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Top Tips When Buying A Van From A Dealership

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If you decide that purchasing your future campervan from a dealership is best for you that can be a pretty daunting decision. For many, this vehicle purchase will be the most expensive purchase of their lives. It was for us. And it can be a scary experience walking into a dealership, like swimming with a pool of sharks.

We learned so much from our first van buying experience and we want to share with you every tip and trick that helped us get a great deal for our brand new Ford Transit van. Read below to learn more about our experience.

Table of Contents
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    Learn the Terminology

    The first step before negotiating your van purchase is to learn basic dealership terminology. You want to become fluent with several of these terms before walking into a dealership.

    Window Sticker

    Ford Transit Van Window Sticker
    Ford Transit Window Sticker (not ours, but similar)

    The “window sticker” gets its name because this large informative sticker is usually stuck onto the windows of all new vehicles at every dealership. This window sticker is perhaps the single most important document when you are assessing the vehicle and how much it initially costs. There is lots of information packed into this sticker, and we will isolate the important information in this sticker below.

    Also Read: Which one is right for you? Choosing a Campervan Vehicle

    How To Choose The Best Vans For Van Life

    MSRP/Sticker Price

    MSRP Information

    The MSRP is the manufacturer’s suggested retail price and is the “recommended” price for the vehicle. Because the MSRP is always listed on the window sticker, it is also often referred to as the “sticker price”. This price includes the vehicle’s base price, additional options, and the destination/delivery fee.

    For buyers, this is pretty much the maximum you should ever pay for your vehicle. The MSRP is usually negotiated down. We will discuss further below how to effectively do this.

    Options/Optional Equipment

    Optional Equipment / "Options"

    Optional Equipment (or “Options”) are additional equipment that comes with the vehicle that are on top of the vehicle’s base model. Usually options might entail nicer seats, additional keys, a stronger engine, a moon roof, etc”.

    Ironically, options are not REALLY optional. Since these options are already built into the vehicle, you cannot ask the dealer to get rid of them to lower the price of the vehicle.

    You can, however, negotiate the price down for the various options, which we will discuss further below.

    "Price Information"

    Additional Price Information

    Though not as important, you can find additional window sticker information under “Price Information”.

    Base Price: This is the price for the vehicle is there were no other options installed in the vehicle. Very rarely you will see a vehicle being sold at the base price. There are almost always additional options added on.

    Total Options/Other: This is the total of all the additional add-on options for the vehicle.

    Destination & Delivery: To deliver a new vehicle to the dealership is a cost and dealerships add this cost to the consumer. In the past, dealerships would add whatever cost they wanted. But nowadays, the destination charge is a government mandated amount and is the exactly the same for all vehicles of the same model. This price usually hovers around $1,000 no matter the type of vehicle. Contrary to popular belief, you CANNOT negotiate the destination charge with the dealership.

    Manufacture's Discounts

    If you do some research, you may find that the vehicle manufacture is offering consumers various discounts to help entice you to make a purchase. These discounts can include year-end discounts, military, discounts, and competition discounts.

    Invoice Price

    Sometimes referred to as the “dealer cost”. this is the price that appears on the dealer’s invoice and is not usually shared with the prospective buyer. This is supposedly the price that the dealer purchased from the manufacturer. But with rebates and incentives, this is not always the case.

    Building a camper van? Download our free e-Books with intuitive electrical, solar, and plumbing diagrams.

    Study the Market

    Before you begin studying the vehicle market, it helps to narrow down which particular vehicle you’re interested to buy. Even more helpful is if you already have specific requirements for vehicle height, vehicle length, and engine size.

    In our case, we were specifically looking for a Ford Transit F-250, high-top, 148″ wheelbase, with an Eco-boost engine.

    We then used to get a general overview of what kind of prices we could expect to see. This website is a great initial resource to get information for vehicle’s

    • Base price
    • MSRP
    • Likely included options
    • Available manufacture discounts

    We like using Edmunds because the information provided there gives us a good baseline for what kind of prices to expect.

    For example, a quick search for a new Ford Transit shows all the available manufacture discounts for this particular vehicle. You will need to figure out how many of these discounts you may qualify for.

    Communicate with Dealerships Online First

    Now you know which vehicle you want to buy and the approximate price you expect to pay. It’s time to start reaching out to various dealerships in your area to start gathering real information and prices.

    But going straight to the dealerships without any prior research does you a huge disservice. At the dealership you won’t have any time to think and you may be rushed into a decision that you’re not 100% ready to make.

    Emailing the various dealerships in your area in advance allows you to consume the initial pieces of information at your own speed and without being pressured. Through e-mail, you will be able to:

    • View each dealerships inventory
    • See their initial prices & negotiate
    • Learn which dealerships are worth doing businesses with

    View Each Dealership's Inventory

    Through email, it’s important to clarify exactly what kind of vehicle you are interested in buying. In our initial emails to salesmen we always write exactly which model Ford Transit we are looking for:

    Ford Transit F-250, high-top, 148″ wheelbase, with an Eco-boost engine.

    We then ask to receive scanned copies of all the window stickers of vehicles that fit our above requirements. In our case, each dealership only has about 1-2 vehicles that match our description.

    Receiving the initial window stickers online allows you to compare prices and digest the financial numbers in the comfort of your own home instead of in the high-pressure environment at a dealership and in-front of a salesman who is looking to close a deal.

    Even though most Ford dealerships would have the specific van we wanted, it does not mean that all the window stickers will be the same. The “base model” price will be identical, but because of mandatory “options”, each van will be slightly different, and so will their MSRPs.

    Some vans will come with leather seats, some will have a tow package installed, some will have cruise control, some will come with an extra battery, etc.

    During this initial email phase, you can see all the different Ford Transit models to choose from and you can begin to keep and discard the different vans based on which options you like, and which aren’t important to you.

    Negotiate First Round Discounts

    For us, negotiating discounts is an uncomfortable process. When face-to-face with a sales person, the process feels awkward and tense.

    But the benefit by communicating over email is that you can skip the awkwardness by asking for any “dealership discounts” off the MSRP. Since you went to, you should already know what “manufacturer discounts” you qualify for. Dealership discounts should be extra.

    In this black & white window sticker, the dealership replied to my request for a discount with two hand written discounts.

    Learn Which Dealerships Are Worth Doing Business With

    Emailing all the various dealerships in advance allows helps you to differentiate between dealerships that are professional and respect your time and those that simply don’t care. You may be surprised by just how many dealerships were inept or unprofessional in their communication.

    Email allowed me to quickly filter out bad dealerships.

    If a dealership responds to your questions, attaches window stickers of their available vans, and willingly offers a 1st round discount, that is a dealership worth potentially doing business with.

    Before Visiting The Dealership

    Once selecting which dealership and which vehicle you intend to buy, it’s important to a bit more work on your end.

    Understand Your Current Starting Price

    By this time, you should already have three key pieces of information to help establish where the current starting price is for the vehicle you want.

    1. MSRP (original price)
    2. Manufacture’s discounts (from
    3. Initial dealer discounts (from e-mail exchanges)

    Therefore the current starting price once you enter the dealership should be:

    Starting Price = MSRP – Manufacture’s Discounts – Dealer Discounts

    Set Your Expectation For Additional Discounts

    But of course, it is assumed that you should be able to extract additional discounts when negotiating at the dealership.

    Through online research on and elsewhere, you should be able to get an idea what percent additional discount you can get when at the dealership.

    In my case, I found dealers were giving buyers anywhere between 5-10% additional reductions in price. I used this to set my expectation of what I could expect when I arrived at the dealership myself.

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    Negotiate In Person

    After you have found a dealership worth your time (i.e. respectful, professional, sent you the window sticker in advance, and has a van that you’d like to purchase), it’s a great time to visit the dealership in person and test drive the van.

    You did your homework, be confident!

    If you’ve done the proper research and number crunching beforehand, you may be surprised just how confident you will be the moment you walk through the dealer’s doors. I know I was!

    I already knew EXACTLY what vehicle I would be looking at, what the initial starting price would be for our negotiations, and what the price range I could expect to pay after additional dealer discounts.

    Getting Additional Dealer Discounts

    During my talk with the salesperson, I did the following three things that helped me get to my final price.

    1. Point out the useless options: Because vehicle “options” and their associated costs can’t be removed, I mad it clear to the salesman which options were useless to me. I didn’t need the “heavy duty alternator” or the “tow package”. I asked if he has willing to give a discount on those options since I didn’t value them.

    2. “I love the vehicle, but what’s the best price you can do?”: I love this phrase because it’s forward, but not aggressive and you’re putting the sales person on the spot.

    3. “My target price is $xxx”, can we get to this number?”: If it looks like negotiations are about to come to an end, you can try to extract an additional $500-$1,000 with this phrase. It never hurts to ask and this strategy helped get us a great final price that we were happy with.

    Also Read : Total Cost Breakdown of 2018 Ford Transit

    Ask For Complimentary Extras!

    Even when you’re happy with the final price, you can still come away with some cool free extras before formally shaking the sales person’s hand.

    In our case, the van that we were discussing did not have cruise control built in. So I simply asked if there was any way their workshop could install a complimentary 3rd party cruise control system for me.

    They immediately said “yes”. And we shook hands and formalized the sale.

    Things like adding cruise control is of little additional money and effort to the dealership, but has great value to me. So it was a win-win situation for both me and the dealership.

    And remember, car sales people are human, too!

    Before entering the Gresham Ford Dealership in Oregon, I had this idea that car salesmen were hungry sharks just waiting for unsuspecting customer prey to wander into the sales room.

    But to my surprise, I was greeted and treated with respect and had an incredibly amicable relationship with my designated sales person during the entire negotiation and sale of the vehicle.

    It really reminded me that car salesmen are human, too.

    Of course, this does not mean you should accept a deal that you are uncomfortable with taking or that is outside your researched price range. You should still be firm in what you want and how much you’re willing to pay.

    But it does mean that being kind, respectful, and communicative goes a long way towards getting a deal that is acceptable to both you and the dealership.

    Your experience as you walk away from the dealership (with or even without a new vehicle) will be much more positive.

    Go Back: How To Build A Camper Van

    Thank You For Reading!

    We’re Yuko and Eric! We both grew up in Asia ( Japan & Hong Kong ), we left our jobs and homes in 2018 and started traveling full time from Canada to Argentina in our self-converted camper van since end of May 2019. “Asobo” means “Let’s play” in Japanese. We named our site “Asobolife” because the life is always uncertain and we live only once so it’s important to always keep positive, playful mind and enjoy the moment you are in the present. We also want to use this website to share our road trip and van building experiences to inspire our readers. We hope you enjoy!

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