To get the best price possible when you buy your next new car, make sure you have a good understanding of how cars are priced.

The main point to remember when you look over vehicle prices is that "MSRP" stands for manufacturer's suggested retail price. Focus on the word "suggested." It's far from the actual cost of the vehicle and, in most cases, it's well above the price you should actually pay.

Here's how the system typically works. The manufacturer ships a bunch of Schnauzer 900XZs to the dealership. The dealership pays the invoice price. Once a Schnauzer is sold, the manufacturer deposits a certain percentage of the vehicle price into a kitty for the dealer. This is the "holdback" percentage, which varies but is usually between 2% and 5%. You'll find the holdback percentage for any particular vehicle listed at many of the auto supersites online. (Here are a bunch of good supersites:,,,,,,

Regularly, perhaps once per quarter, the manufacturer clears out the kitty and sends the dealer a check. This holdback system permits the dealer to swear to you that he's paying a certain invoice price for the vehicle, while not mentioning that he gets a certain percentage of that price back. On a $20,000 car, a 3% holdback comes to $600 -- and it's an amount you don't have to surrender in full to the dealer.

There are additional incentives for dealers, as well, which you can learn about by doing a little digging online or in trade magazines such as Automotive News. As a very rough example, imagine that you're looking at a vehicle with an invoice price of $20,000 and an MSRP of $22,000. A dealer might be telling you that he'll give it to you for just $20,500, fully $1,500 off the MSRP. But, he might not be mentioning that he's getting a $600 holdback, plus a special dealer incentive of $1,000. (Here and there, some special dealer incentives amount to several thousand dollars.) In other words, the $20,000 car is really costing him $18,400.

With a bit of research under your belt before you approach a salesperson, you can create a win-win result, with the dealer netting a modest profit and yourself not getting taken to the car wash.

For much more scoop on the ins and outs of the car-buying process, check out the Fool's How to Buy a Car area and ask any questions on our Buying and Maintaining a Car discussion board. (Check out our vibrant discussion board community via our painless free trial.)

And by the way, if thinking about money matters makes your head hurt and you'd like an actual person (a financial pro, no less) to talk to about your financial situation, look into our TMF Money Advisor. It's a valuable service, featuring customized independent advice from a variety of objective financial experts.

For more personal finance and investing basics, visit our Personal Finance area, our Investing Basics area, and our Fool's School. You can also learn a lot via our acclaimed How-to Guides and online seminars and our book, The Motley Fool Money Guide: Answers to Your Questions About Saving, Spending and Investing .