How To Negotiate The Price Of A Used Car

Buying used cars can be a tricky process, whether you are negotiating with the dealership or private parties. This process hasn’t really changed in 75 years. There are still some tried-and-true techniques and steps that you can use to get a good deal.

It’s crucial to understand what you are buying, and the fair market value of it when it is sold by an individual or a dealer. You’ll also want to be in the right mindset to negotiate. This means using dispassionate logic and sticking to facts.

Step 1: Know what you’re buying

A 2012 Toyota Camry with low mileage is clearly worth more than one that has a lot of miles and was abused by someone who smokes a lot. It’s important to understand what you are buying. The process is different if you can actually see the car. Look up the value ranges for the model you are interested in. You can get an accurate picture of the car’s value by doing a quick search online using resources such as Kelley Blue Book and NADA Guides. Then, you’ll want to see the vehicle.

When buying a car from a dealer try to ignore the happy talk and stories of how the vehicle belonged to someone you know. Instead, focus on the actual car.

If a drive-test and visual inspection are possible, begin by inspecting the vehicle closely. Do not be fooled by the quick detailing that most dealers do to make their used inventory shine. Check for rust and variations in the color of the paint. Panel gaps may also indicate previous accident damage.

It is important to do your research. Before visiting the seller or the lot, research what you are looking for at different sources. Ask if a mobile mechanic can do a site inspection. The older the vehicle, the higher the value.

This step is often skipped, but it is vital. Get as deep under the vehicle as you can (a drop cloth for this purpose will be helpful) and check for oil leaks and rust. Hire a mobile mechanic to perform an inspection on site if you can. These services are available in most major cities and can be booked using smartphone apps.

Look for cracks on the dash and in the upholstery. Also, make sure the instruments are working. Check that the lights, horn and locks all work.

Check the exhaust after the vehicle has been started for excessive smoke. Check the dipstick to see if there is any water in the engine oil. Also, check the water for signs that it may be oily (indicating a faulty head gasket). Find a straightaway during the drive and briefly remove your hands from the wheel. This will ensure that the car is tracking straight. Brake hard and watch how your vehicle reacts. If you are on the highway, look for any vibrations in the steering or body. You can ask if Car Fax has been performed or you can do it yourself using the VIN.

Salespeople are used to dealing with dozens of customers a day, and they know how to make you feel good about the car that you’re considering. Imagine it as muzak, and concentrate on what you see and whether or not you like the deal. There’s nothing wrong with walking away if you’re not happy.

Step 2: Bargain like a Vulcan

Assume that the car has passed all of these tests and you are interested in purchasing it. Don’t start with the price you are willing to pay. Ask the seller, whether a private party or a dealer, if he is willing to negotiate. You will have to decide whether the price is fair if they tell you, “Take it and leave it.”

Say you want to buy the car for $10,000. Never set the price yourself. Always wait for the seller to state it. It is reasonable to start at $8,000 for a $12,000 car.

It pays to be logical and without emotion. Think like Spock, from Star Trek. Do not worry about being polite or pleasing the other person. Some buyers will not bargain for fear of being embarrassed or because of social pressure. It’s not a tradition in America to haggle, but it’s a common practice around the world. If you accept a seller’s initial price, you are likely leaving money on the table.

The process is old. The owner says $12,000 The owner says $11,000, you say $8,000. The owner agrees to $10,000 as a compromise. Owner is happy because you increased the price. You’re also happy that you got your car for the price you wanted.

You don’t have to be afraid to walk away if you’re not going to get what you want or the bill is too high. Walking away from a dealership can get you a better deal as you are leaving. If it’s not worth stretching your budget, and you aren’t looking for an obscure classic car then another vehicle similar to that will come along soon.

You may need to make more concessions if you are buying an older vehicle or a rarer model. However, it is best to let the owner decide how much the car is worth.

Here’s how not to do it. I helped a friend purchase a cream-puff Jaguar for $8,000 on the market. The car was worth it, even though I thought the price was high. My friend said, “It is a nice car and I am happy to pay full price.” I was about bid $6,000, which would have likely been accepted.

Step 3: After Sale

Other factors can affect the price. Does the dealer offer a warranty, even for a short time? Ask if there are spare parts in the dealer’s back room that weren’t installed. Then there’s the cost and time of registration, and the logistics of picking up your car after you purchase it. You can register the car at a dealer and drive it away after you purchase insurance.

You’ll probably have to make at least two trips if you don’t. You can get the VIN off your car and register it for insurance yourself. You may need to visit the DMV, especially if in a rush. Some states do not issue titles for older vehicles. Some states will only issue a bill. You can now go and pick up your car armed with the plates, registration, and insurance card.

You’re still getting to know your new vehicle!

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