Buying Used Car and Seeking Negotiating Tips

We’re buying a little back-up, tooling-around car. We’re not spending a ton of money, the budget is $7,000. Mr. Helena is a terrible haggler and won’t even try, so it’s going to be up to me. I’ve never haggled on a car, so what is good etiquette? At this price range I don’t expect to be able to get it down too much, but right now everything helps. We’ve found one we’d like to buy. It’s been on the market for 100 days and has had a thousand dollar price drop, putting it in our price range.

Any other tips on working with a used car dealer? Neither one of us has done this in awhile. He bought his Tahoe new from the dealer and didn’t even try negotiating. :rolleyes:

The Mister is good with cars, but we’ll still have it inspected by a AAA mechanic. I’d rather lose the inspection money than buy a POS. This car does have a clean Carfax (I know that’s not a guarantee) and has only had one owner for 90K miles.

Thanks for any suggestions.

Look at car websites like NADA to find out what the value of the vehicle is according to condition and accessories. People tend to overvalue their cars, so it’s good to be able to point to the site as your guide.

Just noticed the 90K figure. Look on line for that make and model and include the terms “change timing belt”. If the recommendation is for less than (or close to) 90K, find out if the timing belt has been changed. If not, run away.


Or, point out that you will have to have this done immediately, and use that as a bargaining chip. Find out how much it will cost, and insist on deducting that from the ticket price.

Also, if they try to tell you they just did anything to the car that raises the value, don’t listen. New tires, brakes, or a clutch do not add to the value of a car over book. Even things like bug shields and better-than-factory sound systems do not add to the value. If they have done something like gotten a full-sized spare or a set of snow tires that they want to sell you, and are including it in their price, no, it doesn’t work like that. You may negotiate a separate transaction for them (and getting a full-sized spare is a good idea), but don’t accept them as part and parcel.

Go to cars dot com and do an advanced search for your make and model. Set the year +/-1 and the mileage +/-10k to the one you’re considering and adjust the search radius to one your comfortable with. That should give you a good idea of the range of prices for your model. Make sure you’re familiar with the trims/options available that year.

I think I’m doing pretty well on the knowledge part, but thanks for the timing belt info. I appreciate everyone’s replies!!

In any vehicle purchase, I think the greatest bargaining tool is the willingness to walk away. If you’re not desperately in need of the wheels, you have an advantage. So you decide what your absolute limit is and be prepared to walk if you don’t get it.

I learned that by accident. We were actually in need of a car and when we showed up, the monthly payment (yeah, I know…) suddenly jumped from what they’d originally promised. I literally stood up and turned towards the door when as if by magic, the original terms were going to work after all.

Okay, so as everyone said, know how much it typically sells for in that trim, age, condition, etc.

If you’re buying in cash, don’t tell them that, and if you are financing, come with your best preapproval in advance. Either way, make them think you are open to financing with them but you would like to negotiate the car’s price first. They might be willing to give you a little bit more of a break on the price of the car if they think that can recoup some of that money on the backend.

You’re right that on a <$7,000 car there is not much room to save a lot of money. But it does help you that it’s been on the lot so long, and something might turn up on the PPI that you can use as well. If there are no major impending maintenance items, I’d probably offer about 15% under asking to start, but I’d be happy with 5-10% at the end of the day.

Yeah. A good asking start is whatever you’d be willing to split the difference on. In other words, if your research tells you that you can reasonably expect to get them down to $6250, and you are willing to pay that, offer $5500.

Keep in mind that even at $7000, they are probably expecting people to try to bargain them down a little. You may not get them all the way down to $6250, but they’ll get the message from your first offer that that is about what you are going for.

Also, whatever your first offer is, you can never go lower than that (unless you learn something, like it was in an accident, but you said you know it hasn’t).

Line up your own financing. You can use their’s if it’s a comparable rate but it isn’t unknown for them to mark it up.

Be prepared to get up & walk out; then DO IT if necessary.

If that car’s been there for 100 days, chances are it’s not going out in the next hour; it’s likely that it’s overpriced or there’s something wrong with it.

I always determined what I was willing to pay, then walked in with that amount in crisp $100 bills and said this is all Ive got. Eyeballs bulge when they see money.

We do have a preapproval for financing from our credit union. I learned today that the car’s from New Jersey so rust is a concern. Mr. H is out-of-town but coming home tomorrow, so we’ll go look at it Sunday to see if it’s worth getting it inspected. He’s from Chicago so he’s dealt with rust issues. It never even occurred to me! Just so I have some knowledge and it might be a bargaining chip, what are peoples’ opinions on rust? If there’s a lot, forget it, but if it’s only a little, in a non-salty environment like the PNW is it reasonable to expect it to last five years? I really have no idea.

I’m not afraid of walking away. We’re not desperate.

As always, thank you!

Almost any used car is going to have some rust, but it really depends where it is and how deep. Your PPI should cover that – they’ll put the car up on a lift and poke/bang around and see if anything’s rusted through. Surface rust is okay, but anything in the frame or floorpan is bad. If you see paint bubbling anywhere, that’s also bad.

One rule of thumb to remember is used car dealers typically mark-up vehicles 30-50% more than they paid at auction. Typically I shoot for at least 30-35% less than the advertised price if it’s not insane by NADA trade-in value estimates (they have to make some money), and yeah, make it clear you’re willing to walk away. Cash buyers don’t show up every day; seeing as the car cost money every day they wait for someone who might be willing to pay a bit more, they tend to go with the bird in the hand.

Imply that there is another specific vehicle that you are strongly considering. For example, if Mr. H is with you, say something like “the other one has only 75,000 miles and it’s red” (if this one is blue) or “it’s blue” (if this one is red).

Be subtle. Don’t do this when the three of you are talking, but as an aside to Mr. H when you are away from the seller but close enough for him to overhear.

This! My bet is this is the best piece of advice here. And it’s not as if it’s some kind of strategic devilry. If everybody understands that you are serious about buying, but only on attractive terms, then somebody will sell to you on those terms when they decide they’re not going to find a buyer who’s more desperate than they are as sellers.

I think this requires you not to be in love with any particular car you’re looking at. You’re not likely to get a good deal on the car that you have to have. You’re quite likely to get a good deal when one of the cars on your spreadsheet has bubbled to the top of the “good deal” list and the seller eventually decides to accept your offer.

Yep. I did similar when haggling with my current car. Even got the payment down to a managable-on-my-salary amount.

This part of your question is the easiest to answer. Don’t be a jerk. That is, don’t “haggle” simply to try to trick someone into giving you a better deal than you ought to get, stick to valid reasons such as everyone has advised. Think simply of how you would feel if someone dealt with you, as you are about to deal with the seller.

If, as you say, you are already knowledgeable enough to know what the market value of the car you like is, and you do the other homework suggested so that you know how much you are willing to pay for it, don’t make an absurd low-ball offer, and don’t feign hostility as a trick to try to get an even better deal. Negotiate honestly and honorably.

The only rules of “good etiquette” that ever apply, are the old do-unto-others thing. If you are dealing with professionals, you might well run across people who have been trained or are dedicated to behaving DISHONORABLY in order to get you to pay more for your car, and that kind of person might well PRETEND to be offended when you calmly stand up for an equitable deal, but if you DO know your money points, and you DO simply stick to your budget plans, they will either have to back down and behave well, or lose your business.

I’ve come to this approach after some disappointment! I had a good idea of exactly what I wanted, and surprise, it’s nowhere to be found! I’ve changed my expectations to what we need: A solid, dependable car that’s comfortable for running my senior mom around and taking all of us on day trips comfortably. An added bonus would be a little bit of character. I’m off the car I thought was IT (the one with potential rust) for a number of reasons.

In this price range, I know the dealer isn’t going to make a ton of money and I do want to negotiate fairly. I just don’t want to get ripped off. But, not in a hurry and not afraid to walk away.

I really appreciate the suggestions and the confirmation that I’m on the right track!

I would never do that. That just switches their mode from “I’ll sell this guy a decent car, but get him on the payments” to “I’m going to give him as poor a car as I can for that amount of money”. Let the salesperson assume that you will be making payments that will far surpass the actual cost of the vehicle, then after the price is officially agreed upon whip out the cash.
edited to add: If a salesperson’s eyes “bulge out” when they see cash at the start of the process, they are either rank amateurs or bad actors-this trick is an everyday practice on lots, and they know how to handle it.

Carfax. Carfax Carfax Carfax.

Yes, it costs a small amount, but it lets you find out what’s been done to THIS exact car and where it’s been. Saying the car is from New Jersey means nothing if that’s just where the auction was held, and with all the recent flooding there are going to be a glut of “Katrina cars” out there just waiting to fuck up in the electronics and stink to high heaven. Carfax will tell you if the car has had recall items repaired, if it’s ever been significantly wrecked or totaled, how many owners it’s had and simply a mort of excellent information you’d probably like to know. It costs very little over a single report to get an unlimited number of reports so you can check on any car that takes your fancy in perpetuity.

Also, flatly refuse to discuss that stupid monthly payment crap they love so much and only deal with the actual price of the car, out the door. If you say you’re only going to deal with them on that basis and the sales person tries the monthly payment schtick or starts drawing quadrants on a piece of paper, leave. They never think you’re serious until you leave at least once or twice.