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How To Haggle For A Used Car

haggling for a used carHopefully this will be my last post about used cars for a while. Like it or not, most of us have to drive, which means the occasional need to shop for a car. Since one of our lines in the sand is to never again buy a brand new car or have a car payment, it made the hunt a bit more challenging, but I think the end result turned out well. Let me say that I hate haggling. It’s more fun to pick up dog poo, but sometimes you have to step up to the plate if it means saving thousands of dollars. These are some tricks I used to haggle for a used car.

Know What Kind Of Car You Want

There are so many makes and models of cars available that it almost boggles the mind. Saying you want a car just doesn’t cut it. Thankfully the internet has all kinds of reviews and specifications so people can check out vehicles that fit their needs for reliability and affordability.

In our case, we narrowed the choices to a Honda Civic or Accord. We also wanted a 2010 or newer model. I preferred the Accord since it’s the same size as the car we have now, but I wasn’t ruling out a Civic if it was a better deal.

After looking at Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, Craig’s List, eBay, and Autotrader, we had a pretty good idea about price ranges. Knowledge is power when dealing with sales people!

Decide How To Buy Your Car

Today, buyers have options for buying a used car. You can go the traditional route at a dealership or search numerous vehicles online. We decided not to buy sight unseen so that ruled out eBay. Since there were no listings on Craig’s List that were under 3 hours away, it was the dealership route for us.

Make Sure To Visit More Than One Dealership

I got most of this information straight off Edmunds.com, and it worked like a charm. I went to two different car lots on the same day and test drove three Civics and one Accord, all either 2011 or 2012 models. I made sure the salesmen at each place knew I was comparing prices at other dealerships as well.

Try To Make The Salesman Name The First Price

I had read that it’s much better if the salesman throws out the first price, so I did not mention a budget or price range, but did say that cost would be a big factor in my decision. The first salesman gave me prices on all three models that I drove. He also mentioned that he only needed one more sale to meet his monthly goal. I don’t know if shopping toward the end of the month guarantees a better deal, but I do think it helped in my case.

The finance manager also came out to discuss the option of payments, but I said nope. I thanked them both and went on my way to the other dealership. They were anxious to make a deal, but I felt no pressure to decide on the spot.

Be Cool Under Pressure

Where the first salesman was very laid back, the second one was super aggressive. I test drove a Civic that was actually priced better than the ones at the first dealer. This time, they did not want me to leave without buying.  I was tag teamed by the salesman and the finance manager, who pretty much told me I was crazy to pay in cash when interest rates were so low. They also ended up taking $2500 off the list price, but I felt so uncomfortable that my knee jerk reaction was to get out of there as fast as possible. I can’t believe high pressure sales pitches ever work, but they must or else no one would own time shares.

Don’t Buy Without Leaving The Lot

One of my rules for the day was to not buy anything without leaving the lot. I felt the aggressive dealership was already at rock bottom, but I hoped the laid back one would lower their prices.

Sure enough, that evening, I got a call from the first salesman. I told him the Civic at the other place was less expensive, but I still wasn’t sure which car we wanted. He offered to knock $1100 off the price he had quoted for the Accord. The numbers were pretty good, and while I was tempted to just say yes, I told him I needed a day to think about it.

One Final Haggle

As I expected, the aggressive dealer didn’t lower their price further. I’m not sure if it was their sales tactics or our true preference for more room, but Jim and I decided to go for the Accord. Once again, he was out of town, so it was up to me to close the deal. Between this car and our rental property, I’m getting really good at this haggling stuff!

The laid back salesman called me the following morning to see where we stood. I told him I would take the Accord if he could come down another $500. I didnt’ figure it would happen, but what’s the harm in trying? It’s also much easier to do over the phone than in person. I was polite and funny. I don’t like to deal with people who aren’t nice, and I don’t believe being rude or condescending ever wins points with sales people.

While the price didn’t come down $500, he did lower it by another $100, and I said OK. Perhaps we could have gotten a few more dollars off, but at this point, my head was about to explode and I was done negotiating. Plus, Jim’s parents are sitting around without any transportation other than my sister in law. That situation is not our fault, but we feel bad and need to get this over with so we can get back to focusing on our own lives.

Car Shopping With a Plan

I think the key to car shopping from a dealer is to know the value of what you want to buy and have a line in the sand. It’s easy to get talked into anything in high pressure situations. Don’t get caught up in the moment, always be polite, and walk away at least once.

I’m hoping our new to us car lasts for at least the next decade. It will take me that long to work up the motivation to car shop again!

What’s the best deal you’ve haggled for? Have you ever fallen for an aggressive sales tactic?

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.

17 comments

  1. We each have a role during the car-buying process. Greg sits there and nods and I play bad cop. Both times we have purchased a used car, we have walked out the door and had someone come running out after us. I always do research ahead of time and come up with the top price I am willing to pay. You have to be willing to walk out the door!

  2. Playing the dealers against each other was definitely our winning tactic. Two had virtually the exact same cars (same year, model, and the mileage was within 1K miles of each other). The one in the color we didn’t want, though, was $3K cheaper. By bringing the other listing with us and telling the dealer “we want yours, but we like their price better”, we were able to basically match the price of the cheaper one but get the color we wanted for a win-win. =)

  3. I like buying from a private seller because although I negotiated, they seemed just as uncomfortable as I did. In the end I got a good deal from a private seller. I can at least ignore car salesmen pretty well now. When I was younger I was more vulnerable I think.

  4. Man, I hate dealing with aggressive car sales people! But, that said, it sounds like you ended up with a good deal. Information is definitely key, especially when you’re not in a rush to buy the car. We did some very similar things to you when we bought our last car and will be doing them again when we get to go throw the experience again in a year or so.

  5. It’s hard — very hard — to take emotion out of the car buying process but you really have to try. Once that salesman gets you flustered, you are dead meat.

    Thankfully, it’s been close to 10 years since the last time we bought a car. It happened to be from a dealership, but at least it was a low-pressure one and we did okay. We’ve taken good care of our 1996 Dodge Dakota and 1998 Subaru Forester and, even though combined they’ve logged over 385,000 miles, they still run like champs and we expect to keep them indefinitely.

    And save that money!

  6. Our car was in an accident in September. So we were desperately trying to find a car before I left for FinCon and he left for his own adventure. Talk about stress!

    We actually settled on Civic too. It was noticeably less than the Accord, and I didn’t want to completely drain savings. (Came close anyway.)

    We shopped three different places, and did NOT appreciate the high pressure sales. Luckily, Tim has been in sales, so he weathers it with good humor and frankly kind of enjoys laughing at the obvious lines.

    In the end, we probably could have gotten the car a little cheaper if we walked away and came back. But it was a good deal, so we were exhausted, stressed and hadn’t seen a car in that good of shape yet. With an overvalued trade-in (part of the way they lowered the price), we paid about $13,818 for a 2012 Civic with less than 25,000 miles on it. Cosmetic damage, but nothing like the other, similarly priced ones that had higher mileage.

  7. My problem with buying a used car is this: I pretty much know exactly what car I’m buying before I even get to the lot. I go with the plan to look at something specific, typically only after days and sometimes weeks of research. The only negotiating I do is trying to get them to pay more for my trade-in…which is typically a car that they can’t sell because it’s a junker at that point!

  8. Loving this post, Kim. We’ve always been horrible at haggling for prices on used cars. Now we’ll know better for next time. 🙂

  9. The last few times I have car shopped, I had the best luck going in with a budget for exactly how much I wanted to pay. It was then easy for me to negotiate because I wasn’t going to stray from my budget and then it just became a matter of how much the salesperson wanted to work with me. I did have to leave one dealer because they wouldn’t come down; however, I went to another one and they did.

  10. You have some great tips here! Waiting till the end of the month and leaving the dealership before buying are both excellent tips. I did haggle a bit on my car and actually buying a brand new one cost me less than buying a car that was two years old. The difference was in interest. The new car had 0% interest!

  11. I am in barking on buying a second car at the moment it’s a minefield not to choose a lemon.
    Your article however is most useful and I shall be carrying your pointers around with me
    Thank you.

  12. I really enjoyed reading this. My friend is a car salesman. He has taught me a lot about different things that the salesman do to make a deal. It was good to see the other side of things. I am definitely going to discuss this with him. Thank you for sharing.

  13. I am currently looking into buying a new car, but the truth is, I know very little about what it takes to buy a good, quality car. I really appreciate your tip to visit more than one dealership. I can definitely see how doing this will broaden your perspective on what is available so that I can compare my options and get the best car for me. I thought it was interesting that you made sure that the salesman knew that you were comparing cars at other places. I think that doing this will definitely begin a trusted relationship, and your salesman can help you find the best quality and the best car. Thanks for your insight!

  14. You’re right, it’s important to have some kind of strategy when buying a used car. Knowing how to lower the price of a car is a good way to make sure that you’re getting a good deal. Asking for a really low price seems like a great starting off point to get closer to the price that you want on a car. I should remember that while I’m looking for a car to replace my old one today.

  15. Freddy Palander

    After picking out a couple of cars that we were interested in we took our uncle who is a car guy to come with us shopping. He helped us make sure that everything was in running order. I don’t know much about cars so having him check it out was really reassuring.

  16. Definitely don’t buy without leaving the lot! I would recommend taking it for a drive on the freeway, and try to get even 10-15mph over the speed you normally drive. You should drive 5-10 minutes on the freeway and check for leaks when you get back to the lot. Sometimes cars will only knock or leak after they’ve gone up to certain speeds, and that’s a good way to know if you have problems with overheating too.

  17. I like the idea of having the salesman name the price first. It seems like they are more willing to negotiate when they are the ones pitching numbers. However, I do think that it’s okay to give a general price range because that helps them know where to start with the cars to show you.

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