6 Used-Car Negotiation Tips

(Making sure you find the best deal)
Two men shaking hands on a successful negotiation in a used car dealership.

So, you've made the decision to buy a used car. You've researched makes and models and settled on a few options. Or, you may have your perfect used vehicle in mind and are just deciding how to go about purchasing it. Wherever you stand in your process of purchasing a new car, paying the right price is important.

Being able to negotiate (or haggle) is an important tactic to employ while shopping for a used car. You don't want to pay too much, and you don't want to buy a car that will break down after rolling off the car lot. Conn Wilson, manager of Aamco Transmission in Richmond, Kentucky, knows this story all too well. 

He sees customers who jump the gun in their used car negotiation and end up having to sink a large amount of money into it just to get it back on the road. He's compiled the top 5 tips for us on how to negotiate a used car price.

But first, make sure you're covered with an affordable car insurance policy.

1. Know Your Car Values

Whether you’re looking for an SUV, truck or car, it’s vital to know the value of the car you’re looking at before attempting to haggle on a price. There are many websites to visit in order to get a reliable used car price. The Kelley Blue Book, NADA and Edmunds are just a few of the sites that offer car-value tools. 

Additionally, “Check websites that sell cars to get a value as well, such as eBay or Craigslist,” suggests Conn. These websites will give you prices that people are actually spending on the vehicles, regardless of their blue book value. Try to find listings for completed transactions, along with listings in areas near you, to get the most accurate price point.

2. Know Your Dealership

While knowing how much the car you’re looking at should sell for, what may be even more important is finding an honest dealership to buy it from. Conn recommends calling up local repair shops and asking for used car dealer recommendations. This is especially true if the dealer you’re considering buying from doesn’t have a service department on site. “Every dealer needs to have service done to their vehicles,” Conn says. 

The repair shops they use see the good, the bad and the ugly of these dealerships and can usually give concrete recommendations. Additionally, checking online resources for car dealership reviews is also important. Many times, the online review sites have customer experiences, which will likely include their opinions on the haggling experience, salesperson recommendations or cautionary tales.

3. Start Out Low, But Make It Count

When trying to negotiate or haggle over a used car price, many people are scared of insulting the car dealership. Offering too low a price may garner you the label of “tire kicker,” while offering too much can make the dealership see you as naive. Decide what you are going to offer before you venture onto the lot. 

Also, have the values you’ve researched printed out for reference. If the price of the used car is $10,000 but you’ve seen them selling for $9,000 on eBay or Craigslist, offer $8,500 to $9,000. Conn says, “There’s not a used vehicle out on the market with more than 100,000 miles on it that doesn’t need something, whether it’s tires, breaks, etc.,” which can work in your favor when it comes to the haggle.

Additionally, since you’ve already determined financing for the vehicle, make it clear that you’re willing to write a check for the car today. Here's how to get a car salesperson's attention: Say, "If you're willing to haggle with me on price, I'll write you a check today." 

If a salesperson has to pick between the people that just walked onto the lot and the potential for a guaranteed sale, the salesperson will almost always pick the sale. As long as the salesperson believes a fair negotiation is possible, you should both be able to agree on a price.


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4. Get a Pre-Buy Inspection

This is a little-known secret that can save you from sinking money into a ticking time bomb or can give you a leg up on negotiating a used car price. While many people believe that you can get pre-buy inspections from private sellers, you can get pre-buy inspections on vehicles from used car lots, as well. “Call your mechanic, and make an appointment for a vehicle inspection. 

These usually take an hour for a general check, but you can also pay extra for a more detailed inspection.” Conn says, “In two hours, they can do a more thorough inspection.” Most dealerships should be willing to allow the check to occur during or after the test drive. If a dealer is hesitant to do this, you may want to find another dealership to do business with.

Additionally, if the shop does find minor items needing repair, you can use this to negotiate a lower used car price. Since you'll get a report detailing any needed repairs, you'll get a good picture of what those repairs will cost. It's important to know how to play their game and be confident in your negotiating tactics.

5. Be Willing To Walk

You’ve found the car. However, you and the salespeople can’t come to an agreement. Instead of spending more than you’re comfortable with or leaving the dealership feeling cheated, just walk away. Car salespersons are good at their jobs, and they want to make you think that unless you buy the vehicle then, it will be gone and there won’t be another. 

Just keep reminding yourself that there are always other cars and other dealerships. If you know the price you’re offering is fair, walk away, and call another dealership. See if they have the same car in stock, and go over your offer, reiterating the fact that you were ready to pay in full today. The other dealer may very well go for the offer.

During the negotiation process, you can feel free to walk away. If the salesperson has to go clear the price with the manager, take this opportunity to go make a phone call, go to the restroom, get some refreshments or just go for a quick walk outside.

If you’re feeling uncomfortable or pressured into a price you’re not comfortable with, simply say, “Since we’re not really coming to an agreement, I’m going to go and check out a few other options. Thank you for your time.” It's a good idea be courteous and polite. Tempers tend to flare when money is involved, but you can help diffuse the argument when you stay calm, too.

And just because you don't buy right that moment doesn't mean there's a line of people waiting to buy it as soon as you leave. If you need to go home and research prices or see if there's another dealer with the same make/model vehicle you're looking for, do it. Getting out of the dealership will help you clear your head.

6. Insurance Is Non-Negotiable

While you can't really haggle for insurance coverage, you can definitely find a good deal. Most importantly, you can find auto insurance that can cover you no matter what kind of car you drive, and no matter how you drive it. Independent agents are particularly good at comparison shopping and helping you save because they don't work with a single insurer. 

Because they have access to multiple companies, you can get several quotes to compare before you buy. Independent agents are ready to help you get more value and feel better about your insurance purchase.

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