I once worked as a car salesman. I learned a few key things:
- You don’t need a full set of teeth to be a winning car salesperson.
- The nicer a salesperson is to a customer, the more that customer overpays.
I also learned the car sales playbook during my time in the industry. And of course, I’m willing to share what I learned.
Even if you deflect the selling schemes that dealers use, you won’t be able to get a good deal on a car unless you do some research first. Make sure that you know which cars you’re interested in and what the going rate is for them before you step foot into a showroom.
1. Start Online
It is beneficial to do your homework on used vehicles before making a purchase. By researching specific vehicles that have the features and mileage you are looking for, you will be able to get a better deal on the car.
Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, and National Automotive Dealers Association are all good resources for auto shoppers because they track new and used car purchases to provide granular pricing information.
You may choose to look for a used car online on a marketplace that offers detailed listings, car reviews, buyers guides, and more. Used car sites simplify the shopping experience and your vehicle could be just a few clicks away.
Many automotive magazines are useful for their extensive collection of reviews that appeal to driving enthusiasts.
2. Don’t ask the dealer for recommendations
Many car buyers make the mistake of letting car salespeople make recommendations, which can be costly.
It is not a good idea to have different priorities than the person you are dating.
- YOU want a great deal on a great car that fits your budget and your lifestyle.
- THEY want to make you overpay for a car you don’t need so they can get it off the lot.
For example, if you went into a Subaru dealership, you would explain to the salesperson that you want a car that is comfortable, has a good ride quality, and is big enough to fit kids and a dog.
Subaru’s new three-row SUV, the Ascent, is highly recommended by the company. They point out its smooth transmission, compliant ride, and how the third row folds down. Since it meets all the requirements, you begin to fill out the paperwork.
This ranking is based on data from Consumer Reports’ subscribers. If you had done your own research, you would know that the 2021 Subaru Ascent is the second least reliable car according to this data.
So why didn’t the salesperson warn you?
The difference between the priorities of the dealer and the priorities of the customer is that the dealer is trying to move product, regardless of quality, while customers who don’t know better are easy targets.
You should always be telling the dealer what you want – never the other way around. And for help determining which cars you want, follow these three tips:
- Review both professional and user reviews on sites like Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, and Consumer Reports (Consumer Reports is a paid subscription, but worth it for car shoppers).
- Ask real owners about their long-term ownership experiences on sites like Reddit and make/model-specific forums (e.g. miata.net).
- Once you’ve narrowed your list to three to five cars, test drive your top picks at a local Carmax. Carmax is a low-pressure environment where you can test up to five cars from different manufacturers in a single afternoon.
Should you buy new or used?
What is the age-old question? How complex is the answer?
My personal recommendation is that you buy a gently pre-owned car from a manufacturer known for reliability, like Hyundai, Toyota, Lexus, or Mazda. Here are a few of my reasonings:
- Used cars are cheaper. Pretty self-explanatory.
- New cars depreciate quickly. Brand new cars can lose up to 40% of their value after year one – money you’ll never see again.
- Used cars are just as good. A well-made used car will last over 200,000 miles with regular checkups and oil changes – meaning a 2019 Camry with 18,000 miles on it is less than one-tenth through its lifespan.
But that’s just one opinion.
I strongly advise against letting a dealership sell you a last year’s model for this year’s price. In December, all current year models will lose at least $4,000 in value simply by becoming last year’s model. However, dealerships won’t reduce the price until mid-March.
3. Know the value of your trade-in beforehand
Valuing your trade-in too low is a common mistake. People often get too eager to get rid of their old car after negotiating a great price on a new one and take the first price offered.
The final price on the 2021 Malibu is XXX. You’re getting a great deal.
“That’s great news! I’m excited. Does this price include the value of my trade-in vehicle?”
“Yes, we took off another $1,700 for your trade-in.”
At this point you might be feeling relieved that although your car is old, stained and has a mystery leak, you were able to get something for it.
The value of your trade-in was actually worth more than what the dealer offered you. In a private sale, your trade-in would have been worth $5,000, but because you negotiated with the dealer, you only got $2,000 off the price of the Malibu. The dealer probably just wanted to get their money back, and even made a profit off of your trade-in.
First, find out the True Market Value of your car using a free tool from Edmunds. This will help you know if you’re being lowballed.
Don’t let a dealer lowball you on your trade-in. It’s okay to take your old car to another dealer to get a better offer. It might be a little inconvenient to have two cars for a while, but the extra money you could earn will make it worth it.
4. Conduct In-Person Research
After deciding what car you want to buy and what price it should be, you need to research the car by taking it for a test drive and inspecting it carefully.
When you are buying a used car it is important to get a vehicle history report. This will help to ensure that what the seller is telling you about the car is true. You can get reports from Carfax or AutoCheck. If you are buying from a private seller you can ask to see a copy of their maintenance records.
You can get a sense of how much a used car is worth by looking at its market value and comparing it to the seller’s asking price. If the seller is reluctant to give you information about the car, it may be a sign that you should look elsewhere.
It is a good idea to have a certified mechanic check out any used vehicle you plan to purchase, in order to identify any major issues that may exist.
5. Be patient
The process of negotiating is a test of who has more willpower. The dealership makes you wait to get you to start dreaming about your new car. Why not fight back? Car salespeople’s commissions are based on how many cars they sell. They want to sell a lot of cars quickly. There will usually be plenty of cars left tomorrow unless you’re looking for a rare model.
The longer you wait to buy a car, the more anxious the dealer will become, wondering if you’ve changed your mind or found a better deal elsewhere. Use this to your advantage to get the dealer to provide even more price concessions.
Negotiating Used Car Price for Certified Pre-owned
Most luxury brands, such as Lexus, Lincoln, and Mercedes-Benz, offer certified pre-owned vehicles. CPO vehicles are inspected thoroughly, any maintenance issues are addressed, and they are cosmetically sound—no shredded interiors, bashed fenders or missing trim. Nissan and Chevrolet also offer certified pre-owned vehicles.
CPO cars have less wear and tear than normal cars. When talking to a dealer about a certified car, make sure to ask to see the inspection report. The report will have information about the car such as whether or not there were any recalls on the model, and even details such as tire tread depth and the thickness of the brake pads.
Although you have to pay more money for CPO cars, you are getting a higher quality car. Reed said that there is usually a $1000 price difference, but it’s worth it because you’re getting a better car. CPO cars turn the used car buying experience into a new car buying experience.
Buying a CPO vehicle at the end of the month is the best time to get a good deal, just like with new cars. However, you can’t use this same strategy with used cars, although timing is still important.
For example, if you live in an area that gets a lot of snow, you’ll probably get a better deal on a convertible in the fall and winter months. On the other hand, there is usually an increase in sales around April, when people use their tax refunds, so avoid shopping then if possible.
Negotiating With Private Sellers
You’ll probably pay less overall if you buy from a dealership. If you’re planning on paying cash for a used car, buying from a private seller might be an option. However, you should take into account how much a private seller is likely to charge for a vehicle, as opposed to a dealership. In most cases, you’ll end up paying less if you purchase from a dealership.
The price of the car may be negotiable depending on the seller. If the seller is in a hurry to sell the car, it may be easier to negotiate the price. If the seller does not have a pressing reason for selling the car, it may be more difficult to negotiate the price.
It may be helpful to start by setting a dollar amount that represents the most you’re willing to pay. Then you can set your starting price below that amount so there is room to negotiate.
For example, let’s say you have a budget of $5,000 for a used car. You find a great car that you like, but it’s priced at $5,500. If the seller is willing to negotiate, you could start by offering $4,500. Then, you and the seller can keep bargaining until you reach an agreement at $5,000.
If you negotiate with a private seller, you might be able to get a better price, but keep in mind that you probably won’t get a warranty.
How Much Can You Talk a Dealer Down on a Used Car?
What is the central question you need to answer when buying a used car?
Here are some things that can help as you prepare to negotiate:
- Check KBB or another online resource to get an idea of the vehicle’s value and what similar models are selling for locally.
- Consider how much trade-in value you may be able to add to the pot if you’re trading in a car you already own.
- Revisit your budget to determine how much you can realistically afford to spend, whether you’re paying in cash or financing a vehicle.
- Get estimates or quotes for similar vehicles from other dealers so you have some numbers to use as leverage with the dealership you plan to buy from.
- Determine where to start with your initial offer and the max you’re willing to pay.
Negotiating a used car price is a skill, and you should be confident when you start bargaining. Don’t let a salesperson pressure you into making a deal that you’re not happy with.