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Car Buying Guide: A Tale Of Two Car Dealers: Part III

When I helped a friend buy a used car from a major dealer, I knew we were vulnerable to manipulation around the trade’s value. As an ex-Internet Manager for a major dealers and someone who teaches people how to buy and sell cars, I made sure I used every insider secret that I knew about the industry. I wanted to make sure that I got a good deal for my friend AND lowered her stress level upon arrival at the dealership.

Buyers accomplish both tasks by pre-negotiating every aspect of the deal in advance. It turned out that I failed miserably on both counts. My failure rested on the one wild card in the deal that I couldn’t fully control in advance: the trade value.

A Tale of Two Dealers
If you’re jumping into this article cold, not having read the previous segments, let’s catch you up quickly: my friend and I had a great experience at one dealership and a horrible experience at another one. This article deals with the latter.

I have written extensively on how to buy new or used cars from dealers: pre-negotiate all aspects of the deal in advance. I took my own advice. Before we arrived at the dealership I knew the purchase price was as low as possible. I also had my friend get pre-approved at her bank for a car loan. This was to eliminate the dealer holding her hostage over the car loan’s interest rate. If they quoted a rate that was too high, my friend would simply finance through her own bank.

However, I also knew going in we were vulnerable on the trade’s value. Yes, I had emailed the dealer the vehicle identification number (VIN) of her trade so they could run their own vehicle history report and determine an initial value. I also accurately described the car: make, model, miles, and condition, including all the negative attributes from scratches on the bumper to the condition of the upholstery. I then used back and forth emails to negotiate the trade’s value. When I was satisfied with all the details of the deal, I set an appointment. My friend and I would see the dealer’s car for the first time in person.

Failed Miserably
Dealers do not want to pre-negotiate anything in advance, including the purchase price, interest rate, or trade value. Their normal refrain is, “Come on down and look at the car in person. If you like it, I’m sure we can make you more than a good deal.” Don’t believe a word of it. If you don’t pre-negotiate all aspects of a car deal, you are leaving yourself open to paying hundreds, if not thousands of dollars more than necessary.

I pre-negotiated as much as I could. However, even though the dealer agreed the trade would be worth a certain figure, both its condition and value had to be confirmed by inspection at the dealership. No car dealer will provide a firm trade price without seeing the car in person, and they would be crazy to do so.

However, this is an opportunity for dealers to show their true colors. In this case one dealer used this wild card situation to try to reduce drastically the value they would give on the trade. Their attempt was so blatantly dishonest, they lost all credibility and we walked out. The other dealer used it as an opportunity to reinforce that their word was good as gold and they would stand behind the deal they’d agreed to.

Tomorrow a look at how one dealer literally lied their way out of a deal, while the other earned my friend’s business with honesty and transparency.


The author recently published his new book, HELP! I Gotta Sell My Car NOW! New Rules for Selling Your Vehicle Online! It’s available at

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Comment (1)
  1. Man, do I wish I'd had James to help me buy my last three cars! I bought each from a dealer, trading in my prior car. I thought I was getting good deals, but after reading this series and remembering all the research I didn't do--ouch.
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