Whether you shop a dealer or private party, buying a used car is going to take negotiating. Not everyone relishes the idea, but with a few tips and tricks you can make it through unscathed.
Know the car you want. Wandering aimlessly around a car lot can lead to an imperfect vehicle match. Find specific cars online before you head out to dealers. If it’s a considerable distance away, consider calling ahead to verify the car is still in stock. Dealers tend to keep their websites updated, but it doesn’t happen in real time.
Consider high-volume cars. If you're in the market for a vehicle that regularly sells in the thousands, you have far more purchasing power. You'll be able to find one equipped closer to your specs--and you'll have the confidence to walk away, knowing there's another listing on AutoTrader or Craigslist ad with a nearly identical product.
Know what it’s worth. When you have a car in mind, research its value online. Several sites give dealer retail and private party numbers alike, adjusted for your region. Try a few to develop a better average price range.
Ask for records. Service records and a vehicle history report may not be ironclad proof of a car’s past, but they do shed light on the life it led. Confirmation of important maintenance like a timing belt, clutch or other expensive work can be a bargaining tool and help you anticipate future operating costs.
Be prepared to walk. Or, at least take time to let your offer simmer. You don’t have to get intense with negotiating, but stick within the range you’re willing to spend. If that’s not going to your satisfaction, stay cool and acknowledge the impasse. Make sure the seller has your contact information and thank him or her for their time. If they don’t call your bluff and open negotiations again, so be it. At least you won’t have been pressured into accepting a disagreeable offer.
Shop at the right time. There’s some truth to better deals at the end of the month, but there are other times when dealers can be more flexible. The holidays are generally slower times as consumers are preoccupied with other shopping. For dealers in cold and snowy regions, slowness continues through the winter months.
Get more for your money. If price is a sticky point and you’d rather not walk away from the deal altogether, try negotiating the seller to include more for the price. With a private party, that could be a full tank of gas, oil change and professional detailing. A dealer can do the same and more. All you have to do is ask, and the worst they can say is no.