Buying A Used Car: How To Get The Best Price

2001 BMW 530i used car

Nobody sets out to buy a used car and spend as much as possible.  Regardless of budget, buyers want a good deal.  Getting the best price means a low price, but it also means good value.  Here are some ways to get both.

Consider dealers and private parties.  If your budget allows the choice, look both at dealers and private parties.  A dealer will charge more than a private party for the same used car, but it’s justified with safety checks and reconditioning.  A private party car can always be inspected by a qualified technician before purchase, though.

Shop around.  Keeping the car purchase in the community is a good thing, but don’t hesitate to look a little further.  If you can save hundreds or more just by driving a couple hours, it’s a relatively small investment of fuel and time.  

Time it right.  Sellers can be more flexible when time is on your side.  At dealers, this often translates to days leading up to month-end and year-end.  Cold, rainy and snowy days find sellers more flexible as well.  And if you’re in the market for a convertible or sports car, the off-seasons of fall and winter translate to appealing deals.   

Run valuations.  With a few clicks on any of several online sites, you can have a far better idea of a fair price for the car you’re considering.  Include variables like location, mileage and options.  When you have a clearer understanding of the dealer retail or private party value, you become a better informed buyer and can use the information in negotiating the best price.

Ask about trades.  Trading your existing car to a dealer generally means you won’t get the same money as if you sell on your own.  And with private parties, your existing car probably won’t factor into the deal.  Still, asking doesn’t hurt.  And with private parties in particular, they could consider partial trades.  Items like electronics, toys like boats and cycles, tools and more can always be offered to offset the price.

Vehicle history.  Wherever you buy, ask for a vehicle history report or be prepared to run one yourself.  Find out what service records exist and look them over.  Check out the title while you’re at it.  Make sure it isn’t “branded” as a salvage or rebuilt vehicle if the seller hadn’t previously disclosed it.  

Communicate and negotiate.  Contrary to all-too-common practice, you can’t insult your way into getting the best price.  Diplomacy rules here.  Calmly relay what you have in mind and negotiate.  If the seller is unwilling to compromise to an agreeable point, don’t be afraid to keep shopping.  Even getting the best price has its price.

Have financing set.  Whether you’re at a dealer or in someone’s driveway, the seller will find it hard to turn down cash on the spot.  If you’re uncomfortable with carrying that much on you, ask the seller to go on another test drive with you, this time to your bank for a cashier’s check.


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