How To Buy A Used Car Part 4: Negotiating

When it comes to buying a used car, there are two basic negotiating mindsets. You can be fair and decent or unfair and unpleasant. If you’re looking to chisel and cheat, you’re likely to get a bad car. Only the desperate and deceitful are willing to accept this kind of BS.

Do you want a “super” car? Know then that many salespeople respond extremely well to honesty and decency. Winning – winning is not a sin. So karma lovers, here are some tips for negotiating a used car purchase while respecting the golden rule.

make the offer

If you’ve been following parts one through three of this series, congratulations! You have found a car superior to more than 90% of those that exist. Rejoice and let the seller reap the benefits of proper car maintenance.

How to appraise the car

NADA tends to have high ratings while Kelly Blue Book overvalues ​​newer vehicles and undervalues ​​older ones. Contrary to reality, you can’t find many good $1,000 cars, no matter what the Blue Book says. You also shouldn’t get a 2000 Mercury Grand Marquis over 200k+ for the NOTHING pie at the sky-high price of $5000. Stick to the Edmunds private party values ​​or the “Completed Items” section on Ebay if a comparable vehicle was sold there on “No Reserve.”

Negotiate after inspection, not before

Some people think that you should make an offer before the final inspection. I never.

The reason for this is that sellers will be locked into an unrealistic price if there are major maintenance issues. A $5,000 car that needs $1,000 to maintain was never a $5,000 car in the first place.

Most sellers will get stuck on that “perfect” number and reject any substantial adjustments. So inspect first and trade last.

how to negotiate

Start by declaring your intent to buy the car… as long as repair costs are factored into the price.

If these repairs are minor and you’re not interested in a lengthy negotiation, immediately offer to split the difference in repair costs and say that’s fine. However, if mission-critical repairs cost hundreds to thousands of dollars, you have an “opportunity” in front of you.

Summon the mechanic!

Ask your mechanic to fax the used car inspection report to the seller before you talk to them. At first, the seller (and perhaps you) may be surprised by the numbers involved.

This can be especially true with older vehicles and luxury cars. However, with a little constructive talk, even the most staggering repair costs shouldn’t eliminate the possibility of an out-of-court settlement.

do the right thing

I like to enter into negotiations for cars with repair “problems” giving the seller a chance to make it right. “Given what’s in front of us right now,” I ask. “What would be a fair way for both of us to work out these repair costs?” »

At worst, vendors remain loyal. In that case, he walks. At best, the seller says that he simply deducts the full bill from the asking price. If that happens, it’s time to shake hands and close the deal.


Some sellers start by offering to reduce the selling price by a very small number. They think you’re there to haggle (in the hope you’re not).

If the first offers from both parties are unsuccessful, it’s time to go over the inspection report, and possible repair costs, line by line.

Not all repairs are the same

Please note that some items are your financial responsibility. Unless it’s a major repair (timing belt, water pump, valve adjustment, etc.), future maintenance schedules are always up to you.

Don’t worry about the little things

In particular, oil changes, tune-ups, and filter replacements that aren’t needed right now should be crossed off your list. By doing this early on, you are showing goodwill and fairness.

Find an alternative when you need it.

If the seller says the cost of the repair listed on your inspection is too high, ask if they know of another mechanic who’s willing to do it for less and what kind of warranty they’ll offer. I have seen $450 repairs with 30 day warranties turn into $200 repairs with a one year warranty. If the car is worth it to you, it’s worth exploring alternatives that benefit both of you.

It may take research and patience, but it can be done.

An eye for an eye works wonders

Finally, if you have experience fixing minor automotive problems, use that skill to create some wiggle room to help you close the deal.

“You know, I think I could handle this myself. What do you think about us removing x repair instead? Would the price of y be a fair deal for both of us? »

take it or leave it

If you can come to a mutual understanding, enjoy your trip! Otherwise, don’t hit a dead horse.

I like to backtrack by thanking the seller for their time. Please leave a copy of the inspection report as a “gift” and tell them my final price, in case they reconsider. Above all, don’t worry about it. There are plenty of great used cars out there looking for a good home.

Let’s recap

To get a good deal: Do your research diligently, test patiently, let an expert figure out the unknowns, and negotiate in good faith. Do this and you’ll save unnecessary testing and thousands of dollars in future repair costs.

You will also buy the crème de la crème car at an extremely fair price.

[Part one of our used car buying guide is here, part two is here, and part three is here.]

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