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What are some guidelines for haggling at a used car dealership?
July 13, 2014 8:25 PM   Subscribe

Tomorrow I begin my very first tour of local used car dealerships, ISO a reasonably-priced Suburu wagon. I've bought and sold several vehicles via Craigslist, and done my share of haggling and getting haggled (haggled at? behaggled?), but only with individuals, not corporations. Do the same rules of etiquette apply?

-Before proposing a lower price, am I obligated to verbally justify the requested discount? Do I need to point to some as-yet-unacknowledged cosmetic blemish before I give a lower offer? (Some buyers on Craigslist seem to think this is the way to go, and it's always kind of annoyed me, but maybe it's par for the course at a dealership...?)

-If not, is there some percentage figure to keep in mind? The first car I'll be looking at tomorrow, for example, is an Outback listed at $6950. Is it ridiculous to propose $6K?

-At what point should I make my offer (assuming it's ok to haggle even if the car looks good, and the car looks good)? Should I wait quietly for the salesperson to finish her pitch? Should I definitely test drive it first?

-Is it okay to just admit I'm a car-dealership virgin and give the reins to the salesperson, or is that something I should avoid at all costs? Should I do (more) research to learn the right things to say?

(Final bonus question: Earlier this evening I called the Suburu dealership to inquire about an ad. When I bemoaned the prospect of taking a bus 25 miles to the satellite dealership where the Outback was on display, the saleswoman offered to pick me up on her way in to work tomorrow. [No offer of a ride home, but maybe I won't need one...] Is this a normal thing?)
posted by t(h)om(as) to Shopping (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
What do you expect to gain from telling a used car salesperson that you've never done this before? That seems like painting a giant target on your back. I would not do that.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:50 PM on July 13 [10 favorites]


Never, ever let a dealership control your ability to leave. When I was much younger, I let a salesperson at the dealership take the keys to my car to assess it for trade-in. They would not return the keys until I picked up the phone to call the police. It was ugly and horrible. I also assume it's very rare, but why take any chance?

Don't allow the dealer to anchor the price. Your offer isn't based on their price. It's based on what the car is worth and what you're willing to pay. You should be looking at the blue book value and assuming the car is in no better than Good condition. You should also check the CarFax for the specific car you plan to buy.

If you want the car and can't get to a price, this approach has worked for me. "I'm prepared to pay X for this car. If you're ready to sell to me for that amount let me know. I plan to make a purchase in the next few days, so if it goes past Wednesday don't bother." If your offer is fair, they'll call and accept your price.
posted by 26.2 at 9:03 PM on July 13 [6 favorites]


I would pick your top price before going in or before negotiating. As long as you don't (and you shouldn't) pay higher than your highest price you established in your head, then you are doing ok. Educate yourself on used car values. I have bought cars by taking the offer and have been 20% off when I gave them my best and final offer. I started to walk out. It was sort of like out of a bad movie, but the second I stepped outside, they called me back and agreed to my price. They have a bottom line and you have a top one. Hopefully they intersect.

(On preview, 26.2 gives good advice. It must be the number thing in member name or something.)
posted by 724A at 9:07 PM on July 13


the saleswoman offered to pick me up on her way in to work tomorrow. [No offer of a ride home, but maybe I won't need one...] Is this a normal thing?

It is not abnormal. My brother flew to Burbank to buy a car and the salesman picked him up at the airport even though there was no offer on the table to buy the car yet.

I had a rental car that I was using to drive around town looking for cars. Once I settled on a car and ended up buying it, the salesman drove my car down to Hertz with me in the rental to drop off the car and the we drove back to the dealership.

What I gather is car salespeople will do what they can to help close the deal, and if that means giving you a ride to the dealership that's great. However, have the bus schedule for the trip back home if you can't make a deal.

As far as buying the car goes, I agree with needs more cowbell. There's nothing to be gained with disclosing you've never bought from a dealership before.

Yes, test drive the car. The salesperson will probably want you to since once you're behind the wheel you'll either want to buy the car or get something else.

This is a business transaction. The dealership wants to make money and you want to get a good deal. Do research on how much the car should cost and how much you can afford. Ask for the price and respond to that. If you're paying in cash, say how much you're willing to pay for the car. (using the research you've learned online less things like high mileage or cosmetic or mechanical issues). "I have $6K to buy this car. I know you just said you'd let me have it for $7K but I can't go that high. Be prepared to get up and walk to the bus stop if they won't budge. More often than not, they'll try and meet in the middle or meet your offer. If they don't, get up and leave. There's other places you can get a car.
posted by birdherder at 9:09 PM on July 13


an Outback listed at $6950. Is it ridiculous to propose $6K?

No. But, as others above say, think about it in terms of the maximum you are willing to pay. Then bid under that, because (obviously) they will probably not immediately accept your counteroffer.

One piece of advice that was very helpful to me: silence is a legitimate response to an offer. Or you can kind of frown and say "hmmm..." or something like that. Then just wait a little bit.

When I bought my current car, the salesman wouldn't come down below my maximum, so I started walking out. They called me back in and brought me in to the sales manager, who started telling me all the reasons why they couldn't lower the price any further. I just sort of frowned and waited about fifteen seconds, he knocked almost $500 off the price, and we had a deal!
posted by number9dream at 9:13 PM on July 13


One thing that nearly caught me was that after agreeing the price, the dealer slipped in some extras while doing the paperwork. Be sure to check that whatever you sign to close the deal includes only what you agreed. I almost lost an extra thousand due to the underhand write-up.
posted by anadem at 9:36 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't bother schlepping around to lots in this day and age. As others have mentioned, it can become almost a hostage situation. At best they will lean on you hard and try to make you panic.

Find the car you want online, call or email them, tell them what you want to pay, try to make a deal. I found dealers quite willing to negotiate via email. And do your research online. Nowadays there's so much less they can get away with, and they know it, because you can just go online and look up what the car you want is really selling for. As far as I know, the internet has pretty much ruined all of their old sleazy tactics, unless you physically go to the lot and make yourself vulnerable.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:55 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


(obviously you'd still want to look at the car and drive it before you commit to buy it, but there's no reason you can't negotiate a price first to see if it's even worth going in.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:57 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


First things first: you don't negotiate down. You negotiate up. Once you give them a number you can't try to get them to go to a lower number. Is it crazy to offer $6k? Absolutely not. You may end up going a little higher, but if you give them a number like $6500 to start with, you won't get below that.

Next - know what you can pay, and know how you are going to pay it. Do NOT, under any circumstances, negotiate based on a monthly payment amount. If they start working with you to get a payment that fits, they've got you in a spot right where they want you. If you're paying cash, then that's easy. If you need to finance, be ready. Getting approved for a car loan at your credit union is not a bad idea at all. That way you're basically shopping with cash in hand because the dealer isn't handling your financing. If you do end up using dealer financing, bring a calculator and add up the payments, and be ready to decline if it's not something you like.

Knowing what you're going to pay: you need to do some homework. If you're buying from a dealer, you're going to pay sales tax, plus licensing for the car. They have other fees they're going to want to hit you with, such as a "doc fee." They make a lot of money off these fees. What you need to know is how much you will be paying out the door - all costs, taxes, licensing included. They will hem and haw around this. If they won't give you a number, leave. If they give you a number you don't like, tell them "I am ready to write a check for $X for this vehicle, but that is as high as I am willing to go." If they try to talk you into paying more, thank them for their time and leave. You are the one parting with the money - part with it on your terms, not theirs. Make sure they don't add anything in the final paperwork - if it's not the agreed upon out the door price, deal's off.

Test drive the car, definitely. I have changed my mind about buying a car based on test drives. You may also want to look into a pre-purchase inspection by a mechanic, because used cars are as-is. (And depending on what year and engine the Subaru is, he should look and see if there's any seepage underneath at the head gaskets, particularly on the left side...)

Just remember - you are paying for a car and you will do it your way, thank you very much. Car salespeople will try to wring absolutely as much money out of you as they can. If you put your trust in them, they will take advantage of it. Don't fall so deeply in love with a car that you can't get up and walk out. Find out how much, how you will pay that much, and if it's not to your liking, take your business elsewhere.

(A note about negotiating on monthly payments: let's say you and the sales guy were talking payments, so you're already in a bad negotiating position. You say you're trying to get a $200 (random number for illustration) per month payment. They come back and say they were able to get close - it's $210. Just $10 more. On a five year loan that's $600 extra. Would you let them add $600 onto the price of the car if you were negotiating an out-the-door price? This is known as the "ten dollar close." )
posted by azpenguin at 10:22 PM on July 13 [7 favorites]


Azpenguin is absolutely correct, negotiate an "out the door" price. Have a firm figure that you're willing to spend and don't budge. If they can't sell it for what you offer, walk. Other things might apply like they may go a little lower on a car at the end of the month to make a sales quota.

My last two cars (both Honda CR-V's) were bought from Carmax. I found the car I wanted, their price was fair and they were up front with document fees, etc. I liked the experience so much the first time that I went back to the same sales person the next time. I will buy my next car from her when the time comes.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 10:59 PM on July 13


-Before proposing a lower price, am I obligated to verbally justify the requested discount?

No, nothing requires this, at least in my opinion.

You don't even have to ever bring that up. Some of the most sucessful hagglers i've known or met never justified their prices at all, they simply stated them and let the number hang in the air.

If you get heavy pushback or a much higher counteroffer then an option is to bust out justifications for your price. But it is in no way a requirement to convince someone. "This is how much i'm willing to pay" is self justifying.

like, "Would you take X?" "No, but how about X+500?" then if you feel like it, you can go "Nah, i have to deal with X/Y/Z issue or X/Y/Z area/feature/etc is worn/not working/whatever, and that's going to cost me at least that much".

Justifying works best, imo, when it's something you don't actually care about. I'm talking about the kind of small stuff like a dead CD player when one of your first repairs/modifications would be an aftermarket unit that can sync with your phone, or a dent you don't care about, or it being a stick shift when you specifically wanted one(which DOES lower the value in the general market). Somehow, it's easiest to stick the landing on a justification lunge like that when you don't really have any skin in the game. It's something you know objectively backs up your claim, but not something you really care about.

I also emphatically agree on the price anchoring thing. Bid less than the lowest you think they'll go. Not a crazy they're going to walk away amount, but if you've done your homework and a fair NADA/bluebook price is $6200 and they're asking $6900, offer like $5800. Someone already made the point that you can never go down. But you want to start low enough that ending at say, 6100 makes both parties feel like they met in the middle.

Personally, i don't even call the places that want way more than the bluebook for that year/model/etc. The only time i ever would is if the car came with every bit of paperwork and service record and had been meticulously maintained, and was a trade in to them that they knew was above and beyond what you'd typically see in a used car. I try and find the place with the lowest realistic price, maybe leaning towards a nicer bluebook condition price than is charitable, and argue down from there. If a place is completely delusional price wise, then justifying your lower offer is the least of your problems.

Most of this advice honestly applies to purchasing anything in a situation in which you can haggle. But with cars, i'd say finding a non-delusional asking price is more important than a lot else as far as wasting your own time goes.
posted by emptythought at 11:52 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


You probably can't do it today, but you should read Don't Get Taken Every Time. It's great. It can help you see the machinations at a car dealership for what they are. I read it the last time I needed to buy a car, and it made talking to dealers like watching a play whose script I'd already read.

Ignore the sticker price. It's meaningless, and on used cars it's always inflated. Don't be offended or surprised, that's just how the business works. They want to get as much as then can for any given car, they can't get more than the asking price, so the asking price is high. It also sets them up to offer you a dramatic-seeming discount and still make plenty of profit. Ignore.

A car dealer is going to take as much of your money as they can. Being nice to you doesn't cost them anything, so they will empty your wallet with a smile, but the fact is that any price that's good for you is bad for them, and they're looking out for number one.

Do Not Do Not Do Not buy a car the first time you're on the lot. If they ask whether they can sell you a car today if they can find one you like for $X, the answer is no. If you already like one and they ask whether you'll buy it if they can get the price down to $Y or the payment down to $Z, the answer is no. Your initial mission should be to learn as much as you can about particular cars they have for sale -- model, year, mileage, features, condition, etc. Definitely take cars you're interested in for a test drive that includes sharp turns, braking and highway speeds. Listen for odd noises. Don't let the salesman riding along distract you from paying attention to the car. Don't sign anything, either.

With detailed info about the car you can approximate its value. I like using Edmunds for this. Pay attention to the wide gap between the trade-in and dealer retail figures. The trade-in value is the best estimate you'll get of what the dealer has invested in the car, and the gap between that and the asking price is the amount of profit they hope to make. Notice that the asking price represents a whole lot of profit. The gap between those numbers is the space you have to negotiate. They want to make a bunch of money, and you want them to make very little. What you're aiming for is a price at which they are just a little better off selling to you than not selling to you.

You might think that it makes no sense to sell to you at a price below the typical dealer retail price because they can just get that higher price from someone else, but look at the wider picture. If they sell to you and only make a little profit, they just buy another car with the money they got from you and sell that one at a more typical retail price to someone else, and then they have both the small profit from you plus the big profit from the next guy. If they let you walk away and sell the car you wanted to someone else then they've only got the big profit. The big profit is less than the big profit plus the small profit. That's why it makes sense for them to accept a lower price if their only alternative is to let you walk away and buy elsewhere.

It might also help to know that a dealer will have much more money tied up in a used car than a new one, because they don't actually own the new cars on the lot. Those still belong to the manufacturer, and the dealer pays a fairly small amount for the privilege of possessing them. For the money he has tied up in a used car, he can probably offer several new cars for sale, so he's motivated to unload that used car.

So, they have bought a car at something like its trade-in value. They've washed and waxed it, given it a good vacuuming, done a bit of paperwork, and put it out on the lot with a price tag on the windshield. Notice that they haven't added much value at all over the trade-in value. They don't deserve special credit for doing any repairs they might've done, because the price they paid for the car will have been lowered to cover them. What's the cost of washing and waxing and a bit of paperwork? Not a whole lot. But if you pay them a few hundred bucks more than trade in + washing + waxing + vacuuming + paperwork then they've made a few hundred bucks. That amount of profit will be less than the couple grand they were hoping for, but hey, it's money.

Really, though, you should read the book. I used it when buying my wife's current car, and was amazed how much money we saved.
posted by jon1270 at 4:04 AM on July 14 [5 favorites]


If you're financing, it's a good idea to get that squared away someplace else, or at least get a handle on the lowest rate a bank or credit union will give you. I ended up financing through the dealer, but only because I had already called my credit union and they said they'd give me a very low rate. I told the dealer this and they agreed to match it. All things being equal, it's easier to do the financing through the dealer (especially when you don't have a car already) than to run around signing papers between the bank and the dealer.

As others have said, you can propose a lower price, but it should be based on knowing what similar cars are actually worth. You can check kbb.com for this. It can also be based on the test drive, observation, or what your mechanic says. So, if the car's going to need four new tires soon, you can bargain based on that.

Also, get yourself VERY FAMILIAR with the maintenance schedule for whichever car you're interested in. This is available online from the manufacturer, and can be printed out. Most cars have specific maintenance intervals that are particularly expensive--usually 60,000 or 90,000 miles, or something like that. Usually this coincides with something like a timing belt change, which is necessary (a broken belt will fry your engine on most cars), and can run upwards of $1,000. So if the car you're looking at has 59,000 miles and the timing belt needs to be done at 60,000 and there's no receipt for that work, definitely figure that into your top price, because you're basically going to be shelling that out the month after you buy the car.

Good luck.
posted by Leatherstocking at 4:05 AM on July 14


Be totally ready to walk away. I've gotten the best deals offered to me (one that I still regret not taking up!) by salespeople calling me a couple days later.
If you go to the dealership with the mindset that you absolutely have to get a car that day then you're in trouble. I swear they can smell it on you.
posted by checkitnice at 4:09 AM on July 14


One more thing: buy yourself one of those unlimited Carfax subscriptions, which run about $50. Carfax is far from perfect, but it generally knows when a car has been in a flood, salvaged, or in a major accident, which you need to know (so that you can run in the other direction), as well as how many owners the car has had (one is obviously best), and whether it was ever auctioned. It may also turn up minor accidents and some info about the service history. Again, it's not perfect, but there is no way I would buy a used car without having that info.
posted by Leatherstocking at 4:13 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


We have always required having our mechanic vet used cars and yes, dealers will go along with that.

Do your research so you know what the going price for a car the age and model you're looking at is. Be prepared to leave. Crucial to know what is a reasonable price - as well as being clear on what you want to spend. I agree with the folks above about don't let them sell you on the basis of monthly payments. In fact, especially if you bank with a credit union you might contact them about a potential loan - it will give you more of a sense of what the loan might cost. Sometimes dealers are more competitive on financing, sometimes your own financial institution is.

If you have a friend or partner in the effort you can play good cop/bad cop. We usually do that with buying a car - I'm the hard-nosed, cranky one and my hubby is more enthused. They expect the opposite so that can help put them off balance.

And definitely do not tell the dealer you're new to buying from a dealership - there is NO upside to doing so.
posted by leslies at 5:19 AM on July 14


I used to sell cars for a living and I've answered tons of similar questions in the past.

Do the same rules of etiquette apply?

Generally speaking, yes. The big difference is that the people at the dealership will be MUCH more comfortable with the whole process than you.

-Before proposing a lower price, am I obligated to verbally justify the requested discount? Do I need to point to some as-yet-unacknowledged cosmetic blemish before I give a lower offer? (Some buyers on Craigslist seem to think this is the way to go, and it's always kind of annoyed me, but maybe it's par for the course at a dealership...?)

Definitely not. The only justification that they care about is that price $X will get you to buy the car.

-If not, is there some percentage figure to keep in mind? The first car I'll be looking at tomorrow, for example, is an Outback listed at $6950. Is it ridiculous to propose $6K?

Not really, especially with used cars. The advertised price might be a really good deal with very little wiggle room, it might be a decent deal but they lucked out and bought the car cheap and have a lot of wiggle room, there really isn't a good way to know short of owning the dealership. KBB.com and Edmunds.com are guides here.

-At what point should I make my offer (assuming it's ok to haggle even if the car looks good, and the car looks good)? Should I wait quietly for the salesperson to finish her pitch? Should I definitely test drive it first?

If the salesperson follows the "standard" process, they'll ask a question after/near the end of the test drive like, "If we can make the numbers work, would you buy this car right now?" A LOT of salespeople won't ask though and it's totally okay to just say something, "I think I like this car. If you can sell it to me for $X, I'll buy it right now."

You want to hold off on talking about price until that is the only objection you have to buying the car. If there are other things keeping you from making a decision (you're not sure it will fit in your garage, you want to do more research first, you want your SO's/mother's/father's/friend's opinion, it's a big decision and you need to sleep on it, etc.) it's okay to state them, especially if it's something about the car that they might be able to fix/change.

The only caveat is a mechanics inspection. You should find a good independent mechanic to inspect the car for you before you buy it. But, you don't want to pay for that inspection until you know that the dealership can meet your price and the dealer doesn't want to have the car leave the lot for that inspection until they know that they are going to sell it.

If it were me, once I knew that I was ready to buy that specific car I would say something like, "I like this car, if you guys can sell it for $X, I'll buy it today."

They'll respond by taking your inside and filling out some paperwork, during which time I would say, "I'd like to have my mechanic inspect the car before I buy but I don't want to pay that fee unless I know we've got a deal. So I'd like to work out the price and then take it to him/her and, if everything checks out, I'll sign all the paperwork and take delivery.

The salesperson might need to check with his boss but they'll almost certainly do it.

If the dealership is of the shady variety, there is an opportunity for some shenanigans here in that there will be some stuff you'll need to sign before you can take the car to the mechanic. What you should be signing is a "rental agreement" which makes it clear that you're responsible for the car if something happens. They aren't going to charge you to rent it or anything, it's just a liability thing. They could try to sign you out with the finance manager and take your check for the full amount and tell you that they'll give it back if you change your mind but really, you just bought a car and when you drive it off the lot you'll have taken delivery and now you own a car. If they ask you for a check for $100, no biggie, you'll get it back if you don't buy the car. If they ask for a $7,xxx check, you're buying a car.

Your mechanic WILL find some issues, that's what you're paying them for. But unless it's something major, it shouldn't change the price that you've already negotiated. It is, after all, a used car.

-Is it okay to just admit I'm a car-dealership virgin and give the reins to the salesperson, or is that something I should avoid at all costs? Should I do (more) research to learn the right things to say?

This REALLY depends on the dealership. With me, the only difference it would have made is that I would have explained more of the what was happening and why since you'd never done it before. Some salespeople at some shady dealerships will take that as a signal to try extra hard to rip you off.

1st time buyers are sometimes some of the toughest negotiators because they substitute research for experience. The flip side is that they tend to know when they are getting a good deal and know what they are looking for. Someone that has done all the research is also usually someone that is ready to buy a car and that makes things easier for everyone.

(Final bonus question: Earlier this evening I called the Suburu dealership to inquire about an ad. When I bemoaned the prospect of taking a bus 25 miles to the satellite dealership where the Outback was on display, the saleswoman offered to pick me up on her way in to work tomorrow. [No offer of a ride home, but maybe I won't need one...] Is this a normal thing?)

You can't buy a car from home so they'll do whatever it takes to get you in the door. For what it's worth, I would totally give you a ride back home too, especially if things went well and I expect that you'll be back to buy the car later. It's not something I've ever done, though I did drive 45 minutes to a nursing home to sell a car to a lady who was recovering from a horrific 50mph head-on collision in the first car that I sold her, but I'd have volunteered to do so in a heartbeat. The salesperson's job is to remove your objections to buying a car. Besides, you just told them in no uncertain terms, that you need a car.

Do Not Do Not Do Not buy a car the first time you're on the lot.

This is really only true if something comes up with the car you're looking at that you need to look into a bit more. Like, it has a different engine than you thought and you haven't researched that one or you're at the last dealership in the world that doesn't run the carfax report on every car they sell or something. Or, if you go in expecting to look at an Outback but you see some other car that you really like but haven't done any research on. But if you're there to look at a specific car, there is no reason for you not to have done your research ahead of time.

One more thing: buy yourself one of those unlimited Carfax subscriptions, which run about $50.

The dealership will have run a carfax report on every car they have for sale or they'll run it on the car you're interested in. As long as it's a reputable dealer, you can trust that they haven't falsified the report or anything.

...negotiate an "out the door" price.

You should generally know what your total price is going to be but all the numbers that you get on KBB.com and Edmunds.com will be before tax and fees. The book value (what the dealership has spent on the car) doesn't car about taxes and fees. So it's much easier for everyone to just talk about that price. Especially because none of the other fees will change except for sales tax which is a fixed percentage of the purchase price. You can expect to pay about $150 for licence plates (you can check with the DMV on what they cost for that specific car yourself if you want), a doc prep fee of something ($50-$75, I think), maybe a title transfer fee for $100. Feel free to ask them what fees they charge up front and keep that in mind while negotiating but sticking to an "out-the-door" price isn't all it's cracked up to be.



In general, don't try to play games and be honest. Salespeople get lied to by customers constantly. They've heard every lie, they've played every game, it's totally transparent to them. They've been doing it longer and are better at it than you are and all it does is get in the way of the sale. With all the cars that I've sold there is no correlation between the people who got a good deal and the people who used the tips and tricks from some book.

All you need is to do figure out what price you're willing to pay, then stick to that number and make it abundantly clear that if they meet that price, you're buying the car. It's the single most powerful negotiating tool there is at a dealership, being a motivated buyer.
posted by VTX at 6:33 AM on July 14 [8 favorites]


The dealership will have run a carfax report on every car they have for sale or they'll run it on the car you're interested in. As long as it's a reputable dealer, you can trust that they haven't falsified the report or anything.

I mentioned this because this didn't happen in my case. The dealer (who by all accounts seemed to be reputable) had some other Carfax lookalike. For one car I looked at and was interested in, the dealer's record showed a minor accident which Carfax reported as frame damage, a much more serious issue. I didn't learn this until I checked Carfax after I left the dealership.
posted by Leatherstocking at 6:40 AM on July 14


Be totally ready to walk away. I've gotten the best deals offered to me (one that I still regret not taking up!) by salespeople calling me a couple days later.
If you go to the dealership with the mindset that you absolutely have to get a car that day then you're in trouble. I swear they can smell it on you.

posted by checkitnice at 4:09 AM on July 14 [+] [!]


Repeating this because it is vital.

Remember, there are TONS of cars out there. If there's nothing else you like today, there will be tomorrow. There's no need to rush.

If you're like me, negotiating and confrontation do not come naturally. I hate it. But I've had to learn to play what I call "polite hardball." So when people advising being willing to walk away, don't get in your head that it's walking away in a huff. If the price isn't what you are willing to pay, then give a pleasant smile, shake hands and say "Hey, thanks a lot for your time! I guess I'll keep looking." Then leave.
posted by The Deej at 7:16 AM on July 14 [4 favorites]


Be willing to walk away.
posted by wwax at 7:17 AM on July 14


Do as much research on the vehicle you want and know using NADA and KBB what the retail price of the vehicle is and offer only that.

The used car dealer will make money on:

Your Financing
The actual sale of the car
Any 'dealer prep' or other additional bullshit.

There is no shame in offering X, and no more.

I'd get my financing secure via a credit union first, sometimes the dealer will try to make money in interest rates, etc.

Be aware that taxes and registration fees are loaded into the price of your loan (you don't typically pay sales tax in a private sale.) So find out what your sales taxes are so that you're prepared to pay 7% more than the stated rate for the vehicle.

Here's a tip sheet, I hope it helps.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:27 AM on July 14


Car dealers are, in general, even worse scum than realtors.

Do not, under ANY circumstances, tell a dealer this is your first time negotiating with a dealer for a car. That's a clear "take advantage of me" signal to the dealer.

When I bought my current car, I had the same ugly experience as 26.2 -- A dealer (namely Village Subaru in Acton, Massachusetts -- I want those guys to lose as much business as possible because of how they treated me) take my key to assess my trade-in. They were pressuring me HARD to buy then and there, and refused to return my keys until I was threatening to call the police and crying. Because of that move, they lost my business, even though they had a lower price, because I drove straight to the other dealer I had already visited (several times) and they matched the lower price (and offered more for my trade-in) and therefore made the sale. Never again will I allow myself to be taken advantage of like that. Keep your keys; if they ask for them, say "I'd prefer to unlock my car for you and keep my keys" and be insistent. Had I known about this dirty trick beforehand, I would have done the same. Apparently it is a common trick.

Check online reviews of dealerships to see which ones have high pressure sales tactics; avoid those. (Yelp and sites like it weren't very popular when I bought my car.)

Do your research on the car. Have a top price in mind that you will pay. Start off lower at first. Have proof and paperwork as to why your price is fair (go to edmunds and truecar and the likes beforehand). Threaten to walk away if the dealer doesn't come down to your price. Actually walk away if he doesn't. Ask for a Carfax or similar report. Walk away if they refuse to provide one or even hesitate.
posted by tckma at 7:28 AM on July 14


If you're thinking about this sort of situation in terms of etiquette, you're doing it wrong. It's an arms-length transaction with someone who is, in many cases, out to screw you. You're not "obliged" to make any kind of concessions, or to refrain from making any kinds of offers or demands, on politeness grounds. I promise you, the dealership won't experience any similar etiquette constraints on their own behavior, and if you do, you're handing them the advantage.

Bluntly: unless you happen to work for the State Department, buying a used car is by far the most adversarial negotiation you'll ever get into in your life. The negotiation gurus these days talk about "win-win" negotiation and all the rest, and that applies to most situations, but not to car dealers. They're out to pick your pocket. Learn and act accordingly.

And remember, you don't have to deal with these people again, for years if ever. (Even if you plan to go back to the dealership for repairs, the repair person and the sales person will be different.) So the worst thing that can happen from breaking an "etiquette" rule is the deal falls through and you have to buy from someone else. And that's a much worse consequence for the dealer, who loses a sale, than for you, who just loses a little time.
posted by paultopia at 7:39 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


Truecar.com has a used car section. You can select the car you want, even specific option levels, then set the search range for bids. I take the best bid and walk in to a local dealer with the offer and see if they an meet it. Every time they have. I have only done this for new cars, but a co-worker did this for a used Honda and had good results.
posted by Nackt at 10:46 AM on July 14


Definitely be willing to walk away.

Another useful tactic is mentioning the fictional used car sitting in a competitor's lot, and mentioning that the competitor was willing to sell it for [$your target price], so you think you'll just head back over there.

When my partner was car shopping a couple years ago, the salesman left us alone for a few minutes so we could talk over the deal he offered. I looked over and noticed that he had taken his phone off the hook and was likely listening in on the conversation from another room. We started talking about the fictional competitor's deal, and when the salesman came back he was suddenly willing to drop the price by $1,000.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:51 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


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