Car noob buying used Civic, in Ontario.
April 30, 2007 8:08 AM   Subscribe

I need to buy a car, quickly. There's a used Civic I have my eye on. I have some stupid (?) questions about purchasing it.

The car is a 2004 Honda Civic. I suppose the short version is "I want to buy this quickly and without hassle for less than they're asking. Got suggestions?"

Advice on negotiating with car dealers on-line is -- well, I've exhausted it.

"Check Kelley Blue Book, same model for sale on-line; use these prices as negotiating points" is standard. Getting as close as I could to what it is -- viz, in Canada, and a DX-G, apparently not sold in the States -- Blue Book C$14,862. Given that they're asking $14,720, a starting point for negotiations that is not. Much perusal of the same car for sale (on-line, in Ont) says they're asking a fair price. A friend who is VP of a car dealership says: fair price.

But, it's a car, and I'm conditioned to not just buy it at the asking price. Should I just call and say "I'll come in and buy it for $XX,XXX -- let me know?" But what's $XX,XXX, reasonably?

Possibly relevant:

It has slightly higher mileage (15k km) than comparably priced Civics elsewhere.
We want a trailer hitch. (Might they throw this in free?)
It's been on the lot since December, which seems a long time...?

The dealer has a good reputation and they were sleaze-free when we went in for a test drive. The one previous owner bought it there and brought it back to trade in; no accidents or anything of note on its record.

We'd like to be driving it by the weekend. (I know, I know, not ideal.) If "I'll take it at $XX,XXX" is indeed reasonable, how do I determine XX,XXX, and make it sound reasonable?

Finally: over the past couple of months, I have haggled down the price of a house (a lot), haggled down a mortgage rate (a lot), shopped around for the best price on insurance, got the bank to finance this car purchase, etc etc, but, since this is a car, this previous Ask leaves me wondering if Mr Kmennie shouldn't be the one negotiating. Sigh.
posted by kmennie to Travel & Transportation around Ontario (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have the car looked over by a 3d party mechanic before you buy it. If it checks out, you can sleep soundly having paid a fair price. They may be willing to throw in non-cash items like oil changes or floor mats if they won't lower the price.

Don't tow anything with this car, it wasn't meant to be a tow vehicle. You'll put it in an early grave.
posted by popechunk at 8:13 AM on April 30, 2007

Hey! That's my question! I feel loved.

As it all ended up, I went and negotiated myself. FWIW, my two test drives were sleaze-free, but they turned the sleaze on as soon as we started talking price. They did an excellent job of making me feel like the most unreasonable person ever to grace the planet, despite all the research I had done and being secure in the knowledge of how much the car was actually worth.

A couple of things I found helpful:
1) I had ideas of quotes from other dealerships,, KBB, etc. That gives you a ballpark. And since you can always deal up, go ahead and start low. Say $13,500, for all that it matters.. then explain the higher mileage, etc. Don't ask for them to throw in the trailer hitch immediately.
2) Don't let them make you feel unreasonable. It is their job to. You probably aren't being unreasonable.
3) While I did all the negotiating, my boyfriend was with me merely because he had to drive me to the dealer. This gave me accountability when I almost accepted a price about $750 higher than I was willing to pay. I knew he would make me feel stupid about it (he thought the whole car purchase was stupid), so knowing I would be taking crap from him for a while made me get up and say I was going to leave. Then mysteriously, the dealer gave me the price I wanted. Go figure. Anyway, I was fine dealing by myself in terms of sexism/whatever, but having an extra person there to keep me sane was a good, good thing.

My $.02. :) Feel free to email me (in profile) with any more questions.
posted by olinerd at 8:18 AM on April 30, 2007

Is Mr Kmennie a negotiator?
If you're the negotiator, sounds like you should both go. You do the negotiating and Mr. should be the Enforcer- just stand in the back with his hand in his jacket.
posted by MtDewd at 8:19 AM on April 30, 2007

I'll 2nd the 'don't tow anything with this car' -- if you need to tow something, rent a vehicle that's meant as a tow vehicle. You'll burn the transmission out very easily, and you can also easily damage a unit-body construction vehicle by towing with it. I don't want to hear any complaints later about "Pah, Honda reliability! The transmission went out 30,000 miles after we bought it, and don't even get me started on the torque converter!"
posted by SpecialK at 8:38 AM on April 30, 2007

My mom and I both went to a local dealership yesterday, and mommy bought a used 2005 Impala with 39k miles on it, just brought in that day (was still wet from the wash, too) 10-disc CD changer, etc etc; the asking price was, like in your situation, slightly less than the KBB value. The dealer knocked ~$2000 off just because my mom said she felt the price was a little high, which brought it to almost $2500 below KBB value. Nothing's wrong with the car; my mechanic dad looked it over.

This was my first experience with a dealership (I went along because I'm buying as soon as the 2008's come out--wanted to see what to expect), but it was surprisingly easy to negotiate down. My mom and I were at the dealership for a total of... 3 hours, and brought the car home that day.

Anyway, my point is that it doesn't hurt to ask. Car dealers want your business, so they'll be willing to work with you to get you something that you'll buy from them. Unless they're selling too low, they're always going to make something off of the deal. You can always walk away.

It doesn't have to be a male you bring with you, though I would bring another person with me, were I you, just for the company if nothing else. As long as you both seem to know what you're talking about, and are confident about your purchase, they won't dick you around.

If you're really set on THAT Civic, start how olinerd suggested, with a really low price. Hell, see if they'll go for $12,720. Like I said, doesn't hurt to ask.

Thirding the trailer hitch thing, though; Civics are not meant to tow things. Your transmission will wear out very quickly.

Oh, and I don't know how it works in Canada, but if you're intent on bringing it home same day, bring your plates from your old car, your insurance card, and registration, and they'll take care of it all for you right then and there. If you're trading in, it's easier 'cause the car's right there, but if not, just make sure you have that stuff. Good luck!
posted by Verdandi at 8:47 AM on April 30, 2007

One more thing I wanted to emphasize: you say you want to have it ASAP. When I finally went to go buy my car, I was in the same situation: my parents were coming in to visit that weekend and I didn't want them to have to rent a car while they were here; I had my insurance all set up; and the precise car with the precise options and the precise beautiful color was sitting right on one lot in Boston during a 1.9% financing deal. I wanted it and I wanted it NOW. And that's part of what kept me in as long as I did before I finally said I couldn't do it and got up to leave.

And it was PAINFUL to finally say I was going to leave, because I knew for sure I wanted that precise car that night. But I had underestimated how powerful the ability to leave is -- I wish I had done it earlier. If they know you're serious, they will not let you leave. I don't care how much you want that car; if things aren't going your way, get up and put your coat on. You'll still walk out with the car, but you'll walk out with your deal, too.
posted by olinerd at 9:13 AM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you want a Honda that you can tow things with, try the Passport or the Ridgeline.
posted by dr_dank at 9:15 AM on April 30, 2007

Getting up and leaving is powerful. I did it 4 or 5 times when I was buying my VW. They didn't have the color I wanted on the lot, so they had to bring one in - then they tried to charge me for transporting it. Then they tried to make me pay for the extra options that were on the car that they brought me (after they had already brought it to me). Then they tried to make me pay extra for their "mandatory" security features. My legs got tired from all the getting up to leave, but I didn't pay for ANY of that stuff. I'm a woman, and I was negotiating against men. Getting up to leave and having other dealerships on speed dial on my cell were very, very powerful tools.

To be on topic, really don't tow with a Civic. Not only is it not strong enough, your brakes will not be strong enough to stop a trailer unless you get a trailer with brakes - and then your Civic won't have the wiring harness to control those brakes. Buy a truck, or rent one when you need to tow.
posted by some chick at 9:18 AM on April 30, 2007

The best way to deal with car dealers is to sidestep them completely. Especially for something as common as a Civic, of which there will be dozens for sale around Ottawa. (Here's the ones in the Trader, for starters.)

Buying privately means that you're paying for the car, and not the car, salesperson, dealership, and dealership owner.

(Or, if you have a friend who is a VP of a car dealership, get that friend to take you to an auto auction, pay dealer's cost, and take him out for a fancy dinner or to a Sens game next season or something.)
posted by mendel at 9:18 AM on April 30, 2007

If you were in the States, you could get a lower price out of them by allowing them to think you were going to finance the car through them; their logic would be they can afford to give quite a bit on the price because they'll be getting it back, and more, from the loan package.

Then, when you've gotten them to state the price firmly, you come back at the last minute and give them the cash. With this strategem the fact that you are a woman will work to your advantage. You'll be able to pull off the required babe in the woods routine much more easily than your husband would, and they are more likely to be able to laugh it off when they wake up than they would be if they were outdone by a man: "hey, remember how that kmennie took us on that sweet little Civic? Man, I'm glad my wife isn't that sharp!"
posted by jamjam at 9:21 AM on April 30, 2007

@ jamjam -- In my experience, it's usually better to work the other way around; make the dealer think that you're going to pay cash, but then once you have a cash-price negotiated, then ask them what's the best possible rate they could get you. (They generally start to hate you at this point.)

I would never mention financing to a dealer until I had nailed the price down, for the simple reason that bringing financing into the equation gives them too many opportunities to play games with you and make the price of the car appear better than it is.

Negotiate the price of the car first, and then decide how you want to pay for it ... that's always worked well for me. I got a very good deal on my last car by talking them down a while, with them under the impression that it was going to be a cash sale, then once we had a price, telling them to get me 0% financing on it (which I knew was a promotion they were running, from talking to other dealers) and threatening to leave when they gave me crap. I ended up getting the car, at 0%, at a very good price -- if I had started talking about financing earlier, I doubt I would have been able to chisel them quite so far on the base price.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:24 AM on April 30, 2007

I'll Nth the "Don't tow with this car". It's a great car, but was never meant to tow anything. I just moved from Chicago to Boston with mine loaded with a fair amount of stuff. That was fine and dandy, if slightly sluggish, but I can't imagine towing anything with it.

Also, this happens to be an insanely popular car. That said, I have found MANY of the same make/model year on Craigslist for significantly less.
posted by FlamingBore at 10:33 AM on April 30, 2007

Bring in printouts of Kelley, Edmunds, and NADA (yes, all three) for the dealer price, trade-in value, and private party price. If the trade-in value is around $12k, just to pick a number out of the sky, tell them you know they paid around $12k, you acknowledge that they need to make a profit, and you'll happily pay them $13k right here and now. If you feel extra gutsy, ask them how much they have in the car (how much work they had to do to fix it up). Most of them will look at you and hem and haw and say they couldn't possibly divulge... but some will just be shocked that you know what you're talking about and might tell you. If they bought it for $12k, put $1k into it for new brakes, tires, whatever, then offer a bit more.

If they have it priced fair don't be "that guy" who talks them down just to be a jerk. If your car dealership friend thinks it's fair, don't lose sleep if you don't get them to knock lots off.

And seconding the advice above to say it's a cash deal. Then, after all negotiations are done, ask about financing. If you have a credit union around and are able to join, do that now as their loans are cheapy cheapy compared to banks.

Good luck!
posted by orangemiles at 11:23 AM on April 30, 2007

Don't tow with a Civic. And factor in the cost of the 160,000km timing belt change, if the mileage comes anywhere close to that: see if your dealer will agree to cover it, or knock the cost from the asking price, because it's an absolutely necessary job.
posted by holgate at 11:31 AM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Looking at vol 50 (March 2007) of the Canadian Red Book the wholesale value is $11, 925 (average wholesale $10,175). So you have a bit of room to go lower - not all the way to $11,000, of course.

At the Black Book the value is Black book low $8,600 - $10,100. The black Book is always lower for some reason.

I'm looking at buying my first car from a dealer tomorrow so I am watching this thread with interest. Have you gone to the library to see the Lemon Aide Guide?
posted by saucysault at 11:37 AM on April 30, 2007

As a woman who's fairly savvy about negotiation in general, I've got some tips for you to keep in mind:

1) Money doesn't come for free. Consider the time you spend in the dealership as an investment in your money. Don't rush to get out of there just because it's uncomfortable. Take your time and don't let yourself feel pressured.

2) The guy on the other side of the table won't get paid if he doesn't sell you the car; you can always find another car to buy. And if this car's been on his lot since December, he's losing money (on the space it's taking up) every day he doesn't sell it.

He's risking a lot just by spending time with you, and you're risking very little to spend time with him. The deck is stacked in your favor. This is precicely why they try so hard to convince you the opposite is true.

3) When the person across the table underestimates your ability as a negotiator, you're at an advantage. So if you're comfortable doing so you can play the role of the meek and inexperienced little girl (this may appeal to the salesman's more base instincts). Just make sure you're all fangs when he tries to take you for a fool. The fangs will catch him off-guard, which is your advantage.

I've seen this technique performed by a master, and the dealer threw in a whole lot of extras (including lunch!) eventually concluding that the inexperienced negotiator was wasting his time. Suddenly the tables had turned, and he was feeling rushed and pressured. He wanted to end the session quickly so he could move on to "real" customers, and maybe sell a car that day. He ended up offering an unbelievably good deal.

4) Know exactly how much you'll pay before you walk in. If you leave your decision-making for when you get there, you're opening yourself up to be influenced, and possibly cheated.

5) Don't be afraid to go the no-nonsense route. I've seen this work too. You can go in there and say, "If you'll sell me this car for $xx,xxxx then I'll drive it off the lot today. If not, I'll be on my way." You may get a sales person who finds your candor refreshing, and shakes your hand right there and then, and you can avoid a lot of the hassle. The downside is that if he doesn't take the deal, you have to walk.

6) The bulk of the profit on cars (especially new cars, but also used cars) is made in financing. You'd be better off getting your loan from your bank before you get on the lot. Don't let on that you're not letting the dealer do the financing until you've agreed on a firm price for the car, even if they ask you. As far as the dealer knows, you're still deciding on what you'll do about financing, and it all depends on what their offer looks like.

7) The pros do lie to you. Not all of them, and usually not about the car. They'll lie about something smaller and more emotionally appealing, something they think you'll relate to, something that will break the ice and make you more comfortable with them. They think of it as a sales technique, and an effective one. Just knowing that a car lot is a morals-free-zone can loosen you up and prepare you to bend your ordinarily solid moral boundaries to level the playing field. Go on, we won't judge you.

And just don't stress out about the negotiation. They're just another person sitting across the table from you, and if they've found themselves working in used car sales, they're likely not to be the kind of person you'd want approval or friendship from in real life. (There are exceptions, of course.) Separate your empathic and emotional impulses from your interaction with the sales person, and you'll do just fine.
posted by nadise at 11:47 AM on April 30, 2007 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Okay okay I won't tow. Jeez. I swear it was just going to be this one time, and it was going to be a little red wagon full of puppies, that's all...
posted by kmennie at 11:51 AM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sorry about repeating Black Book, poor editing. As to being a woman negotiating a car I think it depends on your personality. I can't let someone else negotiate for my car because I would always have the niggling doubt that ~I~ could have gotten a better price. Sounds like you are good a t negotiating - go for it! Or look for a female salesperson?
posted by saucysault at 12:03 PM on April 30, 2007

Or look for a female salesperson?

Women in car sales are often twice the bulldog their male counterparts are. Remember, they compete with the other salespeople on their lot. For a woman to be successful in that environment, she has to be at least as good as the guys she's up against. And most dealerships work on commission, so you can assume that everyone on the sales team is either good at what they do, or new at the job.
posted by nadise at 12:16 PM on April 30, 2007

But, it's a car, and I'm conditioned to not just buy it at the asking price

Get over THAT. If the asking price is fair, accept it or move on. Why in the world do people feel the need to try and be that one in a million guy that gets a steal?

If you walk in I bet you the price of that car is alot higher than the one you are seeing online. Thats how dealers work on the net, they put pretty much their rock bottom price online to compete with the other dealers doing the same thing.

I think the problem here is you want something for nothing, or at least something for less than its worth. Why are you so entitled?
posted by crewshell at 1:13 PM on April 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I think the problem here is you want something for nothing...


Was it foolish of me to assume any car price outside of a Saturn dealership was priced with this sort of haggling BS in mind? I don't think so. A fair asking price is not necessarily a fair selling price.

Note "But what's $XX,XXX, reasonably?" in question.
posted by kmennie at 1:36 PM on April 30, 2007

A friend who is VP of a car dealership says: fair price.

so go in and offer an amount one dollar less.

You need to break outside of your box buddy. Major informed people have told you this is a fair price yet you want to "stick it to em" because you can't get over the fact that its a car and people often nego.

Again this is NOT the asking price of the car in normal walk into the dealer situation. Your argument in general and about the Saturn dealership does not include the fact that this is an online discounted price.

Can you get it for less? Maybe, but a fair price is a fair price, why everopne feels so entilted to be mr super lucky crazy deal isw hat causes the car sales industry to be cloacked with mystery. Doesn't the guy selling it have a right to make some money off of it too? FAIRPRICE = FAIRPRICE
posted by crewshell at 2:00 PM on April 30, 2007

While crewshell is entitled to his opinion, I think he is completely mistaken. The dealer isn't looking out for your interest -- he's out to earn as much as he can. Why should you accept a price that's higher than it could be? If you want to be charitable, take the money you save and donate it to a worthy cause; I suspect the dealer's earnings isn't the noblest use of your money. So, negotiate away.

This isn't about "mr supper lucky crazy deal" -- this is about throwing your money away. Bargaining on a car is as reasonable as choosing a grocery store with the lowest prices instead of going to the closest one -- it's a financial, not a moral decision.
posted by bsdfish at 2:38 PM on April 30, 2007

SpecialK writes "You'll burn the transmission out very easily, and you can also easily damage a unit-body construction vehicle by towing with it."

Damage from towing is not an inherent limitation of unit bodies. The Civic may be a piece of shaped tin foil that can't handle it (I have no idea one way or another) but that isn't because it's a unit body. Tossing, for example, a set of tires on a light weight trailer isn't going to kill any modern car as long as your don't exceed the GCVW rating of your tow car.
posted by Mitheral at 2:47 PM on April 30, 2007

Automatic transmissions, being the fragile crap they are, don't take well to extra weight. They overheat. Now, with a stick shift, your transmission will be the least of your worries when towing.
posted by wierdo at 3:13 PM on April 30, 2007

Why should you accept a price that's higher than it could be?

Because its a fair price for all parties involved.

Anyway, good luck in getting a better price by this weekend. Hopefully anything you chip away at the price was worth the time you spent doing it.
posted by crewshell at 3:22 PM on April 30, 2007

For future reference, you've already messed up a big negotiating advantage: you really should have bought this car on April 28-30 as salesmen are trying to meet month-end quotas, and know they don't have too many opportunities left to do so. May 1, they're feeling a lot less pressure.

Which leads me to my main point: the ability to negotiate depends on how much pressure a negotiating party is under to close a deal, even if it's not the best deal in the world. The secret to negotiating is to be able to communicate that, while you'd like a deal, you're ready to walk away if you don't get the deal you want. So don't let them know that you NEED a car this instant.

I disagree with crewshell. Unless the car-dealer advertises itself as a no-haggle place, or unless the auto model you're looking at is in production shortage because of high demand, their cars are priced to give wiggle room on haggling. If it wasn't, they'd advertise themselves as no-haggle rather than alienate all the customers they'd lose because they refuse to haggle.

Now, there may not be a lot of room to haggle. And if walking out doesn't change the story, you may decide you need to slink back sheepishly a couple of hours later. But that's a different issue.

15k km isn't that many km. Or are you saying that it has 15k km extra?
posted by commander_cool at 7:29 PM on April 30, 2007

Response by poster: Doesn't the guy selling it have a right to make some money off of it too?

You're either clueless or a jerk here, and I'll stay with 'clueless' for the moment: dunno about your area, but here, dealers have stuff like prices clearly marked as ASKING prices, and will, via their web sites, invite you to solicit their BEST prices.

I repeat: fair ASKING price.


Many thanks for all the advice here; I'm just back for an update.

The car in question was sold shortly before I went back to buy it. Sigh...

I found another 2004 Civic, near-identical to the first, at another dealership. Not identical: 20k lower mileage. Asking price was close to $15k; offered $13,500. Now own 2004 Civic.

I would've offered less if I'd had more time, I think...

One thing learned: trusting one's first instincts/impressions on dealerships and salespeople was the way to go. Any suggestion of high-pressure/sleaze at lots we checked out turned out to be a whole lot of same, but any "yeah, this is okay" feeling continued throughout the visit. Little things, like quickly and easily being able to find customer parking, were indicative of big things, like unasked-for "Here's the maintenance record." Despite all this "I would like to negotiate," I would rather not have had to do that, and would recommend entirely avoiding lots with prices not clearly marked on the cars.

And, do not give them a budget until the last second. After dealership #1 heard "$13,500" from me (when it looked like the car was still there), I was enthusiastically steered towards suddenly-$13,500 Civics -- 2003 Civics.
posted by kmennie at 10:42 PM on May 2, 2007

Good for you kmennie! I think that is a great price for a Civic.

I just got back from the dealer too and my experience was really positive. I saw no sleaze or sexism at all (or female staff people either - boo). And no pressure on upgrades or hidden admin fees. I probably could have had $500 knocked off the price if I was a better negotiator and waited till the end of the month/overcast day but I consider that the cost of learning how to buy a car. I got some upgrades added instead (cheaper for them and gives them the face-saving ability to tell me I'm getting $500 worth of free stuff). I think it helped in my case that I live in a small town and I walked in with the the name of a previous customer and said she had recommended them; reputation counts a lot more when you see your car saleman at the grocery shop (does he really want you to slip lemons in his shopping cart as a protest?).

I went in looking at used but the cars I were looking at had such high residual vales there wasn't much wiggle room. Because I am financing it with them it actually worked out better to buy a (very cheap) new car, plus the gov't will send me a cheque for $1000 for being environmentally friendly. The place was so low pressure I had to be the one to bring up the value of new vs used.

I also stayed away from any place that didn't have prices marked, what a stupid choice on their part.

This spring weather is perfect for tooling around in you new car with the windows down, eh kmennie? Enjoy it!
posted by saucysault at 10:11 AM on May 3, 2007

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