Used Car Negotiating Advice and Tips

The used car negotiation process starts before ever contacting a dealership.

The process is slightly different when you negotiate a used car’s price. Each pre-owned vehicle is other and stands independently depending on the age, mileage, and condition. Used vehicles do not have a factory invoice and don’t use invoice pricing, making it a little trickier to start the negotiation process.

You don’t want to start haggling a used car’s price by just yelling out numbers in hopes the seller will discount the cost. Researching the market and estimating the vehicle’s actual value will give you the upper hand and ensure you pay a fair price.

Used Car Negotiation Facts

The following tactics apply to negotiating with a dealership or a private seller. Completing these steps will give you the upper hand when the time to discuss the price of the car.

Use these negotiation tactics and read my section on how to buy a used car to make sure you get the best possible deal on your next vehicle.

Be a Polite and Respectful Negotiator

There’s plenty of advice on the Internet telling you to walk into a dealership with guns blazing, saying things like “that’s my offer, take it or leave it” or “you better do this price, or I’m walking!” This is terrible advice; salespeople tend to stand their ground and not want to do business with you.

Your goal is to buy a car at the price you want to pay. Don’t be rude, obnoxious, or demanding with a dealership or private seller. The last thing you want them to do is to become aggressive or standoffish. Be polite and respectful as you expect them to be with you. Remember, you will catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Don’t Be Afraid to Walk Away

This is the best advice I can give you during the negotiation process.

Don’t get attached to the car, be flexible in your choices, keep your emotions in check and be ready to walk away if something doesn’t feel right or does not go your way. I promise you; that the manufacturers will make more cars, and there will be many other vehicles to choose from.

Visually Inspect the Vehicle

One of the most powerful techniques a dealer uses to devalue a vehicle is called a “Silent Walk Around.”

This technique helps you mentally devalue the vehicle in the seller’s mind. Don’t show emotion, and don’t speak as you walk around the car.

Touch or point out every door ding, scratch, stain, and flaw on the vehicle, occasionally shaking your head. The seller may start to explain or make excuses for what you notice; keep as silent as possible, take notes and continue the process.

Taking notes gives the impression you’re comparing the vehicle with other vehicles you’re considering.

Ask the seller these questions:

  • How many miles are on the tires?
  • When was the last time the brakes were changed?
  • What grade of fuel do you put in the vehicle?
  • When was the last time you changed the oil?
  • Do you have any maintenance records, and may I see them?

Look under the vehicle. Do you see fresh oil or fluid on the ground where it’s been parked? Open the hood and check the cleanliness of the engine department. Check all the fluid levels and ensure they’re not black or gritty. Use a flashlight to check for leaks around the engine area or splatter marks on the underside of the hood.

Check the Vehicle’s History

Before negotiating the price, check a vehicle’s title history before moving forward. Not only will it tell you information about the vehicle’s past, but it can also provide you with vital information you can use to negotiate the price of the car.

This step will keep you from wasting time on a vehicle that may have previously been in a significant collision or have a salvaged or rebuilt title.

Test Drive the Vehicle

I wish I had a dime for every time someone told me, “I don’t want to drive the car,” or “I don’t need to drive it,” or “I drove one just like it down the street.”  I understand you have been told that a salesperson wants you to drive the car, so you fall in love with it, but you’re smarter than that.

Take the time to test drive a used car before buying it correctly. You would try a pair of $60 shoes before buying them, wouldn’t you?

You should always test drive the exact vehicle you want to buy before committing anything. If the person you’re negotiating with will not allow you to drive the car, or you cannot test drive the vehicle for any reason before buying it, don’t buy the car and walk away!

NOTE: The test drive is the time a salesperson will use to build a report with you. Salespeople are trained to talk about anything but the vehicle on a test drive. They do this to divert your attention from the car. If they attempt to converse with you and you don’t want to talk, politely ask them to let you listen to the vehicle.

Negotiating a Used Car’s Price

The price in the ad is just where the seller wants to start the negotiating process. Your initial offer should be a little lower than the vehicle’s current market value. To present a reasonable offer, you must gather as much information as you can about the car you want to buy.

When researching this information, compare apples-to-apples, input the correct mileage, and add the proper trim and options. Get as close as you can, and then make your adjustments from there.

Online used car buying sites are great for gathering used car pricing information. You can use the free quotes your request in your negotiation process.

Another good place to gather vehicle price data is eBay’s recently sold vehicles. To get accurate data, ensure you’re looking at cars sold in your local area within the last few weeks.

A potent negotiating strategy is to go to used car listing sites and request a few free used car quotes from different local dealers on the vehicle you want to buy. Keep the lowest ones and take them with you to negotiate a better price. This strategy will work with both dealers and private sellers.

Recommended Used Car Shopping Sites

Get a free online car price quote from RydeShopper.RydeShopper will search for clearance prices in your local area. Their huge dealer network will help you find your next used car quickly. Make sure you select all the dealerships in your area to maximize your discounts and savings.

Search RydeShopper Deals >>

Free new and used car price quotes from Edmunds.Edmunds is one of the oldest used car research and review sites on the Internet. You're guaranteed to find a great deal on a used car within the hundreds of thousands of vehicles listed online.

Visit Edmunds Now >>

Motor Trend online car price quote service.MotorTrend is one of the Internet's best-kept price quote secrets. They are a subsidiary of the well-known MotorTrend Magazine with dealer relationships all over the country. Use their simple car price quote service to find your next vehicle.

Get MotorTrend Pricing >>

Free car price quote from Cars Direct.CarsDirect has been in business for well over a decade. Their search tool makes it easy to find the exact car you want to purchase. Simple search and navigation will help you narrow your choices to the perfect vehicle.

Browse CarsDirect >>

All Online Car Buying Tools

Negotiate Used Car Prices With a Dealership

Dealers and their staff are professional negotiators. You must gather as much pricing information as possible on the vehicle you want to buy.

Depending on how long a vehicle has been sitting on their lot, most used cars have anywhere from 10-25% marked up in the car’s asking price.

Negotiate With Dealers By Phone or Online

Negotiation by email or phone keeps you in control. If a dealer promises you something over the phone, have them put it in writing by asking them to send you a quick text or email.

A dealer will always attempt to get you to come into the dealership. They know they have a better chance of selling you a car at a higher price if they get you to the dealership rather than trying to sell you a vehicle over the phone.

Looking at a car dealership is okay; don’t start the negotiation process. If you go to a dealership, let the salesman approaching you to know you’re not buying a car today, you’re just gathering information.

Get Price Quotes From Multiple Dealerships

While shopping for a vehicle, don’t be surprised to see similar cars priced high and low. This means there’s more wiggle room to negotiate with the higher-priced cars. Typically a dealership will price a vehicle they just received higher in the market. The lower-priced cars may not have as much wiggle room; it depends on the pricing model of the dealership.

Don’t let these high advertised prices discourage you; this is where they want to start the negotiation process. You want to buy the car at or below the current market value. No matter the asking price, I recommend requesting quotes from the dealer.

Use online used car listing sites we recommend, such as Ryde ShopperMotorTrend, and CarsDirect, to get as many quotes as possible on the particular vehicle you want to buy. Make sure you compare apples to apples and keep the mileage range as close as possible.

Tell them you’re interested in the vehicle and will buy a car in the next few days. Ask them to send you their best price on the car you’re inquiring about.

Play Dealers Against Each Other

Once you receive your quotes, you can use them to negotiate between dealers to get a lower price. You can do this by phone or email; this is how it works:

  1. You receive five dealers’ quotes on the same car with a range of about 10k miles.
  2. ABC Motors gave you the lowest price quote of $11,000 for a vehicle with 40,000 miles.
  3. XYZ Motors sent you a quote for $12,500 for a similar car.
  4. You want to get XYZ Motors to discount their price to be more competitive with ABC Motors.
  5. Contact XYZ Motors and give them a chance to discount the price of their car.

You’ll do this with all the higher quotes you receive; I recommend you first start with the vehicles with the highest prices. You can let the dealers know the price and mileage of the lowest quoted car. This will allow them to decide how aggressive they can be in matching or beating the other dealer’s price.

When you send them the information, let them know you’re ready to buy a car NOW. Dealers will be more aggressive in discounting the price if they know they have someone willing to purchase right away.

Keep playing them off each other; if a dealer discounts their car lower than the lowest price you have, they become the frontrunner. Make sure you contact the dealer with the lowest price first to give them a chance to play.

Once the dealer stops responding or refuses to discount the vehicle further, you’ll know they’ve discounted the car as far as they can.

Once you’re at this point, you should have several vehicles to choose from. Before running off to the dealership, go for one last discount. Contact the dealership and tell them you will come in and buy the car immediately if they discount it another $389. This is an odd number, and they may or may not discount the vehicle anymore, but if you don’t ask, you don’t receive.

Negotiate With a Private Party

Once you find a vehicle, you want to buy it from a private seller. You first want to get the vehicle identification number (VIN), so you can review the vehicle’s history. This will keep you from wasting time trying to buy a car with a severe discrepancy.

I recommend reviewing the used car history report on the vehicle. This will keep you from wasting your time attempting to buy the car.

When contacting a private seller, be polite and ask many questions. This will give you an advantage when you start the negotiation process later. You can cross the vehicle off your list if you don’t feel good about an answer.

Ask the seller these types of questions:

  • Who’s name is the car titled?
  • Why are you selling the car?
  • How long has the vehicle been for sale?
  • How many miles on the car?
  • What was the vehicle used for?
  • Do you have the maintenance records?
  • Did you buy the car new?
  • What is the overall condition?
  • Does everything work?
  • Do the A/C and heater work?
  • Has the vehicle ever been wrecked or painted?

The Silent Walk-Around

This is where the “Silent Walk Around” comes into play, as I explained in the general topics above. Keep silent and don’t show any emotion while inspecting the vehicle. Touch any discrepancies and shake your head in disappointment. The seller will automatically think you’re unhappy with the car and work to your advantage.

Make sure you have your driver’s license and current insurance to test drive the vehicle. Ask the seller and take note of anything unusual that comes up during the drive.

Discussing Price With a Private Seller

If you like the car and want to make an offer ask the seller this question first:

“What is the least amount of money you would take for the car right now?”

By asking the above question, a desperate seller may drop the price significantly from what they were asking before beginning the negotiating process. Your initial offer should be less than the maximum price you’ll pay, and it may still be far less than what the seller is still asking for the vehicle.

Don’t shoot all your bullets at once; the negotiation process is a give-and-take, back-and-forth process. Every time you counter, you should bring up discrepancies on the vehicle or what others are asking for the exact car in the local market. After devaluing the vehicle, raise your offer a little; you can keep doing this until the seller agrees to your offer or until you hit your maximum price.

If the seller is not flexible with pricing, feel free to show them some of the local quotes you’ve received from used car price quote services for proof he is asking too much for his vehicle. If you can’t agree, give the seller your contact information, be polite, and walk away.

Before money exchanges hands, ask the seller if he is okay with you taking the vehicle to a mechanic of your choice to inspect the car to ensure it’s reliable. If the seller refuses, they may not be being honest with you about something.

About the author
Carlton Wolf is the author and founder of Auto Cheat Sheet.My name is Carlton Wolf, and I’ve been in the car business since 1994, both retail and wholesale. I created the Auto Cheat Sheet to better educate buyers about the deceptive sales practices many dealerships use nationwide. Please understand that not all car dealers are dishonest. However, you never know who you’ll be dealing with, though. I’m willing to share my knowledge and experience with anyone who listens. Keep in mind that I’m a car guy, not a writer.