What are some good negotiating tips when buying a used car?

With more than 40 million used-cars trading owners each year there’s an ocean-sized market from which to choose.

The trouble with a market as vast as the ocean is that some parts of it are dangerous, some parts can sink you so deep that it’s nearly impossible to surface again and only a few are perfect little slices of paradise that you’ll want to spend a long long time with.

So how can you be sure to find the right car and get a great deal on it that keeps more money in your pocket so you can spend a little more time in paradise?

Old Mercedes Benz Car
Old Mercedes Benz Car

Here are the six steps you need to get the deal you want on the car of your dreams.

Winning Negotiation Tactics

1. Keep Your Cards Close to the Chest

How do you feel when you walk into an interaction with a person selling you a car? Most people feel uneasy and nervous. They lack the confidence to feel like they’re in a powerful position. Sometimes they ignore those feelings and focus entirely on the excitement of purchasing something so big and potentially wonderful.

None of those are the emotions you want to display going into a negotiation. No matter how much you may need a vehicle you don’t need one that’s going to break down constantly or worse, one that’s stolen or had its mileage rolled back.

When you interact in any way with the seller you want to show sincere interest but not desperation in your communication or behavior.

2. Ask the Right Questions

Below you’ll find a list of things to ask about any time you’re looking at a used car.

Add to them should you feel inclined. You’ll be looking for fluid quick answers, that fluidity indicates honesty. Each of them will tell you something about how well the car was cared for and how sincere the seller is.

For instance, you’ll see “Why are you selling it?” and “How long have you owned it?”.

Each of these tells you something about the seller. If they’ve only owned it for a few months why? That’s highly unusual as most cars stay with each of their owners for an average of 6 years. It may indicate a problem that hasn’t been disclosed to you. It could also indicate that they’re a dealer just pretending to be an individual which means they likely know little to nothing about the history of the car.

When you ask them why they’re selling how do they respond? I once had a seller tell me “Well I guess anyone can sell anything they want whenever.” I didn’t even finish the rest of the questions I had. I told him thanks but no thanks.

If they don’t have a reasonable reason for selling then that’s a red flag. Go through the list and use the answers to tell you more about the car and the seller.

That information is just one piece of the puzzle that is this car’s value.

3. Things to Look for

You’ll also find a list of things to look for below. These are things you can find out without even meeting the seller sometimes. Photos of the vehicle online may answer most of the questions found there and they’re all important. I personally faun over cars with four matching high-quality tires. It means the previous owner cared enough to put the best on their car. If they’ll do that for tires they likely did it in most other areas too.

Look at the other things too, warning lights are a big concern. If you have access to an engine code scanner take one with you to see the car if you go. It may save you thousands if the seller has deleted a warning code and you find it in the historic codes still stored by the car’s computer. This is your next piece of the puzzle.

4. Complete a VIN Check

Taking the time to do a high-quality VIN check or VIN lookup gets you a deep dive into the factual history of the car itself regardless of what the seller may want you to know or not know. Personally, this is my FIRST step when I get serious about a car. Not only does it help me weed out sketchy sellers from the get-go that may be trying to sell me a stolen or salvaged car, but it also gives me reliable information that the seller honestly may not have.

For instance, I own 3 cars but am the second, third and fourth owner of each respectively. The service records of each didn’t make it all the way to me but with the VIN check I did on each before purchase I not only could feel great about my purchase but now I have that information should I ever decide to sell one of my slices of paradise.

This is perhaps the first piece of the puzzle to concern yourself with and a vital one no matter where in the order you place it. I wouldn’t buy a car without a high-performance VIN lookup because it’s one of the two pillars of used car buying that you should always use to support your decision.

5. Get a Pre-Purchase Inspection

The other pillar of that decision-making process is a pre-purchase inspection(Or PPI). While a VIN check can tell you all you need to know about the past of a car, a pre-purchase inspection will tell you how it is on the day of the inspection.

Perhaps there is a very recent problem that prompted the seller to try to get rid of the car. If that’s the case a PPI is sometimes the only way you’ll find out about the problem.

Recently I bought a car more than 1000 miles away from my home and before I did I had a PPI completed to ensure the ensuing flight and drive back wouldn’t be a waste of time.

Not only did they confirm the car’s condition, but they also made it clear to me that combined with the VIN lookup results, this was a steal of a deal. I wouldn’t have made the trip and reaped the rewards without these two pillars being a part of my search.

6. Negotiate with All the Power

As we talked about at the beginning, a lot of us feel fearful and uneasy when going into a negotiation over a car we’re interested in.

The reason for that is that we aren’t sure that we’re getting a good deal. We’re worried we’re going to get ripped off, or that the car won’t be as good as it seems.

If you follow these six tried and true tips you’ll be able to walk into the negotiation with the only thing that matters. Absolute power. You’ll have that power because you know the truth about the car. You know if it’s had odometer issues that point to possible tampering thanks to the VIN check. You’ll know that the shocks are going to need replacing in about 3000 miles. You’ll know that the seller has had it for years and is trying to sell this to get something that better suits their current needs. In addition, you know how we mentioned that the used car market is like an ocean?

That means that there is plenty of fish in the sea. If this seller is trying to stick to a value that the car clearly isn’t worth then you still have all the power because you have the money and the freedom to choose.

If you’re still not sure you can resist just saying yes and taking the car home try to take a friend or family member that has all the info that you do.

They can help keep you on track.

Things To Ask

(If a private seller) Why are you selling it?

Do you mind if I take it for a Pre-Purchase Inspection? (If you’re out of town you can ask if they’ll take it to an independent shop for you. Good sellers will do this but if they won’t that shouldn’t totally disqualify the car. Some independent inspectors will go to the car instead.)

What service records do you have for it?

What if anything is wrong with it?

Have you replaced anything on it? (Ask for records here)

How long have you owned it? (Longer is better)

Are there any warning lights on? (You should also check for this when you get in the car)

Does it have any special features? (A seller who cares about their car will gush about the things they love about it)

Things To Look For

Do all four tires match? (This indicates good care)

What brand of tires does it have? (This is an excellent indicator of the level of care. More expensive is better.)

Do all the lights work? (Burnt out lights indicate an owner willing to skimp on “little things”)

Are there any warning lights on?

Are there any mismatched colors or large panel gaps that indicate a previous impact or repair?

What does the interior look like? (Are there stains everywhere? Is it clean? If you’re looking in person check the glove box for records)

Is there visible oil anywhere on the engine or other components under the hood?

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