Can you haggle used car price at dealerships?
Haggling — some people love it, some people hate it. People who like it tend to enjoy the feeling of pushing for a great deal. People who hate to haggle like getting a good deal, but let’s be honest: The entire process can be uncomfortable because typically the things we buy have a clear price with no room for negotiation.
One exception to the rule of set pricing is cars, and used cars have even less clear pricing than new cars do. When it comes to used cars, the price can vary due to the year, make and mileage of the car, as well as what features it has and the area you buy it in. The last thing that can impact a used car’s price is the negotiation. Botching this part of the process can lead to paying more than you should. Use our ten tips to haggle your way through a great used car deal.
Do You Even Want to Haggle?
We know, it’s weird to start out a list of used car haggling tips with one that implies negotiating may not be the way to go. The thing is, not everyone likes to haggle over used car prices and not everyone is good at it. If you don’t want to do all the research and preparation needed to negotiate a good price on a used car, you’re not going to do a great job haggling and could end up paying way more than is fair for a used car.
Deciding not to negotiate doesn’t just mean showing up with a blank check. A number of used car dealerships, like Carmax, offer no-haggle pricing that’s fair. Buy a used car from a dealer like that and you may not get as low of a price as you would have otherwise. But, it will save you some stress.
Set a Target
Once you decide you actually want to negotiate the price of a used car, you need to set a target. You should do this before you start car shopping, so you don’t waste your time looking at cars you can’t afford. Having a clear target price is the best way to anchor your negotiations because it will keep you focused and ensure that you don’t allow the seller to push for more money than you can pay.
To figure out your target price, look at your budget and see what kind of car payment you can handle each month. If you’re paying cash for a car, you can just decide how much of your money you want to use. You can find a ton of online calculators that will take your monthly payment and tell you the used car price you can afford. Once the target price is set, you’ll know what number to aim for in your negotiations.
Find the Right Car
With a target price in hand, start searching for used cars that fit your budget. A good place to research prices for cars, trucks and SUVs near you is a car shopping website like CarsGenius that lets you search from millions of cars from thousands of dealerships.
Finding the right used car and learning all you can about it is a key part of used car price negotiations. Once you’ve decided on the make and model, as well as the model years you’re willing to buy, dive deep into all the features and options the car has available. You’ll also want to research common repair issues and any recalls the automobile has been subject to. Having all that information can help you haggle and gain a better price. You need to know as much about the car as the seller does.
Once you test drive the car, you can do almost all your work negotiating the car price from home. This means that during a negotiation, if you don’t like the numbers or how you’re being treated, you don’t have to physically leave the dealership. Instead, you can just say goodbye if you’re on the phone or simply stop email or text communications.
To use this approach, call the dealership and ask for the internet department. Or email the internet manager through the company’s website. Often the response to a remote query is “Come on down! We’ll take care of you!” Instead of taking them up on it, say: “I already test drove the car and I know what I want. Now, I’m shopping for my best price.”
Negotiate with your feet
I had a retired friend with time on his hands who liked to go to dealerships, kicking the tires on a new car. He let the salesman talk awhile, and then he would walk out — twice. On the third visit, my friend bought the car, figuring the salesman negotiated himself down to his lowest offer.
Another friend of mine brought his restless 2-year-old into the sales office. When negotiations stalled, he picked up his child and prepared to leave. That simple move dropped the price $750. Remember, body language can speak louder than words.
Arrive with a Stated Purpose
Anytime you visit a car dealership make sure the salesperson know this is the first stop on your list and you’re ready to buy today. You’re on your way to see your list of justifiable alternatives. And you stopped in to this dealership first because they’re either the closest stop on the list or the furthest. This helps strengthen your buying position by demonstrating your alternatives.
What comparable used cars are on the market within 200 miles? This will give you a realistic expectation about price. You’ll be able to use these alternatives against the dealer in the negotiation phase.
Make the right opening offer
With the monthly payment trap neatly avoided, it’s time to open negotiations. There’s a rule in negotiating that advises “The first person who speaks loses.” It means that once your opening offer is on the table, it sets the tone for the rest of the negotiation. So, ideally, you’d like the salesperson to make the first offer, because it could be well below what you’re prepared to pay.
One way to prompt an opening offer is to say, “I’ve done some research about what others are paying for this car. What kind of a discount are you offering?” If the salesperson won’t bite, it’s up to you to kick things off.
Look at the current market value price and set your opening offer a good deal lower, but still in the ballpark of what the dealer might accept. If you know that the current market value of the car is $25,000, offer well below that, perhaps $23,000.
After delivering your opening offer, say nothing more — but watch the salesperson’s body language, tone of voice and facial expression. Salespeople may groan and complain and do all kinds of playacting; but if they take your offer to their manager, you’re probably in business.
Negotiating with a private party owner is a bit different. A low-ball offer might offend them since it’s their beloved car they’re selling. A common opener is to ask them, “What’s your best price?” This is an invitation for them to negotiate against themselves and lower the price a little. If they drop the price a bit, you can then come back with an even lower offer.
Getting to ‘yes’
As you near an agreement, the salesperson might try to complicate the deal by offering extras such as a free maintenance plan. The problem is, the value of these extras is hard to quantify, so you really don’t know if the deal has improved. It’s better to keep the deal simple and stick to just the price of the car.
If you’re satisfied with the price, don’t accept the deal until you review all the numbers. Ask for a breakdown of the fees or an out-the-door price, which will smoke out any extra fees. You should be paying only the price of the car, sales tax (in most states), a documentation fee and registry fees. If you’re paying in cash, or with your pre-approved loan, it simplifies the deal.