While most of us would prefer buy new, when it comes to cars, that’s not an option for the vast majority of us out there, and the reason is pretty simple: cars are expensive. As Americans, we tend to forget just how expensive they are because driving is such a vital part of how our society is set up. But especially for those who don’t own property, a car is often the most expensive item in their possession.
For all those reasons, used cars are a booming market and what most people tend to be able to afford. And that’s actually pretty smart, because cars often last a decade without falling apart, and a used car can often serve you for years just as well as a new car would.
That being said, buying a used car is always somewhat of a spin of the roulette wheel: will you end up with a junker or a shiner? You’re not guaranteed one or another, but if you know the right questions and car negotiation tricks can make sure you at least end up with a car that will serve you faithfully for a few years without needing repairs.
What are these magical tricks? We’re so glad you asked.
Used car salesmen are notorious for trying to take advantage of buyers and, sadly, we’re here today to confirm that stereotype is entirely accurate. Because so much of their income is determined by commissions, they’re incentivized to make you pay as much as possible, which means they have a personal stake in moving money from your wallet to theirs.
All this is to say that while used car salesmen aren’t evil, you do need to understand that the salesman you’ll be talking to is your opponent: their job is to sell, and yours is to save. No matter how charming or friendly the sales person, you should always take what they say with a grain of salt: trust but verify, as the saying goes, and don’t fall prey to their car negotiation tricks.
If you do find yourself being charmed by the salesperson one way to cast off their spell is to take the equivalent of a cold shower by just saying you’ll go home and think about it. The salesperson will dislike this, but you should never, ever, feel obligated to buy on that day or even stay longer than you want to.
The reason salespeople dislike it when you leave without buying a car is because it’s one of a number of car negotiation tricks of theirs: they know, statistically, you’re most likely not going to return. It behooves them for you not to be able to clearly see your situation and take stock of your options and for you to just buy from them right then and there.
To try and get you to stay and buy on the day of, salespeople will try and create a sense of urgency: this often takes the form of a “sale” or other buyer looking at the car. Don’t be fooled by the car negotiation trick. Even if they aren’t lying, you’ll often save the same amount of money if not more by taking stock of your options at home.
The single most important car negotiation trick we can offer when it comes to buying a used car you’ll be happy with in the long term is to do research beforehand. It may be a pain, but information is inarguably power when it comes to buying or negotiating the price of a used car.
What kind of information? The main categories you’ll want to be knowledgeable and have information in are: the market value of the car you’re looking at, avenues that might save you money like cash back or low-interest financing, fees and taxes, and finally how much trade-in value your current car carries.
Through the power of the internet, you can find most of these without even having to leave your house. The average value of the car you’re looking at or the one you’ll be trading in can often be found easily on Kelley Blue Book which has data on specific makes, models, years, and the prices you can expect in your area. This is an invaluable tool to have at your disposal, because it means you can’t get swindled too badly when it comes to cost.
It’ll also keep you from being swindled when it comes to whether the “deal” a salesperson is offering is actually good or not. Far too often the deals or sales they use to pressure you into buying something right then that day aren’t actually legitimate deals or discounts off a car’s price.
Beyond just how many miles it’s driven, there are a massive amount of factors that contribute to how much value a used car carries, and it’s not a “deal” if $500 are cut off the car’s price only for it need to have its tires changed as soon as you drive it home. Unfortunately, if you’re no mechanic, knowing that beforehand can be nearly impossible.
But you know who is a mechanic? An actual mechanic.
If you’re not entirely comfortable before signing for a used car, you shouldn’t feel hesitant at all to have it looked over and appraised by a mechanic you trust and isn’t affiliated with the place you’re buying it from. They can give you an impartial opinion and let you know exactly what you’ll be driving home so you don’t fall for any of the salesperson's car negotiation tricks.
Ultimately, so long as you familiarize yourself with the car negotiation tricks above, you should be able to get yourself a used car that’ll serve you just as well as if you’d bought it new, and at a third of the price. The market for used cars is huge and, armed with the proper numbers, you shouldn’t be afraid to dive in and find the one that suits you.
If you need a refresher on the car negotiation tricks we’ve covered, the things you need to remember are: always remember that you and the salesperson are adversaries (no matter how friendly they may seem), you should always take as much time as you need to make the decision you’re comfortable with, and you should always do your due diligence beforehand and arm yourself with the numbers you need to make the right decision. Best of luck with your used car price negotiation!