As my husband and I prepare for a potential big move out of the city to somewhere more suburban (read: less public transportation friendly), we’ve realized that along with all the other life changes that come with a move like this, we’ll also have to now purchase and take care of a car.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve owned cars before, and I completely understand that life outside of a big city pretty much requires one. It’s just that I haven’t owned one in quite a while, and neither has my husband … we weren’t even sure where to start.
We figured we’d be buying used, since our budget simply does not include wiggle room for a brand spanking new car right now. So we set our sights on an adorable little 2008 Toyota Matrix hatchback, and we geared ourselves up for a haggle. There’s a lot to take into consideration when you’re buying a used car. How many miles are on it? How well was the inside taken care of? Were there animals or smokers as frequent riders? How new are the tires? What other goodies does the car come with?
Lucky for us our haggling was set to a minimum — we’ll be purchasing this car from my parents. (Don’t think I won’t be hassling them for the friends and family discount, though!)
All this research into what we’ll be paying for the car got me wondering about the day when we will need to get our haggle on. Assumedly we’ll eventually need to be a two-car household, so it’s best for us to hone those skills now, while we’re not stressed about it. I did a little digging, and it turns out there are some tried and true methods for dealing with used car salesmen.
Here’s what you should know:
1. Do Some Research
No one should even think about stepping foot into a car negotiation without first doing a little research. If you know the type of used car you’re interested in, you can start with an online appraisal tool — like this one from Edmund.com — to find out how much the car you’re interested in should cost based on things like make, model, year, mileage and condition, among other factors. This particular calculator also asks for your zip code and alerts you to used cars for sale in your area. Once you have a general number in mind for what seems to be a fair price, then you can start shopping around.
2. Start the Bidding Low
Don’t be the first to offer up a price (what if they were going to — gasp! — actually offer something lower?!), and know that in this situation, it’s always okay to haggle for a lower price. You’re not being annoying by doing this — that’s simply the way business is done. If you must be the first to offer up a price, start well below what your actual budget is, so there’s wiggle room for you and the salesman to play the haggle game and for you to still get the price you want.
3. Keep Excitement at a Minimum
As hard as it might be to do so, one of the first secrets of haggling is to never show your hand. (Goes without saying, right?) Even if you so desperately need this car you can’t possibly think about anything else until you get it!! Do. Not. Tell. Your. Salesman. Make it clear that you may or may not buy a car today, you’re really just shopping around.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Walk Away
One thing that will probably become obvious to you if you do your research ahead of time is that there is no one perfect used car out there for you. If the price isn’t right on the first one you find, there will be another good option right behind it. Keep calm and stay focused when negotiating — this will almost always work to your advantage, especially when it comes to the next step …
5. Perfect the Follow-up
If you do end up walking away from a potential purchase, there are certain times that might be more advantageous for a follow-up than others. Consider calling to speak with the same salesman on a Sunday night about an hour before the store closes, or again at the very end of the month. When up against monthly quotas or the potential to make one last commission before the end of the weekend, a price that might have been pooh-poohed earlier in the week or month could suddenly seem very exciting to a salesman.
Cheryl Lock is a personal finance writer at and former editor at LearnVest and Parents magazine. When she’s not writing, she enjoys travel, which she blogs about at wearywanderer.wordpress.com.