How to Find a Deal on a Used Car

The way we shop for cars has certainly changed with online sites and mega dealers such as Carmax now part of the equation. What hasn’t changed is the desire to find a deal on a used car. But that’s become increasingly more difficult with the current semiconductor chip shortage impacting supplies. Indeed, with fewer new vehicles being built, demand for used models is strong.

Supply and demand play a big deal in setting car prices. The greater the demand and the smaller the supply, the higher the prices. This means the pool of available models is far costlier than it was just a few years ago. So, as a used car shopper, how can you contain your costs without spending your last dollar? Let us examine the ways.


used car buy handshake
Don’t shake on a deal until you’re certain.

Don’t personalize your purchase.

If you find a vehicle and begin thinking, “I must have this car!” or, “I can’t live without it,” then you have already lost the price negotiation battle. A seller will sense your desire and harden his position. Never make it known how much you want a vehicle while strategizing for a deal.

Also, you will find a professional seller much more skilled at negotiation than a private seller and probably yourself. A poker face and a dispassionate attitude will take you far, while outward giddiness will cost you.

Know what you have.

Details about every make and model are available online, including pricing. One of the best sources is from Kelley Blue Book. For instance, go to that site and click on price new/used. Then, under Car Prices, check the bubble for price new/use. Enter the year, make, model, and zip code for the vehicle’s location. Next, click on the Build & Price box. You’ll be moved to a new page where you can choose the vehicle’s style. Select the corresponding box and hit “next.”

At this point, you’ll choose certain variables, including the engine size, transmission type, drivetrain, and options. Fill this information out to the best of your knowledge. Once done, click “next” and you’ll be taken to a “Select a Price Type,” page.

Lastly, choose one of three price types: 1) Buy from a dealer; 2) Buy Certified from a dealer, or 3) Buy from a Private Party. Once selected, choose “Get a Used Car Price.” At this point, you’ll find a “fair market range” along with a fair purchase price. You’ll also see a typical listing price, which is usually hundreds of dollars more. Finally, you can edit the mileage to get a better idea of the price range.

Ask probing questions.

A thorough inspection of the vehicle inside and out is a given in any used car purchase negotiation. Check the engine bay and look for signs of water damage. Do likewise in the trunk or liftgate. Inside, lift a corner of the carpeting to search for telltale signs of flooding. Check all controls (i.e., HVAC, navigation, infotainment, windows, sunroof, and so on), to ensure that they are working.

However, you’re not done. It is important to ask the seller several probing questions. These include: 1) has the vehicle ever been in an accident? If so, 2), what repairs were done, and do you have copies of those receipts? 3) Ask for a vehicle history report. CARFAX is the most popular report and there should be a record of your vehicle’s history. All reported accidents and incidents are included. On the other hand, if there was work done privately, it won’t show on the report.

Show respect and take your time.

Negotiating a price for a used vehicle can take time and involve many emotions. This is particularly so with a dealer who must protect his bottom line. You may not care about his profits, but treating this person decently is important. Likely, if you are kind and considerate, you’ll find your position strengthened accordingly.

At the same time, don’t rush your decision. Only commit to a vehicle once you are certain it is the right one for you and that all concerns have been addressed. If you’re satisfied with the final price, then you’re likely ready to close the deal.

Used car: Cash is king.

If you negotiate for a vehicle and then need financing, expect to pay more for the vehicle over the long run. It is better to secure your financing separately before making a deal, keeping that aspect of your negotiation separate.

Is there a better option than financing? Yes, indeed. An all-cash offer gives you leverage to negotiate the best deal. For instance, if the price is $2,950 and you have $2,800, the dealer isn’t likely to pass on your offer. Also, in a private sale, the seller prefers cash before accepting any kind of bank check.

Used Car Buying Smart

If the deal isn’t to your liking, then simply walk away. You’re not committed to anything until after the paperwork is signed. Once signed, then take possession of the keys and the vehicle. Call your insurance broker for coverage, then head over to the DMV for tags and plates.


See Also6 Points About Buying a Used Car

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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