How to Negotiate Buying a Car

By Angela Monroe - July 30, 2021

How to Negotiate Buying a Car h1

High chances for low prices: We take a look at how to negotiate buying a car so you can make sure your dollars stretch as far as they possibly can.

We’ve covered knowing when to trade in or sell you car and how to prepare a car for sale but what about buying one?

Get the gist quick!

  • Know the trim level
  • Make sure to buy at the right time for dealers and private sellers
  • ‘Meet in the middle’ might not work in 2021
  • Even if the price is firm, dealers can often throw in other extras
  • Manners go a long way as no one likes dealing with rude people
  • As a seller, you can always walk away

How to Negotiate Buying a Car 

There are a few things you can do to make sure you get the best deal and the right deal. The difference can be hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. It can also mean getting extra features or upgrades.

Some of the tips below differ on whether you’re buying a car from a dealer or a private sale so we’ve left a note.

Know exactly what you’re buying

For: Dealers and private sales

Woman looking at codes

It may sound strange as you know the year, make and model of the vehicle you’re looking at from the description online. But do you know the trim level?

The trim level or model variant denotes the features and technology included. Different levels have different prices too. For example, a base model can be pretty bare compared to the sports, luxury or top-trim package.

Check out the differences in the Toyota Kluger lineup below;

Kluger GX (base model) Kluger Grande (top trim level)
18-inch wheels 20-inch wheels
Front Wheel Drive All Wheel Drive
3.5L 6-cylinder petrol engine 2.5L Toyota Hybrid System
6 speaker audio system 11 speaker premium JBL audio system
No satellite navigation Satellite navigation
Fabric interior Premium black or beige interior
No ventilated front seats Ventilated front seats
Dual-zone air conditioning 3-zone automatic air conditioning
No panoramic view monitor Panoramic view monitor
Manual back door Power back door with kick sensor
No moonroof Panoramic moonroof

It’s a long list.

Make sure to check exactly what trim level you’re looking at and what features it has – or doesn’t have.

Choose the right time

For: Dealers

time

Car salespeople are almost always paid on commission. This means they have targets to hit each month.

Try to buy cars from dealers at the end of the month or even better, the final days of the end of the financial year.

This is when most dealers are trying to get their sales numbers up and are more likely to push through a sale rather than worrying about keeping prices high.

Sometimes you might see salespeople extra active or looking for customers out in the yard. It’s often these who are often extra keen to make a sale.

Choose the right time

For: Private sales

It can be harder to choose the right time with a private person selling a car but usually just before or after a holiday is a good idea.

For example, the days between Christmas and New Year are usually a win.

These are times when some people need the extra cash from a car sale to cover their holiday expenses.

Furthermore, they might be in a rush to sell before they actually go on holiday or return to work.

Avoid inspecting cars at night. It’s much easier to see any paint problems or damage in daylight.

Be wary of the old ‘meet in the middle’

For: Dealers and private sales

middle

It’s been done to death. Meeting in the middle, for example, the seller wants $15,000 and a buyer offers $10,000 – meet at $12,500, is difficult to pull off.

Most private sellers and all dealers are aware of this tactic, especially when the buyer’s side is really low.

Instead, try to explain your idea of a reasonable price and why you came to that figure. You may have seen similar cars online for cheaper prices or noticed that the particular vehicle has been for sale for a while.

If the seller knows you’ve done your homework and you’re actively shopping around, they are usually more likely to work with you.

Act like they’ll never hear from you again

For: Private sales

not heard from

A concern for some private sellers is the buyer coming back to complain. Making a sale only to have the buyer at their doorstep the next day complaining about a weird noise is not a good thing for sellers.

They might damage their reputation online and, as a buyer, you’ll likely know their address and phone number.

Try to convince the seller that you’re an expert with these kinds of cars and know they might have some problems, but that’s fine. Let them know that if you buy it, they’ll never hear from you again.

Just make sure to thoroughly test drive and inspect the car first. 

Don’t forget the extras

For: Dealers

No matter the price you reach when buying a car from a dealer, you’ll likely be able to get a few extras included.

This could be an extended warranty, several free car wash vouchers or a free service for example.

Make sure to ask for as many extras as possible, especially if you’re unable to move the price down. You might be able to threaten going to another dealer if the extras aren’t to your liking.

Note that it’s a lot easier to ask for extras before agreeing to a price so try asking a hypothetical; ‘if I agreed to that price, would you throw in …’.

Use damage to your advantage

For: Private sales

Other Common Summer Car Damage

If you find scratches on the paint, interior wear or anything else significant that needs to be repaired, you might be able to get those costs knocked off the price.

Don’t forget to check tyres, registration and the logbook maintenance records too.

If the car is not in good condition, it’s easy to haggle the price down, especially if the seller hasn’t detailed the problems in their description online.

If you’re not sure on the costs of repairs needed, it might be worth paying a professional to inspect the vehicle, you’ll have the paperwork to show the seller too.

‘If I buy the car, I’ll have a bill to get the … fixed’.

Be polite and friendly

For: Dealers and private sales

happy dog

Although buying a car is a business transaction, being polite and friendly is always a good idea. Sellers, both dealer and private, are much more likely to work with a nice person than someone rude.

Criticising someone’s car on every tiny imperfection and low-balling them won’t do you any favours. No one wants to deal with a rude person, especially private sellers.

Try to shoot the breeze a little with the seller, even cracking a few polite jokes here and there. You’ll find they’re almost always more willing to help out someone they like.

Always be prepared to walk away

For: Dealers and private sales

foot prints

If the deal isn’t meant to be, it isn’t meant to be. Sometimes sellers refuse to budge for whatever reason and this might be a sign to walk away. There are thousands of cars for sale online with hundreds more added each day.

If you’re having to squeeze your money too much or find yourself unable to negotiate with a particular seller, don’t worry – they’ll likely be another car that suits your tastes available.

Remember that everyone has a budget and if the car you’re looking for doesn’t fit, you can always walk away. It’s a lot easier to be a buyer than a seller.

Angela Monroe
Angela Monroe is the Community Manager at The Positive Group, specialising in giving people the information that they need when they need it, and putting you on the path to a fair financial future. She has 8 years of experience in helping Australians find the right finance solutions, and regularly contributes articles to empower Australians with the knowledge they need to become financially healthy.

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