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In-Person Negotiating Tactics When Buying A Used Car

You're the buyer with the seller, looking at their vehicle


Before Arriving to See the Vehicle

Research and prepare a few items you can say to devalue the vehicle further without relying on reconditioning items you might find.

Ideally, the vehicle you are looking at needs very little, or no reconditioning. So in the event that it doesn’t need anything, you still want to be able to lower the seller’s price a bit more through pointing out other things that may save you spending extra money.

You will want to be prepared to negotiate with the seller a lower price than what you may have discussed over the phone. When in-person - don’t rely exclusively on reconditioning items.

Here is what research can look like:

1. Find dealer comparables that are listed at equal to or lower prices

2. “Pick the vehicle apart” (if you haven’t done this over the phone). Examples of what this research can look like:

a) Colour

if it is not white, black, or grey it is a colour that doesn’t sell as much. So if you are looking to buy a different colour e.g red and you love it - that is great, but don’t let the seller know that. Pretend you were really looking for a white or black one but might “settle” on red (which you *cough* don’t love)

b) Transmission

Automatics are easier to sell. If it is a stick, and you love stick, don’t let the seller know. Get ready to express doubt because you, or your loved one “don’t like” driving stick or “haven’t driven stick in years.” Even if you wanted stick, pretend you would have paid more if it was an automatic and use this to lower the price.

c) Options on it

Every vehicle will have a list of options that come with it. If the vehicle is a lower trim, use that as leverage in negotiating. E.g express disappointment that it doesn’t have the rear heated seats, or the panoramic roof, or the bluetooth features...heck even leather heated steering wheel.

d) Drivetrain

If the vehicle model only comes with one type of drivetrain then this is moot. But if you are looking at an SUV, or even some Sedans that offer either FWD or AWD, this is a great way to lower the price of the vehicle. If it is a FWD claim you would have preferred it to be AWD, and if it is an AWD, claim you have concerns about gas consumption.

e) Gas consumption

If it is a gas guzzler, share that you were looking at more economic and environmentally friendly cars. Express uncertainty even when you know you want this car. It will help with your bargaining power


Starting the Inspection

First Impression

You want to dictate how this is going to go - always be the one in control. This doesn’t mean be a pain in the ass. It just means be assertive and confident in what you are talking about, and lead the process. Chances are you know way more than they do.

I always found a lot success when I could either comment on something I noticed (e.g maybe they have something I can identify with in the car, like a sports team logo somewhere) or make them laugh. But that will depend on your personality. The easier going they feel and the more they like you, the better your odds are of lowering the car price further.

Before Starting your Inspection

Share what you are going to be doing:

● Your inspection is going to take about 10-15 minutes. Share that you are just going to look around the outside and inside, test out the electrical, turn the engine on, and go for a test drive. This assumes you have gotten their permission for a test drive over the phone prior to coming - as outlined in the phone script.

● You are someone who is going to pull the trigger on buying this - make them feel how sincere you are barring any setbacks.People don’t like the unknown. So if you share what they can expect for the next little while, they appreciate it and it peaks their interest. You involve them.


During Inspection

As you are checking out the vehicle, involve them a bit, especially when it comes to anything you see on the car that you don’t like

For instance, if you notice chips in the front windshield, let them know. If you notice a scratch that has gone through the paint, let them know.

E.g “That’s too bad about all those chips in the windshield, eh?”E.g “Oh, I didn’t notice this scratch in the pictures... what happened here?”

It’s a used vehicle so you don’t need to nit pick it apart, but point out a few things that may be of concern. This kind of stuff could impact what you spend because in all likely hood, you’ll have to take it somewhere to fix it. How much will that cost? What is your time worth?

This communicates to the seller that you are prepared to walk away if need be and are having second thoughts. The natural reaction for a seller in this position is to try and sell you more, or make concessions - usually in price. It’s a pain to sell a car, and many of them will not want to see you walk away.


Let’s Talk About the Vehicle

9 out of 10 times the number you and the seller discussed over the phone needs to be lower now that you are in the driveway. Even if it is just a little. Remember, you did not commit to a firm number over the phone. You just shared a guesstimate that required seeing the vehicle.

While in the driveway, you want to share your observations and opinions on the recon and the vehicle itself after you have test driven it.

Note: Even if reconditioning is negligible or very low, you want to fall back on what you learned in Stage 1 to devalue it some more before making an offer.

Additionally, you can use your discretion and decide whether you want to mention that it needs a full detail - which will cost you $200-$800 depending on where you are. If you need to somehow justify an over of a few hundred dollars less than what was discussed over the phone, this is one way to do it.

You can start introducing damage concerns if appropriate

E.g, Mark (use their name)- I know it is a used vehicle and everything, but honestly it has a bit more damage on it than I would have liked...I mean the two biggest things I noticed -

Pick two or four or whatever items you think are the biggest ticket items. This is your hard earned money.

It could be cosmetic body damage, it could be interior damage, or some fault codes could have come up. It can be a combo of them all. Whatever it is, share a few with Mark.

E.g The vehicle is in pretty good condition considering it is a 2011. But if I buy it, I’m still going to need to fix some stuff on it.

Optional: you can share that you, a family member, or a friend were in the auto industry to add more authority to your statement.

E.g The first one is this scratch here through the driver side door. Put your fingernail there…do you feel the groove in it? Ya, I get it that there are some scratches here and there but this one scratch here has gone through the paint. So I’m going to want to fix that. Now a reconditioning shop may tell me they can just fill it, or they may take me for a ride and want to paint the whole panel - I have no idea, but I know that is going to cost me several hundred right off the bat for me to fix. And if they want to blend it with two bordering panels, that could take me into the thousands just for that one thing.

Otherwise the rest of the body looks really good. The vehicle drives really well, and you’ve only got 120,000km on it. Your front bumper though has a large scuff on it on this side here…do you see that? That’s the only other thing I’d want to fix if I bought this. I mean I could get the bumper repainted for like $500, maybe $800.

If you are feeling cheeky, you can even add another item of reconditioning but waive it off and not factor it into your offer. By doing this you are winning some brownie points with the seller by making it seem like you are doing them a favour.

E.g Everything else about the car I like. Your tires are good, with plenty of tread left. I like the alloy rims too. Although...Mark, you’ve got some curb rashing on two of them here…(show them). Now your rims are alloy, which are great because it boosts the value of the vehicle, but at the same time, reconditioning shops charge more to fix them or replace them and to be honest - I don’t think I want to spend that kind of money so I’ll just leave them be.

You can start bringing all of this together

E.g So I definitely would want to fix the scratch in it, and fix the bumper, and although there is curb rashing, I would probably leave that me. I could be looking at spending anywhere from $1000 to like...maybe $2500... It really depends on what kind of quotes I’m getting from reconditioing shops. So that’s ON TOP of whatever I would be paying you today. Hopefully you can help me out…

PRO TIP: In persuasion, if you get someone to say no to a big commitment, they are more likely to say yes to a smaller commitment right after saying no.

What does this look like here?

Ask the seller after sharing reconditioning costs if they would be willing to go half-way in the reconditioning costs if they came with you to a shop.

99/100 times the person is going to emphatically say no. Expect this.After getting the no, say something like this right after “Ok, fair enough...Well...would you at least be willing to take $X off your price here and now?”

They are much more likely to say yes to this now. I have left it as X because it will depend on your read and the car. In the example I was using I would feel comfortable straight up asking if they would be willing to take off $1500 from their ask (assuming the math makes sense on the car).

What if there is a mechanical issue?

It helps to have a friend who knows about mechanics in cars.If there is a mechanical issue during the test drive, or a fault code comes back on the OBD2 scan, emphasize to the seller the level of uncertainty this brings. You may need to call your friend.

People HATE uncertainty or the unknown. You are no different here. Would you spend $10,000 on something that could need $4,000 worth of work that you don’t yet know about? Of course not.

So if there is a mechanical issue be prepared to walk away. It is not worth the risk.

If you KNOW it is NOT a serious mechanical issue - or your friend knows his/her stuff and assures you of this (it’s fine if you go give them a call now before leaving the driveway) you can still paint a picture to the seller about the level of uncertainty.

E.g I have no idea what (insert mechanical sound/issue/fault code) could mean, but I do know that I would need to get a mechanic to look at it, and that is a few hundred dollars right there or more just for the formal diagnosis and labour costs. Who knows how much it would cost to fix it.

It could be nothing, like a few hundred, or it could be a much larger issue and I could end up spending a couple thousand on it...I don’t know. I would be gambling to purchase it, so because of that risk, my number would be lower than either of us would want it to be.

I mean if we bought it for $15,000 and end up having to put in an extra $3,000 to fix it, suddenly I’ve spent $18,000 when really, I only feel comfortable paying maybe, $12,000-$14,000 for it because of that mechanical risk…I have no idea…so it is a bit scary for me.

What if there is hardly any cosmetic reconditioning required on the vehicle at this stage?

If the reconditioning is low, that’s good for you in real life because you don’t need to worry about work done. But you will need to rely more on Stage 1 observations and negotiation tactics.

What’s more – it definitely is a case by case scenario - but if you really need more money to justify lowering the value of the vehicle, you can justify a full detail for approx $200-$800.

PRO TIP: If the seller says they can get it the damage fixed for less - ask them from whom. You want that contact. Because if you can save money on reconditioning, that’s more money for the seller at the end of the day. Sometimes the seller is bluffing, and sometimes it is real. Either way it is a win for us. If it is a bluff - you called them out on their BS. If it is real, you maybe found someone to get the work done for cheaper.

This is the same if the seller says they can detail it for less than what you think.


Test their Temperature

You’ve shared the story of what the vehicle will likely need. Now find out how much you’ve lowered their expectations. If you had a certified cheque or cash ready to go right now, what would they take for it today?

E.g 1 Look, I know your heart was set on $18,000 after our phone call...but from what I’ve seen today...My number is going to be less. Knowing that the vehicle is going to need anywhere from$1000 to $2,500 of reconditioning on it… give or take… and that’s not including the rims which I’m going to leave alone...what would you take for it today?

Get a number

E.g2 I know you want more in the $18,000 range, but…with the uncertainty behind the fault codes it has returned, the bumper, and the scratch on it…I don’t know…would you be open to something closer to the $15,000, $16,000 mark? Because, I’m going to be honest, the vehicle is going to need about $2000 or reconditioning and that’s before I spend money on a mechanic just to find out what exactly these fault codes mean.

Get a number. Even if it is $17,000 – great. You’ve lowered their expectations further and are closer to what you actually want to pay.

STEP # 6

The Aftermath: “Games” if you still Want to Pay LessEvery seller/vehicle/circumstance is different but:

Eg1. Mark, I have $16,500 today, all I need to do is write your name on it. Do we have a deal?

Eg2. I can pay you $16,000 today Mark. What do you say?

General guideline 2: If you are further apart on what you want to pay by 10-15% after seeing it, I would suggest calling to follow up tomorrow or in a day or two.

General guideline 3: When sharing an offer that is a bit apart from their expectations - (unless you are very confident in your ability to close them today) - I don’t suggest sharing your final number in the driveway.

Even if your final number is just $500 less or $1,000 less than what the seller wants to let it go for, I won’t share my final number if I feel the seller is “stuck” on their number. By “stuck” I mean you can sense they won’t budge no matter what you tell them. That takes some practice but I’m sure we all have sensed that before from others. They just won’t change their mind no matter what. My number may not be much more, but it gives me a reason to follow up later that day, or the next day with what I will paint as “good” news.

It also allows for them to come down a bit more to try to accommodate you. It gives the seller the night to think about it more until you share your final number. Let them ruminate on it. And it also gives you a chance to recoup and come up with other stuff to say to lower their expectations even more if you feel so inclined after their “stuck” period.

Here is what I mean by guideline 3.

You spoke on the phone with this guy and he wanted $20,000 but over the phone you lowered him to $18,000. You tell him you want to see it before putting a final number on it, so you go inspect the car. The seller’s expectations were $18,000 when you started inspecting it, but by using stages 1-5, you have lowered them again to say, $17,500.

Let’s pretend you feel most comfortable paying $16,500 for it, maximum all things considered. The seller is “stuck” at $17,500. You decide not to tell them your final offer (which is $16,5000) and tell them you will get back to them tonight, or tomorrow. You need to think about it, but you know you won’t pay $17,500. Make sure they understand that you won’t pay $17,500.

By not telling them what you will offer, they can’t shop it or use it as a benchmark for the next potential buyer. So don’t tell them your final price no matter what if you can’t walk away from that driveway with the car then and there.

Tomorrow comes. You feel strongly your final number is $16,500 still. You call again and after introductions etc

E.g Mark, I’ve thought a lot about this and I’m still interested, but I can’t go to $17,500. I called some reconditioning shops and the cheapest quote I got was $1800 without them seeing it. So if I round that up to $2000. That means I would be paying $19,500 for the car, and for that number, I would just go to a dealership and get it financed at like, $400 a month and forget about all this. But I want to buy from you. So here is what I can do.

I was going to offer you $15,500 for it. Because then, with the $2000 on top I’d be paying $17,500 for it - which is the value you want. See ordinarily if it didn’t need the reconditioning or if I was OK with not reconditioning it, you’d have your $17,500 deal and we could move on. But I need those things fixed. You’re a good guy, so I’ve come up a bit and my actual offer is $16,000 for it.

Say nothing. Wait for them.

The first person who talks loses.Now if Mark says yes - you paid $500 less than your goal. But you offered that anticipating he would say no (even after doing some artful framing of $15,500 being the original offer but graciously coming up to $16,000 - this stuff HELPS!)

E.g Listen, I don’t know if I would be able to do it, but if I were to somehow able to meet you halfway and come up to say $16.5…would we have a deal today?”

If Marks says yes…you can but it then and there after a brief hangup and dial back. Maybe you need to talk to your wife/husband or your friend in the auto business (*wink wink*). You have yourself a deal though and you know it.

If the sellers says no, I need $17,000 and that’s it... you may just want to sit on it for 24 hours.The seller can only go down so much in one day and you need to show that you are prepared to walk away. This is assuming you don’t want to meet his demand of course.

It is imperative that you put up a bit of a fight! You need to share your final thoughts to showcase how challenging it might be to get another $500 - $1000.

How the uncertainty exists with e.g mechanical issues, or how maybe how you can shave some costs on the reconditioning, or maybe you don’t have to detail it…share how you will keep working it and maybe come up with a little bit more of your hard earned money.

End with how the seller should expect a call from you tomorrow with an update. You may find more money for it. This increases the likelihood that the seller pick up your call because it creates hope. Remember…they’ve been trying to sell this for weeks and weeks or months! You are SO CLOSE TO AN AGREEMENT. They can see the finish line and want it behind them.Sometimes the advantage isn’t how you do something but when you do it.

PRO TIP: You MUST create fear of loss or sense of urgency (throughout the process)

E.g1 Being honest, regardless of who you sell it to, whether it is to me, or Joe Smith down the street, the most you’re going to get for it is if you sell it today, or at least this month. Because if you wait longer than that, the vehicle is just going to continue to depreciate (especially if you are still driving it).

My own family has told me that they held onto cars they were trying to sell in hopes of a higher offer. Weeks go by and a higher offer never comes.

My own brother told me he ended up accepting a few thousand less than what he would have gotten, had he accepted the original offer he got.I would just hate to see that happen to you.

Eg2 Listen Mark, I only have enough to buy one car and it is between yours (e.g 2011 Santa Fe with 120,000km) and another vehicle that, to be honest is one year older but has less km on it.

I like there’s because it has less mileage. The only reason I’m still interested in yours is because it is one year newer and I find the seats more comfortable. My wife/gf/husband/bf and I are going to decide within the next day or two, and its probably going to be whichever vehicle we think is more affordable for us. Right now they are willing to take $16,500 for it. You want $17,000. I’m basically going to buy from whoever is willing to come down the extra $500 - $1000 first.

Be personable. Do not rush through the questions. Listen to what they say. Take notes (especially if you are looking at several cars). Don’t be robotic or try to machine gun your way through this list. Take your time. Use their responses to ask more appropriate questions to their unique circumstances.....

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