Used Car Negotiation Strategies

Car Buying, Selling Tips and Advice

Step 1: Get the Value

Before you begin negotiating, you need to determine what that used car is actually worth. offers a complete used car information center where you can research the value and specifications of virtually any used car on the market today. Here, you simply input the make, model, year, trim level, mileage and optional equipment information of the vehicle you're interested in purchasing. Then, you're provided with a detailed pricing report outlining a series of valuations, depending on the year of the car.

As you will see, the value report provides you with a range of valuations. For late model used cars, you'll receive an average trade-in value and an average retail value. For older model used cars, you'll receive a low, average and high retail value.

In the pre-owned world, a "retail" value is the valuation you want to use when determining what that pre-owned car is worth in the marketplace. A retail value is defined as the price a private party might be selling his or her used car for or the price assigned to a pre-owned vehicle at a used car lot. To be fully prepared for the negotiation process, it's important for you to research the retail value of the vehicle you're interested in purchasing from an independent third-party, such as, ahead of time. Below is a description of what each price means as outlined on the value report.

Low Retail Value: A low retail vehicle may have extensively visible wear and tear. The body may have dents and other blemishes. The buyer can expect to invest in bodywork and/or mechanical work. It is likely that the seats and carpets will have visible wear. The vehicle should be able to pass local inspection standards and be in safe running condition. Low retail vehicles usually are not found on dealer lots.

Average Retail: An average retail vehicle should be clean and without glaring defects. Tires and glass should be in good condition. The paint should match and have a good finish. The interior should have wear in relation to the age of the vehicle. Carpet and seat upholstery should be clean, and all power options should work. The mileage should be within the acceptable range for the model year. An average retail vehicle on a dealer lot may include a limited warranty or guarantee, and possibly a current safety and/or emission inspection (where applicable).

Note: Vehicles with low mileage that are in exceptionally good condition and/or include a manufacturer certification can be worth a significantly higher value than the average retail price shown.

High Retail: A high retail vehicle should be in flawless condition. All power equipment should be functional. The paint should match and have a high gloss finish. The carpet and seat upholstery should be clean and have minimal wear. The engine should start quickly and run smoothly. The tires should be like new with a spare and jack. The mileage should be significantly below the acceptable mileage range for the model year.

At this juncture, you need to assess the condition of the vehicle you're interested in purchasing and assign an initial retail value to the car based on the guidelines established by (as listed above). Obviously, the seller has already assigned a value or asking price for the car, so be sure to compare the NADA retail value to the value assigned by the seller to see exactly how far apart or how close together the two valuations are.

If you think the sellers asking price is too high based on the year, make, model, trim level, mileage, optional equipment and condition of the vehicle as compared to the book value of the car you have the information you need to begin the negotiation process.

Next, its a good idea for you to determine what similar vehicles, with similar features, are currently selling for in the marketplace. This is the second step in assigning a realistic market value to the vehicle you're interested in buying. is a great place to research the price of similar vehicles with similar features. At, the worlds largest online used car marketplace, you can find out what comparable vehicles are selling for in your local market area at any given time. This information is essential in determining whether or not the used cars asking price is, in fact, over-inflated or fair. You can also research the asking price of similar vehicles in local newspaper classified ads, circulars and flyers. In addition to determining the vehicles NADA retail value, it helps to have a working knowledge of your local marketplace and the values of comparable vehicles with comparable features in that marketplace to determine exactly what that pre-owned vehicle should be worth.

Step 2: Check the History

Before you begin the negotiation process, be sure to check the vehicles history at We offer a complete vehicle history report service powered by Experian. A vehicle history report is based on the cars VIN number (or vehicle identification number) and is essential in providing you with information about the validity of the vehicles title and mileage, as well as whether or not the car has been damaged or totaled in the past. If there are any noticeable problems with the vehicles historical information, don't be afraid to walk away from the deal. Avoid buying a lemon check the used cars history before you sign on the dotted line.

Step 3: Get an Inspection

If theres any doubt about the mechanical soundness of the used car you're interested in purchasing, have it inspected by an independent, certified mechanic ahead of time (preferably by someone you know and trust). Inspections are a common part of the used car purchasing process and if the seller seems hesitant to allow the inspection, be prepared to walk away. Don't be pressured into buying before you know if the vehicle is mechanically reliable.

Step 4: Negotiate the Deal

Now that you've done your homework and you have a good idea about that used cars market value, its time to negotiate price.

Before you enter into the negotiation process, be sure to set a realistic low offer as well as a high price limit you would feel comfortable paying for the vehicle. Remember to keep in mind your budget and your price limitations when you enter into the negotiation process and be firm about your limitations. Most private party sellers and dealers understand that negotiation is a large part of the automotive purchasing process and expect the buyer to adopt some type of bargaining tactic before signing on the dotted line.

If you've arranged financing for the vehicle ahead of time, or if you plan to pay cash for the car, let the seller know you have the finances it takes to purchase the car immediately. This will demonstrate to the seller that you're a serious customer.

Start by offering the seller your low offer. Most times, the seller will counteroffer with a higher price than your initial offer, so be prepared to work up from your starting point to reach a selling price thats acceptable for both parties.

Be patient about the negotiation process it takes time to arrive at an agreeable selling price, and be prepared to leave if you cant reach a price thats right for you. Remember, be firm about your price limitations and don't forget to be realistic about your budget. Only you know how much you can afford to spend. And don't forget to keep the negotiation process as simple as possible by negotiating the sales price first and then your trade-in price if, in fact, you're buying from a dealer and if you have a car to trade.

As we mentioned in our Certified Pre-Owned Information Center, CPO vehicles are in better condition, with less mileage and with more comprehensive warranties than standard used cars. As a result, CPO vehicles are usually more expensive. Remember this important point when it comes to the negotiation process. If the vehicle you're interested in purchasing is a certified pre-owned car, expect to pay more than a standard used car that carries no factory certification. Additionally, if you're negotiating the purchase of a hot-selling used car one thats in-demand and selling fast be prepared to pay more.

The reason is simple, if you wont buy the car at the price the seller is asking, someone else probably will. The seller is in a much better negotiating position when it comes to hot-ticket vehicles. And finally, be prepared for dealers interested in selling you additional pre-owned products and services, such as extended warranties and anti-theft devices. There are a variety of great products for your used car, but be sure you consider these items in the negotiation process so you don't overextend your budget with a variety of add-ons and related services.

Top Researched Used Cars


Free VIN search
Check current loan rates
Free dealer price quote