Successfully negotiating a good deal at the used car dealership is as much about what you do ahead of time as it is executing at the lot. Show up armed with research and a fair price that you won't exceed, and execute your negotiation with discipline and commitment.
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Prepare a Number in Advance
You are in the best position to negotiate when you research the vehicle you want before going to the lot. Most dealers have websites where you can search used car inventory and pricing. Kelley Blue Book also offers search tools to gauge fair market value in your area based on the condition of the used car and the mileage. Get in mind a number that reflects the car's value and your budget, but one that's enticing enough that the dealer engages you.
Keep the Ball in Your Court
A common strategy of dealers is to pull you in their direction as you go back and forth on a price. If you offer $12,500, the sales manager might come back with $15,500, for instance. His next offer may be $15,201. Leave a bit of wiggle room in your initial offer to allow you to go up in small increments on counteroffers. With this approach, you have a better chance to send a clear message that your initial offer was serious and you don't plan to budge much.
Take It or Leave It
A more aggressive approach if you can stick to it is to make one offer and not negotiate at all. Dealers want to sell cars and a reasonable upfront offer and patience may earn you a sweet deal. Do your research and prepare your offer in the same way, but know going in it is a "take it or leave it" position. You may have to walk away on the initial visit if the sales managers is stubborn. However, following up late on a Saturday or Sunday night or at the end of the month when dealers need to hit quotas and bonuses may yield the result you want.
Let Them Know You Aren't Desperate
In most negotiations, the "winner" is the one who is the most desperate or who cracks first. Therefore, the only way to ensure success is to go car shopping when you know you can walk away. This approach helps you avoid impulsive tactics that get away from your disciplined plan. Car salespeople are trained to invite offers. Let your sales representative know up front that you have interest in a purchase at the right price, but you aren't in a rush. Then, back up your point with your offer and follow-up techniques. Be prepared to walk away and look for a good deal at one of the many dealerships in or near most cities.