6 Things to Remember When Negotiating a Car Purchase
Nathan Stretch July 30, 2015

Tip 4: Check the History and Condition of the Car

Tip 4: Check the History and Condition of the Car

Negotiation aside, it is absolutely critical to get a vehicle history report and to check the vehicle’s condition before buying any used car. Don’t make a mistake that could cost you thousands of dollars and spoil all the fun of your new car. Check the history and condition of the car! No exceptions!

Be aware – many dealerships will offer to “save you money” by having their service department do a full inspection of the vehicle for free. Many of these are legitimate and will do just as good of a job as independent garages. Unfortunately some won’t, and you won’t know the difference until after the fact. So unless the car is still under the manufacturer’s warranty, I highly recommend getting an independent inspection. It’s worth it.

The great thing is that not only can inspecting the vehicle and checking on its history save you from making a huge mistake, they can also save you some money by helping you negotiate a better deal. No used car is perfect. Maybe this one is from out of state, or the brake pads are nearly worn out, or there are other minor mechanical issues. While these likely won’t change your mind about purchasing the car, they can affect its value, and the seller should recognize that.

Most articles I have read suggest doing something like this – negotiate the best possible price for the car first, then do the inspection and insist that any issues be resolved or the price be lowered accordingly. This method can work, and it may be the best way to squeeze out every cent. However, the problem with the negotiate-first technique is that you’re laying your cards on the table. Say you negotiate to buy a car for $12,500, subject to a clean inspection. The inspection comes back showing the car needs about $600 in minor repairs and maintenance, which you ask the seller to cover. Well, the seller now knows you have $12,500 to spend, and that you’re willing to buy the car for that much. You will probably have to really stick to your guns and wait them out to try for that extra $600.

To avoid this, another option is to get the history report and do the inspection before making any concrete offer on a used car. You should certainly negotiate the seller down to a range you’re comfortable with, but if possible, hold out on agreeing on an exact number. Or, if you need to talk numbers to get the seller down to a range you’re comfortable with, you can offer something like, “$18,000, minus any repairs that show up on inspection.”) This is different than offering 18k “subject to inspection”, or something like that. In the latter case, when the inspection comes back with minor issues (which they always do), the seller can claim that that level of wear is anticipated. If you’ve said all along that your price includes any repairs that will be required, you’re in a stronger bargaining position. (Much like when you mention that any offer includes all applicable fees, which it always should.) That said, if you do have the vehicle inspected before arriving at a firmly agreed price, you have to be prepared to walk away (sacrificing the cost of the inspection) if you don’t feel the seller’s best offer post-inspection is fair.

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Nathan Stretch Founder & CEO

Founder of the AutoTempest used car search engine, as well as SearchTempest.com. I do a bit of everything around here now, and may even get a chance to write some blog posts! I'm also a car enthusiast. Currently I own a 2009 911 Turbo and a 2006 Honda S2000 (which you'll likely see on the track if you follow the blog or our Youtube channel!)