How to negotiate car price with a private owner

Few people enjoy negotiating with another person over the price of something. The whole idea of buying a car using the Internet or at a one-price car lot makes most people more comfortable because they are not required to negotiate face-to-face. However, with a little patience, practice and persuasion, you can buy a used car from a private owner and negotiate exactly the price that you want to pay. And nobody will be angry afterward.

Do your research. As with buying a new car, you should research what kind of car you want and what features you are interested in before you ever look at a car. While researching, find out what other owners in your area are asking for the car you have in mind. This will help you in the negotiations.

Decide on a budget. Know exactly how much you have to spend on the car. You need to know the highest price that you are willing to pay so that you will be able to begin the negotiations low enough to get the price you want.

Get your mechanic's opinion. Unless you routinely fix your own car, get your mechanic to look at all the cars you are considering. Your mechanic can help you in two ways. First, the mechanic can tell you about hidden problems with the car. He can also tell you what may need to be fixed in the short term. Anything that needs to be fixed immediately can help you negotiate a lower price for the car from the owner.

Pay cash. Many private owners will not accept personal checks. While you can get a cashier's check, this often entails an additional fee. Paying with cash is the simplest and easiest way to buy a used car from a private owner.

Bring a friend along with you, if you are unfamiliar with negotiating or are nervous. However, be aware that gender roles can play a part in the negotiations. For example, if the car owner is male and you are female, the owner may start to negotiate the price of the car with the male friend you brought with you. Make sure the owner knows who is buying the car and who is negotiating the price.

Get a sense of whether the owner is open to negotiating. Some private owners list their asking price in their advertisements and will not vary from that price. However, most private owners are willing to make adjustments. The best way to get the price you want on the car you want is to create a win-win scenario. Ask the owner to tell you about the car. Allow the owner to show you around and point out the car's features. Try to find out why the owner is selling the car. Show respect for the owner by moving at the owner's pace in the negotiations.

Ask if the price is negotiable, once you know a few more things about the car. You are hoping that the owner will say it is and that you should make an offer. This means that the owner understands that the final price will not be the amount listed in the ad, but the price that you negotiate together.

Start low enough. The trick in a price negotiation is to start at the right level. If your starting price is too high, you might not be able to end at the price you want to pay. For example, if the highest price you want to pay is £2,275, begin the negotiation at £1,820 or £1,950. Do not insult the owner with an opening price that is too low, but don't start so high that the final price will be over your budget.

Move up slowly. Once you have made your opening bid, the owner will almost certainly make a counter offer. The trick here is not to move up your price too quickly. If you are familiar with negotiating, move up £65 at each counter offer. If you are not familiar or comfortable with negotiating, start with £32 per offer until you can agree on a price with the owner.

Know how much room there is for negotiation. For example, if your opening offer was £1,950 and the owner countered with £2,275, you know that there is just £325 difference in your prices. If your budget was £2,275, your counter offer might be that you and the owner "split the difference" between your asking prices and settle at £2,112. This way, you will be happy because you spent less than your budget, and the owner will be happy because you are paying more than your initial offer.

Watch for warning signals. A difference in price of more than £650 could be a warning sign that either the owner does not really want to negotiate or that the owner wants more for the car than you are willing to pay. At this point, you can bring up any repairs that your mechanic thinks you need to make immediately. You can also show the owner the "Kelley Blue Book" price for the car or the prices that other owners are asking for similar cars in your area. Be polite, but firm, about the information you are providing. You should not argue with the owner over the price.

Listen to the owner, once you have explained about any repairs that are needed or what other owners are asking for a similar vehicle. Some owners may lower their asking price based on the information you have provided. Others may imply that you are trying to cheat them. A few owners may even act hurt that you are offering such a low price for the vehicle. Do not become emotional, no matter what the owner says. If you really want the car, make another offer that is £65 or £130 more than your last offer but still within your budget. Wait to hear the owner's counter offer before you give up on the deal.

Make your highest offer one last time. Make sure that the owner understands that this is your final offer. Then, if you are still interested in the car, give your telephone number to the owner. Ask the owner to reconsider your offer or sleep on it and call you if she's willing to sell.

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About the Author

Heather Z. Hutchins is a freelance writer with 15 years of experience. She has earned both a Master of Arts degree and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and began professional life as an English teacher. In her freelance career, she's learned how to interview subject matter experts (doctors, lawyers, engineers and programmers) of every type and tell their stories.