In Part 1 of this series I shared some general used car buying tips that I gleaned from my own experience and reading a few articles on the topic. In this post, I get specific about how I used those general tips to get a great deal on my used minivan.
Preface: I spent several weeks looking for vehicles on AutoTrader and researching dealers on Yelp. I highly suggest you do the same before attempting to buy a car.
Goal: To get a high quality minivan from a reputable dealer at a great price.
How we bought a minivan for thousands under Kelly Blue Book
- I looked at tons of minivans for several weeks on AutoTrader and in person. If used minivans were porn I would have had a major problem… that’s how many I looked at. I drove around the area so many times I’m willing to bet that at least one dead beat dealer thought I was a private investigator.
- I walked off 20-30 lots simply because I didn’t like the salesperson’s attitude. You’d be surprised how many dealers allow their sales staff to be rude, as if you’re going to bully someone into buying something they don’t want?
- I took my eight year old with me to buy what I wanted. Paul was awesome. He ran recon with me on every car on the lot. For the price of a Coke and some Starbursts he was a valuable asset. Plus, who doesn’t love jumping in and out of vans you’re not going to buy to find what’s wrong with them?
- We waited until the end of the month. We dangled that end-of-the-month carrot in front of the sales guys face mercilessly. We weren’t even out on the street on the test drive before I brought it up. As soon as he told me he was short a few sales I dropped the price in my head another $1000.
- I did the math while I waited. There’s a lot of standing around when dealing with a dealer. In that time, I looked up the van with all of the exact specs and mileage on the KBB app. Their list price was right at KBB’s price. I knew from my research that I could go at least 20% off of their asking price and they’d still make money. So I put that number in my head. Between Evernote, my iPhone’s calculator, the KBB app, and the AutoTrader app… I had all the information I’d need.
- When we got back to the dealership I asked the salesperson to go ask his manager for the absolute lowest offer they’d accept that day. He came back with a number about 10% lower than the sticker price and started to tell me about a few details. Basically, his offer was just enough to get all of their “out the door” fees back to the asking price. He was about $2000 off the price in my head, but I didn’t let him know.
- I looked at the CarFax report. I made a mountain out of a couple molehills. But I never responded to his offer directly, just made it clear it wasn’t what I was looking for.
- Then I made Mt. Everest out of a speed bump. He said that his dealership required he run a credit check, even though I wasn’t financing through them. (I paid cash) I decided this was going to be a sticking point and used it as a distraction from the numbers game– a way for me to take the power position AND get the sale price I had in my head. The salesperson told me it was a state law that they run a credit check. (It’s not, that’s ludicrous. The form next to the application was a standard disclosure for allowing them to use/sell my credit information to marketing companies.) So I told him that this was going to be a deal breaker, it wasn’t something I was going to do and there was no room for negotiation. He came back with the manager who told me the same thing.
- And then I walked away. Literally, Paul and I stood up and thanked them for their time. We shook hands and wished them well. Then we walked out the front door and went to our car. I told Paul that I just caught them in a lie and now I’d use it to get what I wanted… a better price. We sat in the car [I never park in their parking lots, always on the street] and waited a few minutes. Then, the salesperson came out of the building, got in the minivan, and started to drive it from the new car lot to where it was on the used lot.
- The buddy move. The salesperson parked the car, locked it up, and started to walk back to the office. I caught him about 50 feet from the van and said, “Hey, what was that all about?” He softened right up, clearly annoyed he’d just lost a sale. “Look, I’m not going to do the credit thing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do this deal. It’s not a state law but probably a company policy. I know you want to do this deal and I want to see you get paid for it. If you can go print out the policy for me to read and convince your manager to sell me the car at ____, a total out-the-door price, we will have a deal.” He had worked at other dealers, knew it was just a policy, and agreed to make that happen. In other words, he took the bait.
- Read the policy. I’m not saying car salesmen aren’t smart, but they clearly aren’t familiar with policy language. When the salesperson showed me the policy in his handbook it said in 3 places that the general manager could authorize them to bypass the credit application for cash sales. So I told the manager, “It’s up to you. If you want to move this car off your inventory and you want to see your guy get a sale today, this is the phone call you’ll need to make. But if you can’t make this happen I’m gone. The exact same van is on lots at ____ and ____. Somebody is going to sell me this van in the next 2 days, I’d like it to be you.” This was all totally true. I was going to walk if I couldn’t get him to budge on this issue. And those other lots really did have the same van. I knew I had them at this point because the salesperson was standing right there. I used the buddy move to put the manager in a position where he had to make the deal happen. If he didn’t make it happen the salesperson had his boss to blame, not me. Cute, eh?
- No surprise. Three minutes later he comes back and tells me that I don’t need to do the credit check, but will need to bring in more ID to satisfy a state law that forces them to verify my identity.
- Closing time. I looked at the sales guy, “OK, so you told him the price and everything? We’re good now?” He looked at me in terror. They were on the ropes at this point– time for the knockout. “No, I didn’t get a chance to do that yet…” “I told ___ that if we could take care of the credit check thing and you’d do an out-the-door price of ____ we’d have a deal. Will you take that?” [I lowered it another $200, oops. ] He stuck out his hand and shook on it.
- Paperwork, schmaperwork. I spent the next hour doing paperwork with their secretary. Wam, bam, thank you ma’am.
- The net result. I got the #2 choice minivan I wanted for my family. The dealer moved a car that’d been on the lot for 3 months. The salesperson got a sale and will get paid Tuesday. My sale price was 22% below Kelly Blue Book for the exact spec/miles. My sale price was 49% lower than the asking price on the same minivan in 2 locations within 2 miles. My eight year old son learned the power of negotiation.