How to get a new pre-owned car in your garage — without being an asshole

August 3 | Guest post by Josh
Broken Down Car, Cuba
Photo by Chris Gold. Used under Creative Commons license.

So… it's time. The car you're currently driving is falling apart or doesn't have enough room for your growing family, and it's time to — gasp! — buy a vehicle. I know what you're already thinking: "I hate shopping for cars. I don't know the first thing about it. I better figure out how."

What's the next step? INTERWEBS, you think. THE INTERWEBS KNOWS ALL.

How convenient! Not only does the internet have cute videos of puppies playing with ducks and the latest on Lindsay Lohan's rehab, but it has all this awesome advice from former "car guys" on how to not get royally fucked while buying a car! No Slick Rick car salesman is going to pull the wool over your eyes — you're John Q. Awesome now!

You're just about to head into the dealership with your well-researched portfolio of what to say and what not to reveal (the popular online advice would tell you not to reveal things like budget or even purchase timeframe), but let me stop you right there. You're already well on your way to being an asshole.

Let me first say, there's nothing wrong with doing some research before you head to the dealer. Things like the reliability of the car you're considering, the approximate market values, maybe the Yelp review of the dealer you're considering — those are definitely things you want to take into account. But those articles that claim they'll help you "not get taken for a ride" — IGNORE. You're smarter than that. If you've done your research, you already know what kind of dealer you plan on doing business with.

How, then, should you go about this process? Here are some things to know:

Bob Peck Chevrolet, Arlington, VA
Photo by Alden Jewell. Used under Creative Commons license.
  1. Make sure you're dealing with a reputable dealer. There are ways to know who is reputable or not. A peer-reviewed website like the aforementioned Yelp.com would be a great place to start. Local publications are also useful. A good number of positive reviews are a good sign. Also look for community involvement — a good dealer has a business and a name to protect.
  2. You aren't stuck with the guy who says hi in the parking lot. Weirded out by the guy who "upped" you in the lot? Feel like the vultures are descending? Ask for the sales manager. Let him or her know what you're looking for, and he/she will probably place you with the salesperson who either a) has a personality most like yours, or b) knows the most about the kind of car you're looking for. It's in their best interest to sell a car, and their best chance is to find someone knowledgeable who you get along with.
  3. Be personable. Of course your salesperson wants you to buy a vehicle — that's how they get paid. But that doesn't mean you have to act standoffish. You both have the same end goal in mind. Would you be a complete asshole on a first date? Of course not.
  4. Find your dream car. You deserve to have what you want. Pre-owned cars are basically like hamburgers, and that salesperson is like a short-order cook. Order whatever you want!
  5. THAT IS NOT YOUR DREAM CAR. #4 was a fucking trick. Unless you're buying James Dean's Porsche or the last remaining Ferrari, you don't need that exact car. Pre-owned cars are each unique from the year, color, and options, to mileage and number of owners. Concentrate on what is important.
  6. Care about the important stuff. Unless this is the last car you're ever buying for the rest of your life, there are a few things to consider. How long will you be keeping this car? Is it practical for your climate? What does the vehicle history look like (sidenote: Always ask for a vehicle history report!) What does the resale value look like? Does it have a good service history? Does it have any service history? What was done on the car in order to bring it to saleable condition?
  7. NEGOTIATE. Ooh, the scary part. By this time you've already seen the history report, service records, driven the car, and decided you like it. Awesome. The first question to ask the salesperson is how long the vehicle has been on the lot. Sometimes you can tell by the stock number. Check out other stock numbers of pre-owned vehicles on the lot. Is the one on yours significantly higher/lower than the others? Another important bit of information to know is how much room there is to negotiate. Typically, a pre-owned vehicle is "marked up" anywhere from $2,000-$5,000. If it's older, it may only be marked up a few hundred bucks. Don't get greedy and ask for more than is reasonable. Market value of the vehicle has already been determined by the market.

Congratulations, pre-owned vehicle purchaser. You made it. You were a nice person and got a great car for a decent value. You weren't an asshole, either. Remember: knowledge is power, and thinking you know everything is the fastest way to become an asshole.

  1. My dad owns and I manage his used car lot… real classy hu? Really though, we like when people are up front with what you can afford and what you want. We might have a car coming in that is not there yet that might make you happier.

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  2. Once you find the used guy (car guy) you like…keep him…follow him. I have bought 3 cars from the same sales person, from two different dealerships. He "took my order" and searched or kept me abreast of vehicle that had not even made it to the lot yet from trade-ins. I drove the cars before they were even washed or dolled up. Tell Cat Rocketship to keep with scooters!

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    • Joe, I have a feeling you'd call and personally berate me if I got a new scoot.

      JOSH! I love this. I've never had to buy a car and I dread the day I do — but this made my dread bringing home a new car so much less.

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  3. Another tip! Make sure you know if the used car you're looking at has a rebuilt title (i.e. – it was in a serious enough accident that the insurance company declared it to be a total loss and sold it to someone as a salvage vehicle to fix). I own one and if it hadn't been such a good deal since it was only a few years old with not many miles on it, it wouldn't have been worth it because of the cost of insurance! Luckily it runs great but I'll probably never be able to resell it.

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    • Great point. Vehicle history reports are ALWAYS necessary when purchasing a car, so you know what you are getting. CARFAX and AutoCheck are two very great resources dealers use when taking in a trade or purchasing a vehicle at auction. Both are available for the public.

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  4. One thing my father taught me when looking for a used vehicle – always look under the driver's seat. Especially when you are not buying at a company. The people will clean every inch of their car and polish, vacuum, … – but most of them forget to clean under the seat, and that space will tell you how good they have been to their car. ^^

    (And if you are selling a car, clean under the seats!)

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    • Great point, Diandra. Also, a great barometer (when purchasing a car from a private party) is to check out the engine. It's VERY easy to see who has taken the time to take care of their vehicle based on how often the hood has been opened. When you are under the hood, you can also check the screws that hold the fenders to the body. If they've been turned since it left the factory, that car has been in a front end collision and has had fenders replaced or worked on.

      Long story short, you don't need to be a mechanic to check things out under the hood!

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  5. Also remember they made more than one of your car, and lots of people have them for sale. If a dealer is treating you poorly, find the car at another location!

    I researched and knew exactly what car I wanted. I found a big franchise lot that had one for sale, and they treated me so disrespectfully that I literally left crying. I went to a smaller, family-owned dealer where I was treated with honesty and care, and got a nicer version of the same car. (Both locations were new Chevy dealers trying to sell Toyotas that had been traded in.)

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    • My parents had the same thing happen to them, Alissa. Not all franchise lots are bad people, but don't be afraid to leave a dealership and search for your car at a different place. In fact, share your bad experience with their 'competition'…it'll ensure you are treated the way you deserve to be treated.

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  6. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! As a person who works in sales (not car sales, but still), this is my new favorite article. You don't have to be a dick to not get ripped off. In reality there are two people in the world who care what you want right now and you're rapidly pissing one of them off by treating them like scum.

    I think sometimes people forget, when they look at a salesperson, just how much they love buying things. I need to sell stuff; it's my job. You want to buy stuff, that's why you're here. Please don't make my life miserable while we try to work this out!

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  7. As a small tip that most people don't know about (I just found out from my future hubby who is a mechanic) you can ask the dealer if you can bring the car to a local automotive shop to have a pre-purchase inspection. Basically, it's a free inspection in which the shop will look over the car from top to bottom to alert you of any important things that may be wrong with it. Plus, being that it's separate from the dealer, it's a unbiased inspection.

    Just make sure that the shop you bring it to is reputable. =)

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