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

Guestpost by Josh on Aug 3rd
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 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.

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About Josh

After escaping the suck of the retail automotive industry, Josh has repented of his sins and has now vowed to restore consumer confidence in auto buying by providing no-bullshit answers to your questions from the dealer's point of view.