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How to Haggle With the Pros and Win!
Learn the Secrets of Better Bargaining.

Published 11/1/2002

Originally published 11/1/2000 - Buying a classic car is an emotional experience. Often, upon the realization of your dream, your judgement can become clouded. We fall in love, take 'mental ownership' and fear losing it to someone else. A good salesman can spot these emotions, and will cash in on them like a hungry shark.

The one aspect of buying a car that doesn't change, for new cars, exotic cars, street rods and classics alike, is the 'haggle factor'. When clients come to Buyer Services International and ask for our help in finding them a particular car, the first thing we try to do, is find them examples that closely match their specifications, then we see if it's possible to fit that car in to their budget. I'm not suggesting that we try to get them to increase the amount of money they intended to spend, but rather we attempt to haggle down the price the seller demands for the vehicle. It is this way that we often end up far exceeding our client's expectations on year, model, and condition of the vehicle that they desire to buy.

Since the beginning of time man has haggled, for food, tools and now toys! With the advent of the Internet and its round-the-clock and round-the world accessibility, it's enabled haggling to move to a whole new level.

How to haggle

Most people wouldn't dream of buying a new or used car as daily transport without trying to talk the seller down in price. So why is it, when your emotions are brought into the equation, as in seeing the car of your dreams for the first time, you go to pieces and instantly reach for the check book?

I don't care what car you are considering buying from a three thousand-dollar project to a quarter million dollar Mercedes - every cars price is negotiable! The bottom-line for you as a buyer is - what do you have to lose if it's not?

There is however a 'knack' to haggling, a way to negotiate that is both respectful and courteous. Communication is the key.

Be polite, - but never tell a seller you plan to buy something. Always ask a tentative, if-derived question. For example, "If I were to buy this car, what sort of discount could you offer me?"

Make them work for the sale, - whatever price they come back with, tell them it really isn't good enough. Tell them they will have to do better.

Explain why - The more a seller understands your position, the better your chances of getting it at, or close to the price you want to pay. Don't say you want to pay $15,000 for his car. Say you need to because of your budget. People respect needs far more than they respect wants.

Lowball - If you have a target price in mind, wait to see what price the seller asks. As much as their figure is over the amount you hope to pay, counter with an offer that is much below your target. In other words, if you hope to pay $15,000 for a car, but a seller offers $17,000, come back with $13,000. That way you're always headed toward your price, not theirs.

Think Private - Independent private sellers usually far are more willing to negotiate than large dealers are.

Haggling with the pros' - Dealers

Haggling with a solitary dealer over a car is generally a loosing battle, you see you're already at a disadvantage. They have the car you want you know that, and they know you know that. Your best defense in these situations is never to let on just how much you want the car. You can tell them that you are interested in it, but that there is another one you're looking at too. It is this threat of you taking your business elsewhere, than can truly bring a dealer to his knees. The most effective way to get a good deal on a car is to play the dealers against each other; (just try to make sure there not buddies first!)

People ask me if there are ever certain models that are so popular, that there's really no point trying to haggle on the price? Well I can tell you that with the very few exceptions, (like an autographed Ferrari in which Fangio won his last Grand Prix) there generally isn't a single car produced that it isn't worth trying to haggle down the price. You see in today's market there are just way too many dealers, brokers and private sellers trying to move the same types of cars, for any of them to really be firm on their price. If they want to sell it, they know they are going to have to be flexible.

It is 'Old-School' guerilla marketing to create hype about a product, then create illusions of shortages. The auto-makers have been using this technique to drive up the demand and prices of their products for years. Why do you think they have 'Limited' or 'Special' editions of specific cars?

The 'Snob' factor

Some dealers in high-end exotics and so-called 'heavy metal' cars like Duesenberg, Packard, Hispano-Suiza and the like, tend to try and intimidate their potential first time buyer. They make you feel very lucky, that they are very generously giving you their time and considering allowing you to purchase one of their cars. They would have you believe that people who usually buy these kinds of cars don't 'haggle', they don't need to, and if you do, then perhaps these types of cars maybe too expensive for you. That's bull, a dollar is a dollar, and rich folks didn't get wealthy being foolish with theirs!

That being said, beware of these salespeople, they are GOOD, make no mistake. Chameleons for the most part, skilled in the art of schmoozing, they can be extremely personable and easy to deal with.They are also the most likely to releive you of your money without you bearly noticing.

A large proportion of the salesman's income is provided by a commission based on the profits from their sales. The bigger the sale, the better their slice of the action (think of that when your about to buy a $150,000 Maserati) Therefore, it's essential that you plan your purchase and polish your haggling skills before you go anywhere near a showroom. DO YOUR HOMEWORK - RESEARCH! Remember that salespeople are very good at making customers fall for cars even before they reveal their cost.

Car salespeople often use all kinds of pressure and tactics to try and get a customer to 'buy it now.' The dealer knows his or her best chance to make the sale is when you are there. They will go to great lengths to give you the impression that you must buy today or else you will "lose the car" or "the deal" or some other thing - DON'T FALL FOR THIS! It just means you are in control and they are panicking. They know that once you leave their chances of selling you a car plummet. That's a fact. Car salespeople and their managers also are under tremendous pressure to move cars off their lot. If they don't sell them, they don't get paid! That's also a fact. Keep those two facts in mind and now YOU can be the one to apply pressure!

Dealers are very likely to drop their price or make a concession if they think a serious buyer is about to leave. Don't be afraid to stand up and tell them you're going to go shop. In some cases, leaving may even be necessary. Don't get me wrong. I know you have better things to do than play games with a salesperson. But, shopping around or simply being patient while they drop their price may save you a thousands of dollars. That may be worth it to you.

Now sometimes a salesperson may play a little hardball. They are counting on one thing: that your emotional desires to own the car override your logic and willpower. It is in this area that they have an important advantage. So:

  • First, try to put some time between test driving the car and negotiating. Remember when I said the dealer is most likely to make a concession if he thinks you are about to leave? Well you are most likely to make a concession right after spending time in or around the car. Go to lunch, walk the lot, use the bathroom, anything. Just don't jump out of the new car and into the negotiation.
  • Second, try not to show your 'hot buttons.' Hot buttons are the things that excite or concern you most about the purchase. If the salesperson knows that you love blue, promised yourself this exact car for your 40th birthday, or wanted a fully restored example, you think they will use that to play on your emotions? You bet they will! But they can't push your hot buttons if they don't know what they are.
  • Third, try to put a dollar value on your emotions. I know this may sound silly, but try. For instance, you've finally found the red convertible with leather interior that you've been searching for and dreaming about for years now. It's the last one in the country as far as you are concerned, and you are $1000 off your target price. You may want to take it. But if you're $5000 off, perhaps some patience will pay off.
  • Lastly, remember that there will ALWAYS be another car, another sale and another love affair. Sometimes you are simply better off to pass on the deal.

    Jeff Webster
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