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With dozens of online tools and apps available to car buyers, finding a new car is easier than ever. But all the tools in the world can’t negotiate a great deal for you. If you’re going to find a good car at a good price, you need to be prepared before ever stepping foot onto a car lot.

Getting a great deal on a used car is part science and part art. Finding a car you’re interested in is only the beginning of the process. Not only do you need to know what you want, but you also need to have the tools and knowledge to get it at a great price. That’s why we’ve put together this step-by-step guide to help you get a great deal on a used car.

Resource: How to Buy Your First Car

Deciding on a Used Car

Step 1) Find Your Price Point

Before you even think about what type of used car you want to buy, you need to consider how much you’re willing to spend. If your budget is only $8,000, you probably shouldn’t be looking for a used Cadillac Escalade. You’re just wasting your time. Instead, set a budget and search for cars that will realistically fall into that price point. Remember, purchasing a car is just the first cost. You’ll have ongoing expenses – like insurance, maintenance, and future repairs – that you need to keep in mind, as well.

Step 2) Make a List of Targets

Once you’ve selected your budget, it is time to start doing a little research. Using online tools like Cars.com and CarMax, find cars that line up with your selected price point. Make a list of makes and models within your budget that you want to target so that you can search for them in your own area.

Step 3) Scope Out the Reviews

Now’s the time to narrow down your car search even more. The Car and Driver Buyers Guide App can help you compare reviews for almost any new or used car on the market. You can even save your target models in your own “virtual garage” so that you can go back to review them later. Additionally, you can find more great information at AAA. Their “Auto Buying Tools App” is a nice resource for reviews, pricing, and safety ratings.

Step 4) Search for Used Cars in Your Area

After you’ve zeroed in on the type of car you want, it’s time to find some used cars that are actually for sale. Several different online tools can help you search for cars by make, model, and distance from your home. However, the “Auto Trader On the Go” mobile app uses GPS to help you find where your favorite cars are located in your area. Once you arrive on the lot, you can also use the app to scan the VIN barcode and find other similar models for sale near your location. If you don’t mind traveling, you can expand your search by shopping on eBay. They have a hefty selection of both new and used vehicles for sale.

Negotiating the Deal

Step 5) Bring Someone with You

With you all your prep work complete, it is time to head to the dealership. But, don’t go by yourself! One of the best things you can do to negotiate a great deal is to bring somebody with you. Use your friend (or spouse) strategically and let them play the bad cop. Having them around to say things like,”That doesn’t sound like a good deal for you,” can be invaluable once you start negotiating on price.

Step 6) Check What Others are Paying

Just because you are at the dealership doesn’t mean you have to stop using your car buying tools. Using the TrueCar mobile app can help you get a sense of what cars have been selling for on this particular lot. Once you’ve entered a TrueCar certified lot, simply turn on the app to see the exact prices recently paid by others at that dealership. You can also use the app to scan your target car’s window sticker to receive the dealer’s actual “upfront pricing.”

Step 7) Make the Salesman Give the First Price

Remember that, during negotiations, he who speaks first loses. If you can, always make the salesman spout out the first price. It is definitely going to be lower than the sticker price, and you can start your negotiations from there – ultimately saving you more money. A good place to counter is about 30% below the quoted price – or the sticker price if you can’t get them to speak first.

Step 8) Leave the Lot

If you’ve ever negotiated a car purchase at the dealership, you know part of the process is them walking away from the table to “run the numbers” and “ask their boss” about pricing. This is a great way for them to get you to invest a lot of time at the dealership, increasing the chances that you’ll agree to a deal. Don’t do it. Take back the power by refusing to negotiate on premises. Give them your cell phone number and leave the lot. You want to put the pressure on them to call you with a better deal…and they almost certainly will. Salesmen know that if you leave, you probably won’t come back. They make their living on commission, so they definitely don’t want you to buy from somebody else. In order to get you to come back, they’ll have to make you an offer that is tempting.

Step 9) Reference a Pricing Guide

When it comes down to it, you want to make sure that you’re getting a good deal on a used car. If the seller refuses to come down in price, make sure you are prepared to provide proof of what others think the car is worth. Quoting from respected sources like Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds are a great way to get a seller to budge.

Step 10) Find Out What the Processing Fees Are

Before you close a deal, don’t forget to inquire about the dreaded processing fees. These fees generally range from $100-$400 and can vary greatly from one dealership to another. Ask what they are, shop them around, and see if you can negotiate a better deal.

Step 11) Sleep On It

As with any major purchase, you should always sleep on it. Never spend this much money without thinking it through first. The last thing you want to do is make an impulse purchase which costs you thousands of dollars. Besides that, the longer you wait, the more the seller will feel like the deal is going to fall through. Use time as leverage to get a better price.

Step 12) Offer Cash

Besides the fact that you should always pay cash for cars, offering a cash purchase can usually score you a nice discount. When you’re getting close to closing the deal, ask the salesman if they’ll give you a discount for paying cash. Chances are good that they will.

Step 13) Be Willing to Walk Away

Remember, it is your money. You have the power to make the decision. If you can’t negotiate a price you want, be prepared to walk away from the deal. You’ll be able to find another car elsewhere.

Step 14) Close the Deal

You’ve done your research. You’ve compared prices. You’ve negotiated hard to get a price you want. Now, it’s time to close the deal. Bring your cash (or certified check) with you, review the documents, and sign on the dotted line. Congratulations! You just got a great deal on a used car.

Wrapping It Up

Buying a used car should be fun, not a hassle. Remember to do your research, negotiate from a position of power, and be willing to walk away. Following the steps outlined above can be the “key” to finding a used car at the price you deserve.

Next Steps

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Author Bio

Total Articles: 24
Greg Johnson is a writer and entrepreneur who leveraged his online business to quit his 9-5 job, spend more time with his family, and travel the world. As a money nerd, he focuses most of his writing on topics that relate to budgeting, frugality, and investing. With his wife Holly, Greg co-owns two websites – Club Thrifty and Travel Blue Book. Find him on Pinterest and Twitter @ClubThrifty.

Article comments


You make a great argument for knowing your price point. It can be really easy to let your emotions get the better of you while shopping for a car. Therefore, you need to realize what kind of cars will be out of your budget; and, if they are in your budget, what are some of their potential problems? Cost of ownership, as you mentioned, is a big factor to keep in mind as well for used vehicles.

Bob Lowe says:

Thank you for posting this. I agree with step one. I think a lot of first time car buyers make lots of mistakes. I think they let their emotions get the better of them and they tend to spend more than they can afford. It is so important that you find out what you can afford and stick to that no matter how good that mustang looks.

I’ve been saving up for a car for a very long time now. There is a lot that goes into buying one and its hard to know what to look for. This article has some great points on this and I hope that I can find a good car that will get me to work everyday.

Ashley Turns says:

My husband and I have decided to start looking at used car sales to find a great vehicle for us to buy. So I like your advice to consult with a pricing guide so that you may be able to bring the price down. Before we start looking at used car sales, we’ll first check out what some pricing guides have to say.