1. Research the car you want and then research the dealerships that have that particular car in their inventory. Sites like www.cars.com will allow you to search for used cars by price, mileage, distance from your home, etc. Ideally, you want to have at least three very similar cars in mind when you finally visit a car lot. If you don’t like the deal at one dealership, just drive down to the next dealer.
  2. The highest level of depreciation occurs in the first two years after a car has been purchased. Asking prices for two year old cars can be 30-40 percent off the original list price of the car depending on the make-model. Look for a car with low mileage and still covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. Be sure to ask about prior ownership and be sure to ask if the vehicle was a rental car. Rental cars are not typically well cared for and their value is usually well below market value because of that.
  3. If you want the best price, do not let the seller know how much you like the car.  Instead of pointing out all the things you like about the car, point out all the things you do NOT like about the car. Take a test drive and again be sure to point out all noises and obvious problems with the vehicle whether small or large. Make sure you question everything.
  4. Negotiate the price, not the payments. If you focus on the payments, you could end up with a more expensive car than you want, longer payment terms than you want, a higher interest rate than you want or products that you don’t need or want such as “personal assistant”, “environmental package”, “etch”, “key care”, “ pro-pack” or “credit life” just to name a few.
  5. When making an offer, act like you’ve researched the average price for the vehicle (hopefully you have) and then make an offer that is roughly 15% less than the asking price. If the asking price is much higher than what the vehicle is worth, then start lower! If the salesperson turns you down, wait for them to make a counteroffer. Do not try and justify your offer. Wait in silence until they respond. If he plays hardball and the price isn’t a good deal, move on to the next car or the next car dealer. If you are buying a car from a private seller, ask the seller what he or she needs to get out of the car which is different from asking the price.
  6. Dealer arranged financing may not be your best rate. If you know the car you want and the approximate cost, call your local bank or credit union to check rates. If you think the dealer has offered you a competitive rate ask them what the “buy rate” is. The buy rate is the lowest interest rate the buyer qualifies for. If the dealer won’t show or tell you what it is, then you are probably paying a higher interest rate than you have to.
  7. Stay in control. Don’t sign a blank contract. Run, don’t walk, when a car dealer asks you to sign multiple versions of your sales paperwork. Ask to see and have explained every piece of paper you are asked to sign. Keep your car keys with you at all times so you can walk out at any time.
  8. Get every dealer promise in writing. Nothing counts if it is not in writing and make sure it is signed by the sales person or car dealer. If they say they will put new tires on the car or fix a check engine light, make them write it down, and then sign and date it. If they give you a “we owe” slip, make them sign and date it. If they say you’ll get a 6 month warranty, then get it in writing.
  9. Don’t sign an arbitration agreement. An arbitration clause kills your right to go to Court no matter what the car dealer does to you. If the car dealer is afraid to let you go to court, then you should be afraid of the car dealer.
  10. Remember, there is NO three-day right to cancel unless the dealer writes it down on the sales contract. Before you sign anything, ask about the dealer’s return policy and get it in writing so you don’t waste your money.


If you have a problem with the used car or truck that you purchased, we have the solution.

Additional Resources

There are lots of sources for advice about buying and leasing motor vehicles on the internet. Here’s a few things to watch out for so you don’t waste your time or your money.

The negative equity car dealer scam explained.
The problem with arbitration
The window etching theft protection ripoff
Laundered lemon cars – it can happen to you
A car dealer’s dictionary of slang terms and their meanings
Are you a victim of fraud?
50 state lemon laws explained
How to write your own lemon law complaint letter.