Handshake on car sale

How to negotiate when buying a car

Last updated June 15, 2023

If negotiation isn’t your forte, you might feel anxious at the very thought of haggling on a car price. However, if you simply accept the first price you’re offered, you’re unlikely to be getting the best possible deal.

Negotiating a fair deal on a car is simpler than you may think – and if you’re making a sizeable purchase, your efforts could save you thousands of pounds.

In this guide, we will cover the various negotiation tactics at your disposal for driving down the price of a new car. We’ll also explain the different methods you can use to gain leverage when buying a used car, how to tell when negotiations are off the table – and the subtle art of haggling without causing offence.

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How to haggle for a new car

  • Do your homework

    As part of their job, car salespeople spend many hours poring over statistics, specifications and other minutiae for each model in their dealership’s range. This allows them to readily select selling points for any given model without dwelling on its shortcomings.

    If you arrive with little to no knowledge of the cars you’ll be viewing, you risk being blinded by science. Instead, familiarise yourself with the key features and specifications of any models that have caught your attention before meeting with a salesperson.

    This way, you’ll know when you’re being offered a good deal (and when there may still be scope for negotiation).

  • Set a definitive budget

    Take a good look at your finances to determine what you could feasibly spend on a car, then set a minimum and maximum spend.

    The same also applies if you’re planning to buy a car on finance. Set a strict monthly budget to make sure you’re not overstretching your finances. If you’re set on buying a car on a personal contract purchase (PCP) plan, you’ll also need to know how much you can set aside for a deposit (and what your monthly repayments will be).

  • Consider alternatives to part-exchanging

    Part-exchanging is a convenient option when you’re looking to get behind the wheel of a new model as quickly as possible but is unlikely to get you the best possible price for your current car.

    When evaluating your car for part-exchange, a salesperson will refer to a trade price guide (usually from Glass or cap hpi). These comprehensive guides contain values for thousands of used models, which can be adjusted to account for the car’s mileage and condition.

    However, it is important to be aware that part-exchange value is usually lower than the prices listed in consumer price guides. After all, the dealership’s aim is to maximise their profits.

    There’s a good chance you’ll get a better price by selling your car privately. Although this requires a little more legwork than selling directly to the dealer, once you have sold your car, you’ll have more cash available to put towards a new one – perhaps even enough to cover a more prestigious model!

    You could also get a great price by selling your car to a trusted car buying service such as webuyanycar. The selling process for this method is simpler, as you won’t need to advertise your car (or meet with viewers).

    Interested in selling to webuyanycar? All you need to do is get a free car valuation on our website, then make an appointment at any of our 500+ UK branches. On the day of your appointment, make sure to bring a few key documents with you – and our buyers will take care of the rest.

    There’s no obligation to sell to us, but our buyers can offer you a competitive price with minimal hassle!

  • Research car prices

    Make a note of the manufacturer-recommended prices for any models you are interested in. This information is readily available on manufacturers’ websites and in their brochures. You will need to know these figures to gauge whether you are getting a good deal.

  • Find the best deals on trims and extras

    You should also pay attention to the prices for different trim levels and optional extras. Before meeting your salesperson, decide which trim level would best suit your needs and budget – and which optional extras you can’t live without.

    Adding extras such as heated seats and parking sensors to a basic car can work out expensive. In many cases, the next trim level may offer the features you’re looking for as standard, allowing you to upgrade without spending much more.

    If you tell the salesperson that you’re keen on a particular feature, they may offer you a free spec upgrade (or drop the price for the next trim level) to sweeten the deal.

  • Take a test drive

    A salesperson’s pitch should always be taken with a grain of salt. Taking a test drive will allow you to experience a car for yourself and find out whether it really lives up to the hyperbole.

    Aside from showing all the good things a car can offer, a test drive may also reveal some points that you aren’t entirely happy with. These can be used to help you leverage a better deal if you are otherwise keen on the car.

Tips for negotiating when buying a car

  • Bring support

    If your spouse or partner will be travelling with you on a regular basis, why not ask them to accompany you to the showroom? After all, it’s better to hear their concerns now in the sales office rather than a week later in your brand-new car.

    Besides, two heads are better than one; your loved one may ask questions that you wouldn’t have thought of – and ultimately help you secure a better deal.

    Another option is to bring a family member or friend who knows about cars. They can offer insights, point out red flags, and guide you during test drives. Their knowledge can give you confidence to ask the right questions and make informed decisions. They might even help you negotiate a better deal. Having their support ensures you make a well-informed choice at the showroom.

  • Be courteous

    If you treat the salesperson with courtesy and respect throughout the negotiation, they are likely to reciprocate. Conversely, if you are rude and abrupt, they will feel less inclined to offer you a good deal.

  • Stick with one salesperson

    If you make multiple visits to a dealership, ask to meet with the same salesperson each time. This will allow you to build a rapport with them, which puts you in a good position to negotiate a favourable deal.

  • Play your cards close to your chest

    The worst thing you can do is reveal your maximum budget right away; this will only encourage the salesperson to try and sell you something near this limit.

    If you are delighted with their initial offer, try not to make this too obvious. Ask them to explain the deal in detail, whilst retaining a cool exterior.

    If you are considering buying a car with cash, don’t reveal this until you decide to buy. Car salespeople often receive manufacturer-subsidised bonuses for selling cars on finance. So, if they talk to you about finance options, give them a fair hearing – they may be able to offer you a great deal. (It might even work out cheaper than borrowing from your bank.)

  • Start low

    When negotiating with a car dealer, start by making a low offer, but show a willingness to increase it.

  • Try to meet in the middle

    If the salesperson doesn’t accept your initial offer, try raising it until you reach a figure that you’re both happy with.

  • Get the deal in writing

    Bear in mind that if a salesperson promises something verbally, there is no guarantee that this will be delivered when you purchase the car. Therefore, you should ask them to document each point of the deal (and provide you with a copy) so there can be no dispute over what was offered.

  • Think it over carefully

    Even if you’re keen on the car, ask for a day to think things over. This way, you can make the decision with a cool head, once the initial excitement has worn off. If the salesperson can see that you’re seriously considering a big purchase, they should be happy to honour your request.

    The salesperson will do everything in their power to get a sale from you, but it’s important to make sure you’re completely happy before committing. Remember, no matter how long you’ve spent in the showroom (or how many test drives you’ve taken), you’re under no obligation to buy a car.

What to check before buying a used car

  • Check whether the car has a category - and make sure important documents such as the V5C logbook and service history are available.
  • Use our MOT check tool to ensure the car has a valid MOT certificate, as it can’t be driven without one (unless it is under three years old or MOT exempt).
  • For extra reassurance, you can pay for a HPI check on the vehicle. This is an advanced background check that will tell you whether a car has ever been stolen, written off – or if it has outstanding finance.
  • Ask the seller if you can take the car for a test drive to determine whether it’s right for you.
  • It may also be worth having the car checked over by a mechanic. This could reveal a few minor issues that you can leverage to whittle down the price – or a red flag that tells you to walk away from the sale.
  • Before negotiating a price with the seller, refer to our used car checklist.

Tips for negotiating a used car price

These points can help you negotiate a discount on a used car:

  • Scratches and rust affect car value. (Bear in mind that too much rust can indicate structural issues.)
  • If the tyres are worn close to the minimum legal tyre tread depth of 1.6mm, they will not only affect the car’s performance, but will need replacing soon to keep the vehicle roadworthy.
  • An incomplete or missing service history will reduce a car’s value. (If you are determined, you may be able to piece together a missing service history yourself.)
  • Squeaky windscreen wipers are an annoyance but can be cleaned (or replaced relatively cheaply) to rectify the issue.
  • Interior mould will reduce value and should be treated to prevent further issues. This should be reflected in the price.
  • Worn or cracked seats hurt the aesthetics of a car and reduce value.
  • A car with a high mileage will usually be worth less than a lower mileage car of a similar age and condition.
  • Check whether the cambelt is beginning to wear out. (Replacement can be costly, so think carefully about whether the car is worth your money.)
  • How much petrol is in the tank? You can ask the seller to fill it for you to sweeten the deal.

Can you haggle with car dealers?

Yes, car dealers are usually keen to haggle - and it is always in your best interest to do so. Even if they can’t budge on the price of the car itself, they will often be prepared to throw in extras (e.g. heated seats, floor mats and a full tank of petrol) to help close the deal.

Should you haggle with private sellers?

Yes, haggling with a private seller can help you get the best possible deal. Most of our advice for negotiating with a salesperson also applies here (although warranties, optional extras and finance plans are usually off the table).

When negotiating with a private seller, start low with an intention to raise your offer. Try to meet the seller in the middle if they are not happy with your initial offer.

When can you not haggle on a car price?

Car dealers are almost always prepared to negotiate on price. However, some private sellers may advertise their car with a ‘no haggle’ policy. Feel free to put this to the test! However, if the seller still won’t budge, think very carefully about whether they’re offering a worthwhile deal.

How do you haggle without offending?

Be polite, courteous and make a little small talk to build a rapport with the seller. Don’t be afraid to make an offer, the worst thing that can happen is the seller will refuse it.