How to haggle: buy your next car for less

Buying Guides

Tough times over the last couple of years have turned us into a nation of hagglers, writes Ray Castle of But selling a car is one place where the art of bargaining has long reaped dividends for buyers.

Whether it’s a new motor or a used one, few vehicles change hands for the asking price. That said, plenty of us still feel nervous about asking for a better deal. A poll showed that one in three buyers hated haggling and one in 10 felt too nervous even to attempt it.

But even if it doesn’t come naturally, requesting a price cut on a car is something we all need to learn. Because to fight shy means losing out on discounts worth hundreds, even thousands of pounds. Haggling successfully needs common sense, research and determination, but no other special skills. Here are the main points to bear in mind:

Don’t ask the impossible

Some sellers operate a fixed-price, no-haggle policy. The price advertised in what you’ll pay. It almost goes without saying that asking them for a discount is a waste of breath. Fords of Winsford, a Cheshire car supermarket that has 1500 used and new cars for sale, operates a ‘what you see is what you pay’ policy, regardless of whether your budget is £4000 or £20,000. Similarly, this business makes a fixed bid for your old car, which is good as a trade-in figure on whatever you buy.

Similarly, some new cars are in such demand that dealers can sell every one they get. So they won’t discount. Fiat 500s and BMW Minis fall into this category.

Do your homework

Look at plenty of cars and a variety of different sellers before you take the leap to buy. That way you can build up a detailed picture of what the vehicle you want and what it should cost. If friends, work colleagues or relatives have just bought cars, ask what they paid and how much they saved on the sticker price.

Learn about ‘cost to change’

This put simply, is the difference between what you are offered for your old car and the price of the one you want. Focus on this. Some dealers bid a low amount for your current car and then discount the price for your new one; others offer a good price for your part-ex but won’t drop the price of the new one. To compare one type of deal with another, knowing the ‘cost to change’ is vital.

Don’t waste time... launching into negotiations while you’re still unsure about buying. Experienced sales people will soon spot what’s happening, call your bluff and politely request that you come back once you’ve made your mind up.


...don’t be pressured into buying. If the sales person offers a ‘special deal, only for today,’ don’t feel you must buy immediately. Our bet is that the deal will be as good, perhaps better, if you leave it and return later.

Before you start haggling

Decide what you can afford and stick to that figure. If you want extras – optional equipment, an extended warranty, floor mats – get these added in first. And don’t forget road tax. Decide that you’ll keep the conversation polite – and pleasant. Although you and seller may not agree over price, it’s not personal: it’s just you protecting your interests and them doing their job.

Finally. Always remember that it’s your money to spend – and that means you are in charge. Don’t agree to buy unless you are happy with the deal. Never be afraid to walk away – there’ll always be another car and another sale.

Let the bargaining begin

Say that you’re ready to buy but not at the advertised price. The seller will doubtless respond by asking what you expect to pay. At this point, you can either name a price or turn the question back on the seller by asking him or her for the lowest price.

A tip here: the seller may, if he’s a pro, bat the question back and then go quiet. Don’t feel you have to fill the silence by naming a figure. Eventually one of you must break the deadlock. If it’s you, go sensibly below what you expect to pay.

Expect the seller to come back with a price drop – but a far smaller one than you’re suggesting. If it goes to plan, you’ll agree on a price somewhere in the middle.

If the sales person says ‘I must just go see my boss to see what your best offer will be’, insist that you both go and see him or her together. That way, you stay in charge of the deal.

If you think that there’s further to go...

But the sales person won’t budge, say thank you, good-bye and leave. If they let you go without offering a final bid, it’s a sign that you’ve got all they have to give. Don’t worry about returning later to accept their offer. You won’t lose face and the seller will be pleased to see you. It’s business and not personal.

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