by Andrew Rohrlich

In today’s used car market, finding a good deal requires you to know how to negotiate the right price from the seller. For many people, the process can be nerve-wracking: you have to search through the market, do a pre-purchase inspection, determine sales tax and financing options, and seek a fair price.

Previously, people mostly preferred in-person negotiations when buying or selling used cars. But with the rise of digital platforms, online negotiations have become more prevalent in almost every industry, including the used car market.

When buying a car from a private seller, having a few negotiation tips on hand can make the process a breeze. With a bit of preparation, you can have the ball in your court throughout the price negotiation journey and save a lot of money.

This post includes a step-by-step explanation for all first-time car buyers to help you enter the market well-prepared.

Determining the Market Value Price of the Car

Many car buyers think it’s the seller’s responsibility to determine and quote the market price of a car. While that’s mostly the case, you should do some homework on the market value of the used vehicle you’re interested in. Doing so will help you prepare for the negotiation and may get you a lower price.

Check the Kelley Blue Book Value

You need vital information about the market value, demand, and price of your desired car to lay the foundation of your negotiation. You can use pricing guides to determine a car’s current market price range, which is the price buyers have paid for the same model with similar attributes. These guides discuss all the factors that decide a car’s market price, such as mileage, condition, and transmission type.

Kelley Blue Book is one of the most trusted used car pricing guides. Alternatively, you can use Edmunds, another popular option.

Research the Current Market

Expand your market research by exploring marketplaces and listing sites to see what people are saying about the model you’re interested in.

Many used car websites offer detailed car reviews, comprehensive, searchable listings, and buyer guides to help you understand the current market rates. Some of the most popular private party used car online marketplaces include:

eBay Motors—best for finding fixed-value postings and antique cars—offers “refined search criteria” depending upon the vehicle’s distance, odometer mileage, make, model, and year

Facebook Marketplace—allows searching and posting car listings

Tips for Handling the Negotiation Process With Private Sellers

Once you've learned everything about the car you're interested in, remember these tips to handle the negotiation process without breaking a sweat:

Set Your Price Range in Advance

Gather your research on the following key points to consider for your negotiation: the vehicle's mileage, its minimum and maximum possible book value, history, previous owners, and repair records. Then set your custom price range before negotiating.

You can start the bottom end of your range with a lower price estimate of the car's current market value. For example, if a car has a market value of $25,000, you can start your negotiation at $23,000 or $22,000. Avoid going too much lower than the market value, as it may offend the person selling their car.

Ask About Mechanical Issues and Maintenance Records

The rule of thumb when buying a used car is to check its vehicle history report beforehand. This report includes all the necessary factors that determine the car’s price and value in the market. A few elements of the vehicle history report include:

• The previous owners of a car

• Accident history

• Whether the car has been stolen

• Repair records

• Mileage

• Cosmetic issues

• Recalls on the vehicle

• Reason(s) for selling the car

• Salvage title

If you notice any missing information in the report when it comes to maintenance records and mechanical concerns, you should ask the seller to provide this separately.

You can get the vehicle history report on Carfax andAutoCheck by entering the vehicle identification number (VIN). Find it near the car’s windshield toward the driver’s side dashboard. It is also available on many online listings posted by private sellers.

Doing so can help you determine whether a vehicle is worth buying for a given price based on its current condition. If a seller hesitates to provide authentic details about the car, you should look for a different party.

Use Cosmetic Issues To Bargain

Finding cosmetic issues on a vehicle and mentioning them during the negotiations is a great way to lower the price. When used correctly, these issues can be a real game-changer.

Even though cosmetic issues don’t directly affect a car's performance, they can still affect its overall value. Cosmetic issues can be used as a bargaining chip, no matter how minute they seem.  

Inspect the vehicle on your own or ask a professional mechanic to do it on your behalf.  If you’re buying a used car online, you can look at photos or, if you want more detail, connect with the seller via video call and see the car’s condition on your own. Sellers on reputable online marketplaces (like those listed above) usually accommodate buyers in this regard.

By being specific about repairs you’ll need to cover after the sale, you can better convince the seller that it’s fair to lower the price of the car.

How To Make an Offer and Get the Lowest Price

Here are some steps that may help you in your conversation when negotiating:

Open With Your Starting Price

Consider whether you want to hear the seller's starting price or offer yours first. The full discussion will hinge on this starting price.

You may want to let the private seller give the opening offer, as it could be less than what you had in mind.  You can also prompt them to start with their best price.

However, if you would prefer to start with your offer, or the seller asks directly for your desired price, you can open closer to the bottom of your range, which can be a good way to anchor the negotiation in your favor. After putting your offer forward, don’t make any changes to your number. Instead, wait for the seller to make a counteroffer.

Make a Counter Offer

Since you’ve already researched what the car is worth, you have an idea about the price that should close the deal.

If the seller makes a counter offer and it’s very high, you can humbly indicate that you’re exiting the negotiation. This could recalibrate the conversation and take it toward a better offer.

If you reach a deadlock with the private seller, you can simply leave your contact number with them or tell them that you will need some time to consider your other options. This could persuade them to consider your offer once some time has passed.

If it’s in your hands to make a counter offer, use all of the information you’ve gathered to make an offer that’s fair but biases back in your favor.

Finalize the Details

If the seller agrees to your price or vice versa, it’s time for you to get everything documented and finalized. You should sign a sales contract and complete the necessary paperwork to take legal ownership of the vehicle.

Buying from a private seller requires you to take care of the paperwork on your own. You’ll need to gather the legal documents you need to transfer ownership and register the car under your name.

Once you submit proper paperwork to the DMV, your car can be registered, and you’ll become its new owner.

This article was written by Andrew Rohrlich. As a brand and product marketing expert, Andrew Rohrlich has crafted products, experiences and communications for household names like Gap and for multiple automotive technology businesses. For nearly a decade Andrew has studied automotive retail in depth from a customer point of view and aggregated the industry’s best research, thought leadership and know how to provide credible and important information to auto shoppers and sellers.

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