Bidding on a Used Car

May 29

Deciding to buy a used car can be a stressful process, and when it comes to haggling over a price, it pays (literally) to know exactly what you want, what you’re willing to pay, and what you’re getting.

So suppose you’re on a bit of a retro kick and see a snazzy silver 2001 Volkswagen Beetle parked on the side of the road with a $6,000 “For Sale” sign.  Should you follow your inner flower-child, dial up the number, and buy it?

The Right CarHold your horses, you damn dirty hippie!  It’s time to do a little price comparison.  So put down that oregano you’ve been smokin’, take the daffodils out of your hair, and get to work!  Write down the car’s make, model, year, and mileage.  Get the car’s “Vehicle Identification Number” (VIN), which will be visible on the left edge of the vehicle’s dashboard. It’s important to obtain all of this information, because you are going to be using it to compare the car you are considering with similar ones on the market.

Once you’ve exercised your inner creepster by peering into the cars windows and collecting all of the information you need, it’s time to find yourself a computer and log-on to the Internet (you know, that series of electronic tubes that Al Gore invented).  Some of the best places for price comparison are Kelley Blue Book ( and Edmunds (  These sites allow you to put in the make, model, year, condition and mileage of the car you’re considering to determine its market value.  For a quick and dirty price comparison (which you might like, hippie!), you can also just Google your car’s specs to pull up a list of Internet ads placed for similar vehicles.  Another old school (but still good) resource is your local newspaper’s classifieds or the auto newsstand classified flyers, which will give you a general idea of the car prices in your area.

If, after looking over this information, you find that the vehicle is around market value, you’re in good shape.  However, if the car’s a little bit off, don’t despair, because you can still bargain with the seller.  In the case of our Volkswagen Bug, $5,500 would be more in line with its market value, so it’s about $500 overpriced.  That’s ok– the owner can probably be talked down.  If, on the other hand, the owner is selling the car at some wack-a-doodle price way beyond market value, it’s best to walk away and let the prevailing market beat some sense into them (think ’68 Democratic Convention, hippie).  The car will probably still be around until they drop the price, and if someone picks it up at that rate, it’s better they play the sucker than you!

Looking for a Used CarOnce you’ve determined that the car is priced in a range you can work with, it’s time to really go over the car for an inspection and check out the vehicle’s history.  This is important because you want to know if the car’s been in accidents before and what kind of repairs it’s had.  An excellent resource in checking out your car’s history is CARFAX (  By inputting the car’s VIN on the site, you can see what kinds of repairs the vehicle has had.

It’s also a good idea to give the car a test drive and a visual inspection of your own.  When you drive it does it have a funny humming sound, indicating that there’s something wrong with the engine?  Is the steering responsive or “floaty”?  Does it look like it’s been repainted because of an accident?  Are there dents?  Broken lights, worn tires, or cracked windows?  In addition to your own inspection, it’s always a good idea to have a mechanic look it over.  It will cost you a bit of money, but it’s far better than ending up with a two-ton piece of scrap metal!

If you do have a mechanic look over the car and they find problems, you may want to reconsider your purchase.  At the very least, any problems should reduce your offer to compensate for the cost of repairs.

Once you know what the prevailing market price is for the car and have adjusted for the cost of potential repairs, it’s time to make a bid.  Most sellers are flexible within 5% to 10% of their posted sale price, but beyond this, expect to encounter resistance.  The Volkswagen Bug in our example is about 8% overpriced, which puts it on the high end of the pricing scale, but still within the workable range.

Be flexible as you bid on the car, but have a price in mind that you don’t want to go below.  Of course, if your difference in price is below $100, it might be time to swallow your pride and accept the deal.  However, if you don’t come to the table with some target price in mind, it can be easy to get caught up in the process of bidding and lose sight of what’s a good deal.  Remember, it’s ok to walk away.  There will be other cars for you to bid on and you can always chalk this up to practice!
Happy car hunting!


-Ratchet Robbie


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