Negotiating for a car



We found a car we like. What is the best approach for negotiating. We test drove the car. Now we plan to have it looked at by a mechanic and get a carfax report. At what point should we make an offer? Some folks just wait till the closing and hand , in cash the amount they want to pay to the seller. I wonder if it should be more like buying a house, where an offer is made, countered and price is settled pending inspection. If problems show up then the price is renegotiated.


Don’t make an offer until you’re positive you want the car. You’re not buying a house, you’re buying a car. IF you decide you want it, figure out how much you’re willing to pay for it (be fair and reasonable) and then make your offer.

If the seller turns it down, walk away. Or negotiate. It’s up to you. If this is a private seller there are no rules.

Is this the Mazda P5? This car has a timing belt, which is probably due for replacement. Unless the seller can prove, with a receipt, that the work has been done you must assume it hasn’t, and will need to be done soon. Factor this into your offer.

Carfax is a good tool, but don’t base your decision on it. An inspection by a mechanic is worth more, in my opinion.


I’ve bought and sold quite a few cars over the past years (I’m a gear-head, not a dealer).

Here’s my process:

  1. Research the make and model you are considering. Check out used car values at, and Find out what others are asking for similar vehicles at and

  2. Make an offer contingent upon a pre-purchase inspection. In today’s economy, I would not pay over trade-in value. If, however, you are looking for a high-demand vehicle, you may have to pay more.

  3. Sign a purchase agreement (see below) and give the seller a deposit.

  4. Get it inspected by a qualified independent mechanic who specializes in the brand.

  5. If there are any surprises, re-negotiate the purchase price or terminate the deal.

This has worked for me over the years both as a buyer and seller.



A deposit in the amount of $__________ is hereby acknowledged by ________, (?Seller?) received from _________________________ (?Buyer?), for the sale of the automobile described below. Buyer agrees to pay Seller the balance of $ on or before ______________________. Seller agrees to provide Buyer with free and clear title upon receipt of full payment. Seller agrees to immediately refund Buyer?s deposit if mechanical inspection of vehicle does not meet with Buyer?s approval.

Automobile Description





Seller warrants the odometer reading of _____________, to the best of its knowledge, reflects actual mileage and that the odometer has not been disconnected or altered while in possession of Seller.

Seller is the true and lawful owner of said vehicle the same is free and clear of all liens and encumbrances, and has full power, right and lawful authority to dispose of this vehicle.

The above described vehicle is sold ?AS IS? and ?WITH ALL FAULTS? and Seller hereby expressly disclaims all warranties, either expressed or implied, including any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose, and neither assume nor authorize any other person to assume for it any liability in connection with the sale of this vehicle.

The laws of the State of _____________ shall govern the terms and conditions of this Purchase Agreement and Bill of Sale.

Seller								Buyer

Date								Date


Has the owner set an asking price? If so, compare it to book values on line. My favorite is the Edmunds True Market Value (TMV). You need to know the exact model and trim level, the mileage, all options, and the condition. Look at how they define condition fitst, then decide. It might take a quick trip to see the car before you estimate the value, but you could do it for the clean and average conditions an get a range. The more you know about the car, the better you are able to estimate the value. If your state requires smog or safety inspections before you can register it, make sure they are done. The car doesn’t necessarily need to pass the safey inspection, but if you know what it needs to pass, you can estimate the cost to repair and deduct that from the fair market value for a car in clean condition.


If Carfax shows you any incidents, you can assume they are valid.

However, the opposite is not true. Carfax reports are not guaranteed to be complete, so you don’t know what it’s not telling you. If you use Carfax, use it as a minor piece of your car buying research.