The Art of the Deal: How to Haggle for a Used Car

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Next: drop the name of a reputable pricing guide like Edmunds.com. Dealerships are used to this. The old timers who've been around since before the Internet may miss the times when customers were clueless. But some customers still are clueless, so put them on notice that you are one of the ones who has done your homework. It will speed up the process.

We did this and had some fun with it, because most of the sales staff would then poo-poo the accuracy of the Edmunds pricing guide right to Reed's face, and he works there. Here was one exchange:

Salesman: "Oh, you're going from Edmunds? Oh, I see."

Reed: "Is that a problem?"

Salesman: "It's not a problem. It's just that it doesn't reflect really what the market is."

Bring a Wingman

There's real value in bringing a wingman along. Ideally this person will be the "bad cop," the naysayer who questions the car -- and the price -- so the dealership doesn't get cocky. That was my job during our undercover experiment.

I said things I hoped would sow doubt in the sales staff's minds so they'd be unsure we were really going to buy the vehicle and work harder to get our business. Some samples:

"I don't know, Phil, because you were hoping to get a car with less miles than that, right?"

"I liked the other make and model better."

"I don't want to see you bust your budget for this car, Phil. I think this price is too high."

Leave the Sales Cubicle

As you know, a staple of the in-person car buying experience is the shuttling back and forth, where the salesman leaves to go "talk to his manager," the person with the authority to accept or reject offers. Phil says when that happens, you should leave, too.

"They leave because they want to show that they're in control," Phil said. "They make you sit there. You're investing your time. The more time that you invest, the more likely you are to buy a car -- they think."

So each time the salesman left the cubicle we would too, wandering off to the restrooms or even to our rental car.

"We were sending them a signal that we were not going to be controlled," Reed explained. "And also we might just completely disappear."

Leave the Lot

Never finalize a car deal without leaving the lot. You don't have to turn on your heel and leave in a huff. Just tell the salesperson the price is not where you need it to be and that you are going to go see if you can do better elsewhere.

But make sure they have your cell phone number so they can reach you. The whole idea is that you want them to call you up and make you a better offer because they are afraid they are going to lose your business altogether.

Sure enough, dealership number 1 called Reed three times while we were on the way to dealership number 2. The folks there wanted our business.

Shop Multiple Dealerships

Which bring us to a closely correlating strategy: Always shop more than one dealership. And while you're at it make sure they know about each other.

Going to at least two dealers will start to give you a feel for real prices in the marketplace. It also helps keep you from swooning over a particular car and paying too much for it. You don't want to fall in love. You want to "two-time" your used vehicle. If the price at one dealership isn't good enough, have another waiting elsewhere.

At our second dealership, we found another certified 2007 Honda Odyssey EXL with almost identical mileage. Sticker price, $24,988. Internet price: $23,988. Now we needed to make an offer well below those figures.

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