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Beat the salesman: Get the best car price

Car lot

How can you get the best deal when you’re buying a new or second-hand car? To find out we went to the best source - the car salesman.

Thousands of would-be buyers look for motors every month but few of us know exactly how to get the vehicle of our dreams at the right price. In fact, there’s a list of common mistakes we make that are costing us money.

We spoke to Brian Henson from Sinclair Direct, a specialist used-car dealer with 18 branches in south Wales, and Mark James, the managing director of James and Jenkins car dealership in Cardiff for their insider tips.

1: Remember the 60-day rule

Mark James explains: “Many of the bigger dealers have a 60-day stocking policy, that’s how long they’ll keep their cars on the forecourt.

“If it hasn’t sold by then, they’ll normally pass it to car auctions to sell instead. But you can benefit: if there’s a car you’re after, make regular trips to the forecourt or keep a watch online.

"If you can see the car has been there for some time, close to 60 days, that’s the time to make an offer. You’ll probably get a better price as the dealership wants the car off the forecourt.”

2: Get your timing right

Brian Henson says:  “If you want to buy a new car, it pays to understand how dealers’ targets work. Most manufacturers operate on a quarterly basis, and towards the end of those quarters, dealers who haven’t hit their targets will be more open to negotiating.

“When the quarters run from and to varies between manufacturers. You should look at TV ad campaigns as they will say when cars have to be registered by to qualify for that particular deal, and that usually marks the end of their quarter.

“So say there’s a Peugeot advert that says there’s a special deal on the 208 but cars have to be registered by 31 March. A week or 10 days before this cut-off is when you should visit the showroom.

“This won’t work all the time as some dealers will go after their targets from the start of the quarter, but others will struggle to hit them.”

James adds: “The end of the month is the time to buy as salesman try and meet their monthly targets. So you’ll always get a better deal on the 29th rather than the 2nd of the month.

“The only caveat with this is with very popular models so if you wait until the end of the month, you might not be able to get your hands on one.”

3: Buy out of season

Henson says: “In winter 2010 when there was a lot of snow, sales of 4x4s went through the roof and prices went up. Conversely, you’ll get a better deal if you buy when a particular type of car isn’t so popular.

“Cabriolets start to sell as soon as the sun comes out, so think about buying one in October instead.”

4: Cash or finance? It doesn’t really matter

Henson says: “People often ask dealers ‘how much for cash?’ but there’s no real difference for us. With interest rates so low, there’s not a lot of commission for dealers who sell their own finance packages, so opting for in-house finance is unlikely to get you a better deal.

“But bear in mind that with a bank loan you own the car from the outset, whereas with dealer finance you wouldn’t be able to sell the vehicle on until you’d cleared the loan, but you could clear the loan early or start a new loan on another car.”

5: Aim to pay around 90% of the car value

One anonymous salesman told us: “If you are buying a used car and are actively interested in negotiating, then offer 80-90 per cent of the price tag. If you offer below that the salesman won’t think you are a serious prospect.

“By offering this much, he will see you have intent to purchase and you will likely work out a deal somewhere in the middle. It will then often work to walk away and head to your car as the chances are the salesman will come after you.”

6: Decide your maximum spend and don’t budge

James explains: “Before you start shopping for your car, decide on your maximum spend. If you don’t, it’s all too easy for a salesman to talk you up from a £4,000 motor to a £6,000 one.

“It’s a good strategy to knock 10 per cent off your maximum spend. So if you have £5,000 to play with, it becomes £4,500.

"If a salesman says they can’t do you a deal at this price, don’t be afraid to walk away. More often than not, the salesman will come after you - either there and then or by phone or email.

"You know you still have £500 to play with, so if they offer you a deal at £4,750 then you’ve made a £250 saving.”

7: Sell your own car like the professionals

“Seventy per cent of the cars we sell are on a part-exchange basis, so this is one of the only times you’ll be selling something to us as well as vice-versa,” says Henson.

“It never ceases to amaze me how many people get this wrong. For a start, a lot of buyers don’t even bring the car they’re part-exchanging with them.

“But the biggest mistake is the condition of the car. When we come to value it, we might find a half-eaten McDonalds in there, or it hasn’t been cleaned in months. This will cloud how much we give for the vehicle.

“If it’s a car we’re going to sell on, make sure you present it in its best light. After all, if you were selling your house, you’d make sure it looked its best before people came round to view.”

8: If the price is too good to be true, something’s up

“Valuing a car is quite straightforward, and there shouldn’t be a lot of difference between the quotes you get from various dealers,” explains Henson.

“For example, say you’ve got three part-exchange quotes for your car at £900, £1,000 and £1,100 and then a fourth dealer offers you £2,000. That should set off alarm bells. Either the car he’s selling is overpriced, or he’s desperate to get rid of it for some reason.

“With part-exchange, you’ve got to look at the whole package.”

9: Understand how dealerships work

Henson adds: “Another common mistake with part-exchange is to assume you’re going to get the full resale value of your car. Sellers will go online to get a value or see what dealers are selling similar models for, and expect to get that price.

“But dealers have to make a margin, otherwise there’s no point them being in business.”

10: Take care with private sales

Henson says: “You can get some good deals with private sales but you need to be careful. Check the address on the V5 registration document is the same as where you’re buying from.

“It’s also vital to get an HPI check to make sure there’s no outstanding finance, and the car doesn’t have a chequered history.

“And have a look in the local paper or online to see if the mobile phone number of your seller comes up a lot. If so, he could be a trader which means you might not get such a good deal.

“Remember, if you’re buying privately and the vehicle is out of warranty you have no comeback whatsoever.

“If you use a reputable dealer, you’re likely to get a 12-month warranty on used cars. It’s amazing the number of people who’ll pay for a one-year warranty on a new washing machine but don’t take the same precaution with their car.”

11: Use a proper expert

“Whether you’re buying privately or from a dealer, make sure any ‘expert’ you take with you knows their stuff,” Henson says.

“It’s a standing joke in the industry when someone brings along a friend who ‘knows about cars’. Invariably they know less than the buyer.

“For private sales, take a qualified technician or get an AA check done.”

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Chris Torney

Chris Torney

Chris is the former personal finance editor at the Daily Express. He's been a journalist for more than 10 years and contributes to a wide range of finance and business titles.Read more from Chris



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