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Tips on How to Negotiate a Good Deal on a Used Car

Updated on November 13, 2012

When it comes to purchasing a used car consumers have so many options for gathering car history information. Most people think about obtaining a CARFAX report as a first and only means of finding out about the used car's history. Relying solely on a CARFAX report can leave a car buyer with information gaps.

Let’s take the process of buying a used car from beginning to end.

Determining The Type of Used Car to Purchase

Only the driver knows exactly what type of car will fit her needs. It’s up to her to decide whether to purchase a compact car, sports utility vehicle, pickup truck or sports car.

Just for grins, let’s say our car buyer, Jane, is on the market for a sports utility vehicle. She lives in an area of the country where winter snowstorms are a little less painful when driving behind the wheel of an SUV.

Now that Jane has narrowed her car selection to sports utility vehicles she can begin her shopping process.

Eliminating Defective Automobiles

Jane begins to look through the newspaper, online in addition to keeping an eye out for “For Sale” signs along the road. She notices that there are domestic and foreign vehicles. Not quite sure which way to go she decides to perform her research on an ‘as needed’ basis. Too much pre information is overwhelming.

Jane sees two cars that she’s interested in. One is a Toyota RAV4 and the other is a Jeep Liberty. Not being a car aficionado, she’s not sure which way to go. Luckily Jane remembers reading somewhere online about the CARFAX safety and reliability of reports.

She visits the CARFAX Safety and Reliability website and locates the year for each vehicle. After selecting the year she selects the make of the car. She then finds the appropriate model and click on the links to review the safety and reliability report for each car.

Used Car
Used Car

CARFAX Safety and Reliability Reports

The reports presented by CARFAX are rather comprehensive. They include safety, crash tests, recalls and theft indicators from organizations such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). These reports alone provide a plethora of useful information.

In addition to the safety report, CARFAX provides reliability reports from organizations such as Intellichoice, Identifix and J.D. Power and Associates. It doesn’t stop there. The reliability section of the report includes information on the original manufacturer's warranty, vehicle awards and new car test drive automotive review.

Jane amazes herself at how much auto information she can find for free with just a few mouse clicks.

Taking the Car Purchase to the Next Level

After making a decision as to which of the two types of vehicles she would prefer to drive, Jane now focuses on finding the best deal. She begins to search both online and in person.

Jane finds two vehicles that she’s interested in. They’re both the same make and model but one is being sold through a dealership and the other is a private sale. Jane realizes it’s time to take her vehicle research to another level.

Pre Owned Vehicle
Pre Owned Vehicle

Free CARFAX History Report

Jane knows that she can negotiate a free CARFAX history report through the auto dealership. She’s a resourceful woman and had come across an article explaining exactly how to get a free premium version of the CARFAX vehicle history report. A free CARFAX history report makes her research easy for the potential purchase from the dealership. However, the private owner is unwilling to throw in a free report. Now Jane has to do a little more research.

Getting the vehicle ID number

Jane understands she must have the vehicle ID number to dig deeper. Unlike the generic information received in the CARFAX reliability and safety report, Jane now needs vehicles specific information. The only way to obtain that is to have the vehicle identification number. She obtains the VIN numbers for both vehicles.

Free used car history information
Free used car history information

Resources for Free Vehicle Information

Armed with the year make model and vehicle identification number, Jane starts her research. Below is her list of resources:

  • Department of Motor Vehicles: She starts with the Department of Motor Vehicles to check if the seller is actually the legal owner of the vehicle. She also wants to find out if the title is free and clear or if there are liens or judgments on the vehicle. A lien is not necessarily a bad thing. The current owner most probably is waiting for the money from the sale to pay off the existing lien.
  • VinCheck: Jane also checks with the National Insurance Crime Bureau website and utilizes the VinCheck service. The VinCheck Service will provide information as to whether not the car was stolen and not recovered, had flood damage or whether it was reported as a salvage vehicle. After receiving a clean bill of health she goes to the next free information source.
  • CARFAX Lemon check: Jane uses the vehicle identification number to find out whether or not the car is a lemon. Once the car comes up clear, she’s on to the next free resource.
  • CARFAX Record check. By using the free CARFAX record check service Jane finds out about accidents reported to CARFAX, number of owners, service records, odometer reading registration and title information. Jane understands that the report may not be complete, but it’s best to get her hands on as much information as possible before she makes her car buying decision. Now, she’s ready for the next free service.
  • Vehicle Recalls: Through the InternetAutoguide website, Jane can access the ‘Recalls’ section of the site to find out about all of the recalls for the vehicle. A VIN isn’t necessary because the recalls are not vehicle specific. However, Jane prints out the list of recalls so that she can check with each seller to see if all of the recalls were adequately addressed.
  • Jane is almost through with her research, but there is one more stop she has to make before she goes back to negotiate with each seller. She must visit the CARFAX Problem Car Alert page. By inserting her zip code Jane is provided a list of cars for sale in her area that have known problems such as flood damage, salvage titles, major accidents or other unfavorable car conditions.


Free Automobile History
Free Automobile History

Negotiating the Car Sale

Equipped with more information than she knows what to do with, Jane goes back to each seller to test drive the car, bring it to a mechanic and negotiate the sale price. She presents her findings to each seller and negotiates a very favorable deal.

Jane is now happily driving her new pre-owned car with a huge smile on her face. Ahh, the beauty of the internet!

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    • profile image

      Lori Catz 

      8 years ago

      I never knew about the carfax problem car checker. That's very helpful.

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