Liz and I officially bought our first mini-van last weekend. It’s an odd feeling. We’re excited and not excited all at the same time… It’s been fantastic to own a vehicle that we can all fit in and that meets our needs. But…it’s still a “we’re officially old and lame” mini-van….
With a growing family (our daughter, two dogs, and likely more children in the near future), it just made sense to start looking for a larger vehicle. Then, between SUV’s and mini-vans, we found that mini-vans were consistently about half the cost of SUV’s. So, we set out to find a severely discounted vehicle (the fabulous mini-van) about two weeks ago.
Approximately 2 days after the search began, we found our deal – a 2008 Toyota Sienna. These would typically sell at the dealership for $8,500 to $9,000, and we got ours for just $6,500!
So how on earth did we find a severely discounted vehicle that was in such great shape? It’s actually the shortest, simplest deal-finding story ever:
- We put a feeler out to my Dad to keep his ears open (he’s an ex-car dealer, so he has that sixth sense of sniffing out a deal)
- He found out his neighbor was in the market for a new van, ready to replace his old one
- Two days later, his neighbor found a good deal and decided to buy
- The neighbor then offered their old van to us at trade-in value
- We bought the van
- The end
Six Ways to Find a Severely Discounted Vehicle
So what if you don’t have a Dad that’s an ex-car dealer that can find you a deal in just a couple days? How can you (the average car-buying Joe) find a severely discounted vehicle?
My first piece of advice for you – STAY AWAY FROM DEALERSHIPS. On average, car dealers are not bad people, but you won’t find a severely discounted vehicle at one of their dealerships. Why? Because they need to sell their vehicles for a profit to keep their business alive!
Here’s how their business works:
- They find a gently used car for $2,000 less than its value
- They clean it up, change the oil, and put some new tires on it
- They factor in an additional mark-up to pay for their building lease, the electricity, and their staff
- They then list the car for retail value, and might reduce it a hundred bucks for you if they know you’re serious about buying
Car dealers aren’t stupid. They know what their cars are worth (after all, it’s what they do all day every day!). If you think you’re going to waltz in there, pull the wool over their eyes, and walk out with an extreme bargain, you are the official definition of foolish.
By the way, if you’re looking to find a severely discounted vehicle that’s brand new, you’re even beyond foolish. Once you pay the tax, interest, and all that depreciation on a new vehicle, even a slight deal just becomes a nightmarish expense that weighs heavily on your net worth. If you care about your wealth at all, DO NOT BUY A BRAND NEW CAR.
Beyond my general advice about avoiding the dealership and avoiding brand new cars, here are the six methods I swear by when I want to find a severely discounted vehicle.
1) Look For Must Sell Situations
People get into must-sell situations all the time. It could be due to a wide variety of reasons:
- they can’t make their car payments anymore
- they recently got divorced and need money for the settlement
- they need money for unexpected medical bills
Whatever the case may be, if you notice that someone’s advertising their car as a “must sell”, this could mean an extreme discount for you.
- Before you get too excited, make sure the asking price is actually a deal
- Check the listing price vs. Kelley Blue Book
- Be sure to take the car to a mechanic to get looked at. Sometimes “must sell” just means they want to get rid of it before it falls apart.
- Start your bid 20% lower than the asking price. If it’s truly a must sell, they might just jump on your offer and give you a sweet deal.
2) Find a Car That’s Dirty
When I was looking for cars to flip a few years back, I would look for one that was sound mechanically (mainly, no warning lights on the dash), but just hadn’t been cleaned in a while – inside or out. My reasoning for this? It’s kind of like when people are looking to buy a house, and they step into one that’s simply disgusting. There’s garbage, piles of stuff, and maybe even grease marks all over the walls.
Prospective home buyers take one step into a place like this, they look left, look right, and then step right back out. The house might be an amazing layout and 10% below market value, but most buyers just can’t see past all the dirt! The same is true for a car. It might just be an amazing car, but because it has a few McDonald’s bags in the back they’re having a hard time selling it.
- Look for car pictures that would completely turn people off and keep an open mind
- Make sure the car is mechanically excellent (take it to your local mechanic if you’re weak in this area)
- Offer far less than asking price since you’ll have to get the trash out, clean it, wax it, etc. etc. Make it sound like a much bigger deal than it really is. Heck, you could offer $1,000 less and then get it professionally detailed for $125. You’d still be $875 to the good!
When I used to look for extreme deals, I would just sit by my computer and scour Craigslist each and every day. This worked for a while, but then Craigslist just got too popular. If I found a great deal 2 hours after the posting went live, the car had already been called on, purchased, and driven away. Now days you could try one of those Craigslist alert apps, but I would strongly recommend that you take your search offline where the competition is much more sparse.
- Network with your friends. Tell them what you’re looking for and to keep their ears open for you.
- Start driving through the country instead of on the highway. There are still cars for sale on the side of the road with car less traffic than Craigslist.
4) Find a Fixer-Upper
If you’re mechanically inclined, why not find a severely discounted fixer upper? Let’s say that you’re in love with a newer-used Ford Fusion, but you don’t want to pay $12,000 for one. Instead, consider looking for one that has a bad transmission or a bad engine. This type of repair might cost the owner $5,000 to fix (which they obviously don’t want to do since they’re selling it as-is), so they’d likely be willing to sell you the car for $7,000 or less! If you did the work yourself, it might cost you only $2,000. Suddenly, you’re driving a car $12,000 car that only cost you $9,000!
- Don’t go beyond your expertise here. If you only know how to change brakes, look for a car with bad brakes. If it needs engine repair, leave it alone. You don’t know what you’re doing.
- Be leery of other issues that the car might have. Buyers will tell you that all the repairs are cheap and easy. Don’t believe them for a second.
5) Consider a Rebuilt Title
I once found a nearly-new GMC truck on Craigslist that had been in an accident, was repaired completely, and was now listed for $6,500. The value of a clean truck at the time was about $30,000. This was an absolute screaming deal. Unfortunately, I missed out on it by just an hour or so. It was sold to some lucky son-of-a-gun that’s probably still driving it today.
If a car has a rebuilt/salvage title, this means that the car was in an accident and its repair would cost more than the value of the car. Immediately, this sounds like a scenario that you should stay away from, but there are plenty of fender-benders that the insurance company deems as “totaled” that can be fixed up and driven for many years.
Most importantly, if you’re looking to find a severely discounted vehicle, there’s a decent chance that you’ll find it with a rebuilt car.
- Look for rebuilt cars that have been repaired and on the road for a while. If people have been driving them for five years after the accident with no issue, chances are pretty good that it’ll keep driving nice for you too.
- Look up the vehicle’s history report to see why the car was totaled (find out how to pull a free history report here thanks to LifeHacker). I’d much rather have a car that was re-ended than one that had a head-on crash.
6) Make a Cash Offer
When people are selling their cars, they don’t want to take a million phone calls, show the car 15 times, and then wait for someone to get their funds in order. They’d love to list it today, get one phone call today, and sell it today. This is when the cash offer becomes so important. If you want to find a severely discounted vehicle, get used to offering cash.
- Take cash with you when you’re interested in a vehicle, but be smart about it. If you’re in a sketchy neighborhood or don’t feel right about the seller, then don’t announce that you have $7,000 in cash sitting in your car.
- If you’re comfortable, let them know it’ll be in cash today, and that you’ll take the car off their hands immediately. When people want to get rid of their cars, an offer like this is tough to pass up!
Find a Severely Discounted Vehicle – In Summary
Finding a severely discounted vehicle might not happen immediately. In fact, it might take months to find that exact car you’re looking for at a deal. Stay patient and use the six tactics from this article:
- Look for a must-sell car
- Find a dirty car
- Take your search off-line
- Find a fixer-upper
- Consider a rebuilt title
- Offer cash
Buy using these techniques in your next car search, I’m completely confident that you’ll find a severely discounted vehicle that you’ll love.
You don’t have to dish out a ton of money for a nice car. You just have to be smarter than all the other buyers! Best of luck to you in your future car search!
AUTHOR Derek Sall
Derek has a Bachelor's degree in Finance and a Master's in Business. As a finance manager in the corporate world, he regularly identified and solved problems at the C-suite level. Today, Derek isn't interested in helping big companies. Instead, he's helping individuals win financially--one email, one article, one person at a time.