car negotiation story

Car Negotiation Story.

We made one of those really big purchases today, and spent about a month of our income, all in one shot, on a 2013 Honda Civic.  People buy cars all the time, but here is the JumpStart car negotiation story.

The JumpStarts have had 2 cars for 2 drivers for a several months now.  Our son JumpStart Jack has been at college, without his Volvo.  The Volvo has some electrical issues, and is in the backyard with an expired inspection sticker, no plates, and no insurance.  Our daughter, JS Jill has her learner’s permit, income from a new job, and an upcoming birthday.

2 cars only became a problem over Thanksgiving break when JS Jack, Mrs. JS, and I all had work at different locations, on the same days.  I considered a rental car, but with Christmas break coming up, I’ve been looking for a used car.

Car buying is a tense, and incredibly important process.

The right car is wonderful, but a bad car leads to great frustration.  A few minutes of negotiation can swing the price by monetary amounts equivalent to days or even weeks of work.

I’ve looked at quite a few cars over the last month on Craig’s List, and around the neighborhood.  Today I ended up in a negotiation at the Honda dealer.

The game begins.

On a Saturday morning, I took an hour test-drive in an $8900 2013 Civic, and then left the dealership, without talking price.  I’ll refer to him as Sales-guy for this post, and he was actually a pretty likeable guy, but he threatened reminded me that the car had just come in, and it was their only car under $10k.  Someone could come snatch it up, if I hesitated before getting serious.  I didn’t really respond, and got into my car with kind of an awkward silence.

At the dealer down the street, I test-drove a couple more cars, but still liked the Civic best.  I walked out on Sales-guy 2, who had graduated a few years ago from our rival high school.  It was kind of a strange phenomenon, but I liked both sales guys today.  I always feel relief, and a little power driving off the lot without buying, and knowing I’ll soon be ignoring their phone calls.

Return trip.

Mrs. JumpStart and I came back an hour before closing time, that same day.  Sales-guy greeted us with a big smile on his face.  We took the Civic for a 5 minute drive, and the low gas light came on, as we pulled back onto the lot. I informed Sales-guy, and he took the opportunity to explain that a few other interested people drove it that day.  I missed my chance to quip “So, none of them thought it was worth the price either.”  All my comebacks would be awesome if I had a day to prepare.

We went inside to engage in the game you have to play.

I told Sales-guy we would buy it today, if the prices becomes reasonable, and offered $7,000.  Sales-guy did some brilliant math, and pointed out that $7k was $1900 dollars below their asking price.  I just looked at him, there was more awkward silence, some pretending to be reluctant, but he said he would call the business manager.

There was another guy also engaged in the game seated at Sales-guy’s desk, and we were seated nearby in the common area on a couch. Sales-guy went through a swinging door to a different phone to call the business manager.  I noticed a sign on the wall, beside the door that read “Processing fee $576.”  I predicted to Mrs. JS that he’ll come back with $8000, and with the processing fee, taxes, and titling, it will be back up to the original $8900.

After 10 minutes, the salesman came back out, went to his desk first, and handed a paper to the other customer.  We were seated with our backs turned, but were eavesdropping.  Sales-guy came down $500, and suggested a longer loan.  There was some mumbling back and forth.

Sales-guy then came to us and offered “half way” $8050.  I asked what the actual final total would be, and he responded by offering a “pencil number.”

He walked back over to the other customer, who firmly and loudly stated, “I need the payments below $300.”

Sales-guy announced triumphantly to both of us.

“We are close. We will earn your business.  Let me go talk to the manager.”

Sales-guy smiled as he walked past, went outside, jumped on the golf cart, and drove toward the new car sales building.  He came back 5 minutes later, and handed us a piece paper, with a sales price of $8050 and a total of $8960 after sales tax, fees, and title.  Next, he walked over to his desk, and proudly explained how they had worked a miracle, and got the payment down to $298.

The customer thanked him, said he couldn’t decide now, and practically ran out of the showroom.

I began to realize we were in a good spot. Sales-guy thought he had 2 sales, and now seconds later only has one potential sale, and it’s right before closing.  He walked back over to us, and I spoke first with “The processing fee really kills the price.”  There was some awkward silence, and Sales-guy was about to answer.  Mrs.  JumpStart jumped in “We can’t go above $8500!” while rearranging her purse and coat.  She later said it wasn’t on purpose, but Sales-guy and I thought she was leaving.

Sales-guy looked kind of startled, and quickly mumbled something about how they would earn our business, and went back through the swinging door again.  Mrs. JS and I chatted about actually feeling bad for Sales-guy, and his emotions going from 2 sales to none in 30 seconds.  He came back minutes later with a smile, and a paper with a total of $8501.38 printed at the bottom.

The purchase price had come down from $8900 to $7500 in about 20 minutes.

We actually hate the car dealer game, but $1400 for 20 minutes is a game we can’t afford not to play.  $1400 is enough to make both our mortgage payments.  $1400 is almost ¾ of my paycheck.

We agreed to the purchase price, and Sales-guy switched to selling financing.

I cut him off, and said we were charging it to our card.  He asked if I meant credit card or debit card.  I said credit, and pulled out Mrs. JS’s new Chase Sapphire Reserve card. A 50,000 ultimate rewards point bonus is waiting after 4,000 in spend.  I was planning on using it for the college tuition bill, but there is no convenience fee at the car dealership.

He stated that they only allowed $2000 to go on credit cards.  I pulled out a check, and declared I would charge $2000, and pay the rest with a check. Looking back I regret not negotiating charging more on the credit card.

Sales-guy shifted strategy, and began talking about how their car loan rates were lower than credit card rates.  I cut him off again, and explained I needed to hit a credit card bonus, am going to pay the credit card balance immediately, and don’t ever pay interest.


He moved us over to his desk, in front of his computer, and forced asked us to watch a torture propaganda video about the dealership, which included a couple of sales pitches.  We didn’t pay much attention.  Luckily there happened to be pokemon running around the dealership, and I began catching all of them on my phone.  Mrs. JS was bored, and would kick alert me, when I needed to click “No” on the computer screen, to begin the next sales pitch video.  After 10 minutes, the computer presentation ended, and we initialed papers stating we didn’t want any extras.

We all went outside and rode on the golf cart over to the new car building, to sign the rest of the paperwork.  In the bigger show room, we met financing lady, who pitched an extended warrantee and some kind of protective magical spray, but she didn’t have much heart in her sales pitch.  We declined extras again, signed all the papers, and the deal was done.

The car really had just come in, and hadn’t been detailed yet.  I reminded Sales-guy that the car needed gas.  We shook hands, and left without the car, but with plans to come pick it up in a few days, after it had been cleaned up and gassed up.

The game was over, and had taken about 90 minutes.

I don’t like negotiating, and you never really know how well you’ve done.  Some people claim to love arguing with salesmen, and I always wonder how much better they would have done.  I can’t help but second-guess each choice I made throughout the day.

I’m not certain how much lower the price could have gone, but I know some people would have done worse.

Other people might have:

  • paid a higher sale price.
  • spent money on financing fees.
  • spent money on interest.
  • bought miracle coating.
  • bought extended warrantees.

Our budget.

We were doing well on our new teacher cycle of saving 3,000 each month for a total of $10,000 saved for summer unemployment and 20,000 saved for college next year.  Our savings was actually $4500 ahead of schedule.  Now we drop behind to only $5,000 out of $9,000 saved, but I’m confident with our tax refund, National Board money, and coaching stipend, we can catch back up.

Paying cash at a dealer was a new experience.  Mrs. JumpStart’s car was purchased with a loan, which we paid off in a year.  JS Jack’s Volvo was bought with a few grand in cash off of Craig’s List.  Cash reduced the number of steps, and made the negotiation process easier.

It was probably my best dealer car-buying experience yet.  However, as soon as we got home, we both headed immediately to the kitchen for a bottle glass of bourbon wine.

Hopefully this car will be a good one.   Only time will tell.  I am really looking forward to that great Civic gas mileage.

Posted in Family finances, Uncategorized.


    • The Volvo could be a post on its own. It currently drives fine, but the ABS light is on. Cars stop fine without ABS, but it won’t pass the Va inspection. The small Volvo computer costs like 2 grand to replace. One option is get South Carolina tags from our MB beach house, because SC doesn’t do inspections. In a few years, it will be an antique, and not require the state inspection. It actually is Jack’s car, so if it gets sold, I’ll probably throw him into the deep end of the pool, and he can sell it on Craig’s List. He did pretty well selling a surfboard once.

  1. I love these step by step negotiation stories. They always give me ideas for when it’s my turn. I’ve never purchased (or leased) a car so I try to prepare myself as much as possible for when I will have to. It sounds like you walked out happy and did not fall for any of the classic traps. Congrats and enjoy the new car.

    • The salesmen are on their turf, and have a huge advantage. I’ve bought 5 cars in 25 years, and there were some techniques I had forgotten about. It really is helpful knowing what to expect.

    • The car in your post looks a lot like my new used car. These posts do pair nicely. I enjoyed your post and thought it had some great advice.

  2. I hate any kind of negotiating. But you were smart to do it – as you showed in your numbers! We buy used cars from our mechanic now. He goes to auctions and finds what people want and he checks and services them before the sale. He makes a few hundred bucks on each one – but he stands behind them too. He just retired from the “service” part but is still buying/selling used cars. I hope he doesn’t quit that any time soon!

  3. I really enjoyed this post! I’ve only ever bought one car, off Craigslist, and I’m a bit intimidated by the idea of having to haggle with dealers. It sounds like you got a great car for a great price, so congrats!

    • I never mentioned the mileage in the post. A guy bought the car new, drove over 26k miles per year for his 5 years of payments, and then traded it. I hope I did not pay too much for a car with that many miles. Only time will tell.

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