Long before Frank Eppolito retired and opened his own boxing gym, he was selling cars. And before he was negotiating pro boxing bouts, he was negotiating car deals at one of the largest dealerships in the area.
Eppolito started his career in 1989 at Ted Russell Ford of Knoxville, Tennessee. After only 6 months selling cars, he was promoted to sales manager, where he became the main guy negotiating deals for customers. He would often negotiate 5-6 deals in a half hour, so if there’s anyone you want to learn the art of negotiation from, it’s Frank Eppolito.
Retired used car salesman and sales manager Frank Eppolito with his 93 Jeep Wrangler YJ
With shortages in the supply chain among the reasons why car prices have exploded in the last year, it’s imperative to understand the basic principles of car buying if you’re seeing signs it’s time to replace your car. According to Eppolito, these are the 10 rules of used car negotiation you should follow if you want to get the best possible deal on that used vehicle.
#1: Be likable
If you’re anything like most people, when you go to buy a car, your brain starts working overdrive to unearth all those slimy salesperson stereotypes. All the way to the lot, you’re worrying about every possible way you could get ripped off. You’re ready to fight as soon as you meet the first salesperson.
But according to former salesman and dealership manager Frank Eppolito, that kind of attitude will backfire. Because contrary to popular belief, negotiation isn’t a power struggle, it’s a partnership.
“It’s a human-to-human connection,” Eppolito says. “If you know anything about negotiations, people don’t do things for people they don’t like. So, get the salesperson to like you. If he or she is a good salesperson, they’re going to ask questions to get your perspective. They’re going to explain this is a partnership. And they’re going to want to understand what your needs are.”
“Are you a soccer mom? Hockey mom? Who are you? What’s your job? What kind of budget did you set? We need to find the vehicle that’s going to fit you the best. Because it doesn’t do me any good as a salesperson to show you a $70,000 vehicle when you’re really interested in a $30,000 vehicle.”
“So I need to have some knowledge on what you’re wanting so that I can direct you to the right vehicles that will fit your needs the best. When customers are offish, they’re not helping. They’re not being in partnership with the salesperson.”
So be friendly. Be nice. Get the salesperson to like you.
Get them to understand your wants and needs and Eppolito says they’ll work harder for you.
#2: Don’t be afraid to haggle
We get it. Negotiating can feel awkward. Intimidating even. It takes a special personality to enjoy the art of the deal.
BUT… if you fail to realize that there’s always room for negotiation, regardless of what the salesperson says, you could forfeit a great deal.
“You go overseas and everything is up for negotiation. That’s part of their culture. There’s wiggle room on every deal,” says Eppolito.
The same goes for the car lot.
“Everything is negotiable. Everything. So go with your best face.”
To get the guts to haggle confidently, you need to come to the dealer prepared, which brings us to the third commandment.
#3: Do your homework
According to Eppolito, buying a car is easier today than it’s ever been. Forget packing up the family and hitting every car lot in a 60-mile radius. Just hop online and do your research.
Today, you can pull up exactly what you want, in the mileage you want, and find out where it is to go test drive – or even order online and skip the salesman altogether with services like Carvana that offer great deals on reliable vehicles.
Eppolito says at the bare minimum, you should know the make and model you’re interested in, the market value it brings, and its history. There shouldn’t be any surprises with all of the information available online.
“Before you say anything about buying an automobile, you should do your research. Where’s the CarFax on it, where’s the autocheck, already have the value of the vehicle, what they’re bringing wholesale, what the NADA is on it, how you’re financing it, if you’re already pre-approved,” Eppolito says.
Next, do a physical check of the vehicle in person.
#4: Inspect the vehicle properly
Once you have a clear picture of what kind of car you’re looking for and you’ve found some options to test drive near you, go check over the vehicle in person.
Eppolito suggests looking for scratches and dings and checking the tires on a used vehicle. Have the airbags been deployed? Has it been in an accident? Look closely for anything that you may be able to use to your advantage during used car negotiations.
This includes any check engine lights that show there’s a problem with the vehicle. By using an OBD2 scanner like FIXD, you can see if there are any check engine codes being thrown and what they mean, as well as if someone has tried to disable the light and hide a problem.
#5: Never buy from a bad listener
Just like you’d inspect a car before buying, you should inspect your salesperson, too.
I know, I know, commandment #1 is to be likable, not act like there’s a chip on your shoulder as soon as you walk onto the lot, but here’s the deal…
It’s your money. And you shouldn’t feel pressured to buy from a person who’s not taking care of you.
“Think of a salesperson like someone you’re interested in going out with, or being tutored from, or having watch your kids,” says Eppolito. “Are they present? If your salesman is on his phone, get another salesperson. You want to make sure you pick a salesperson who is present, focused, and listening to you.”
So, how do you really know they’re listening to you?
“They’ll repeat it back to you,” says Eppolito. “‘Let me get this straight, so what you’re saying is that it’s not a big deal that it’s white, you just want a lighter color because of our climate. We live in Miami, so you don’t want a black car, I get that.’”
If your salesperson isn’t listening to you, go find a new one. It’ll save you a ton of time and frustration in the buying process.
#6: Bring your “get out of jail free” card
When you go to a lot and you’re ready to buy, always have an appointment. Whether you cancel that appointment is on you, but it’s important to always have an out.
“This way,” Eppolito says, “if you’re dealing with a moron, you don’t have to be rude. You like the car, you just don’t like him, you’ll still be kind but you can get out.”
Remember: Car negotiating is a partnership. You’re going to need these guys and gals, so be nice. And make sure you get the right person for your deal.
#7: Don’t talk financing
As with any negotiation, when buying a vehicle, you’ll want to hold onto some of your cards, especially anything that has to do with financing.
It doesn’t matter if you’re financing or paying cash. Get them to show you what you want, then figure out payment (as long as you’ve followed commandment #8).
According to Eppolito, you should never give your final price. Perhaps more importantly, you should never let the salesperson know you’re going to do monthly payments. Once they know you’re financing instead of paying cash, it’ll be easier to sell you on something that’s bigger than your actual budget.
For example, if you’re looking at a vehicle for $500 a month and they show you a car that’s $520 a month, that might not seem like a big deal. But an extra $20 spread out over 72 months is a decent chunk of change.
So, if you don’t talk numbers, how do you make sure the salesman shows you vehicles in your price range? According to Eppolito, walk in knowing the make, model, and years you’re interested in seeing.
For example, you could say, “I’m not interested in a brand new F-150 Lariat, I want a 2014-2016 based on the market value of the vehicle. You got anything like that you could show me?”
When you start talking about market value, the salesperson already knows the price and that you’ve done your research. This will save you a lot of time looking at vehicles you don’t really want and cut to the chase.
#8: Get your financials straight
Even though you don’t want to tell your salesperson how you’ll be financing right away (see #7), you do want to make sure you’re financially prepared before coming on the lot. Otherwise, you could find yourself in an awkward situation and wreck your ability to negotiate a good deal.
As Eppolito puts it, “If you’re not in a position to walk away, then you will never get a good deal. You might get an okay deal, maybe even a fair deal, but you’ll never get close to a great deal because you’re too worried about how you’re going to finance it.”
So before you ever step foot in a vehicle and get swept away in the emotions (see #9) of buying that dream car, make sure your credit is in check and you can afford the payment.
#9: Never let emotions get in the way
People get emotional. It’s okay.
That’s what Eppolito calls “car fever.”
The problem is, as with any fever, when you catch “car fever,” your ability to think straight goes out the door – along with any chance you had to get a great deal on that vehicle.
You end up saying, “I want this. I don’t care if it’s $5,000 more than I want to spend. I’ve been looking a long time for this.”
Here’s the real kicker:
When that emotion fades and you’re stuck with that car payment and you see the same car online for $5,000 less than what you gave, it’s called buyer’s remorse. That’s why Eppolito reminds us all that it’s okay to stop, slow down, and think it through before buying anything.
“Your logic should be guiding your decision, not your emotions. Your mind has got to be in control. Every good decision you made, you thought about. That’s why no one wants you to leave and think about it. ‘The feel of the wheel seals the deal.’”
#10: Always ask for more than you want
“If you’re a smart negotiator,” says Eppolito, “you’re going to hit me with a whole list of stuff you want. Then I’m going to hit you with a price. If that’s not the right price, you have your trade-offs that you can work with to get something that’s more in line with the budget in your mind.”
That’s why it’s critical to always ask for more than you really want so you have that wiggle room.
One way to come up with that list of items is to go online and read reviews. View the pros and cons. Read about the car you have in mind. Understand the different packages and what’s going to fit you best. Come up with what guidelines you won’t waiver from as a buyer.
“So decide ‘I gotta have this, and I gotta have this. Color? We can work with that. Leather interior? We can work with that. Big deal, it doesn’t have heated seats.’ There are things you can work with, they’re called trade-offs. Just know what they are and how to negotiate around them.”
Shop smart with the FIXD Sensor and app
So, there you have it, folks. Ten used car negotiation tactics you can cling to for years to come, regardless of where the market takes us next. Always remember that the salesperson wants to sell you a car, and that any smart salesperson will want to treat you fairly because it costs a lot more to acquire a customer than keep a loyal one.
When you’re ready to take these used car negotiation tips to the dealership, here’s one more for you: Bring along your FIXD Sensor and app to scan the vehicle for any issues. FIXD can tell you if a check engine light has been disable and scan the car for other problems. It can also show you the value of the vehicle. With FIXD Premium, you can even view the vehicle history for free to make sure it’s never been in an accident as well as see what issues the car is most likely to have in the future. Good luck and let us know in the comments your favorite car negotiation tactic!
Wife, mom, Content Manager & Senior Copywriter at FIXD. From the garage to the gym, I love helping people learn and grow. Dream car: ‘69 Acapulco Blue Mustang.