Purchasing a Used Car from a Dealership

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After much research, my girlfriend found a fully-loaded 2004 Honda Civic EX manual transmission with 11,500 miles on it from a semi-local Acura dealer (45 minutes away) for a mere $13,780 ($14,448 after VA taxes, title, registration, and dealer fee of $95). According to Kelley Blue Book, a 2004 Honda Civic rated as good condition (I would’ve rated it as Excellent) with the same features was listed at $17,150 retail and $14,150 private party (pre-taxes and associated fees). According to the dealer, the Civic was supposed to be listed at $17,800 but was erroneously listed on their website and on at only $13,780. While I’m skeptical of that sort of error (by skeptical I mean I don’t believe them), the poor salesman (who wasn’t particularly knowledgeable) did show us how it was listed on the price sheet at $17,800 and let it slip that they bought it for $12,500. Was it a good deal?

While Kelley Blue Book isn’t the final arbiter of good deals, my girlfriend’s research did show that at that price you should only be able to get a 2002 Honda Civic EX with around 30,000 miles, not the 2004 she managed to snare. On CarMax (which I stated earlier as cheaper than a dealer, but not as cheap as Ebay or a private seller), has a 2004 Civic VP auto (value package, the most barebones model) with 8,000 miles at $14,599! A 2003 Civic EX manual with 41,000 miles had a list price of $13,998. So bare minimum we did better than a CarMax.

My girlfriend was skeptical of buying a car from a private seller without an inspection, plus a purchase on Ebay would take much longer to get here plus around $600 to ship it from almost anywhere outside driving distance.

We tried to bargain with the salesmen (though we did show up on the first of the month, not our intention) and get them to drop the price by $1,000 without success. Then, when he came to us with the $14,448 figure – we tried to get him to knock off the $448 because we wanted to stay in our budget. Still nothing… he kept mentioning how it was a great deal (I still believe it is). We even told them we’d finance it (where they’re supposed to make a ton of money) but they still wouldn’t budge. Ultimately, we decided the car was still worth getting and pulled the trigger. That’s when, at our own cause, some trouble showed up.

My girlfriend is still under her parent’s auto insurance policy and this wasn’t a problem on her recently deceased Celica because both she and her mother were on the title. Since neither of her parents were here and couldn’t cosign the loan or sign the title, she couldn’t just assume the old policy on this car. She would have to get a new policy on her own or get her parents there to sign. Since it was near closing, her parents wouldn’t get there in time so this will have to wait until tomorrow morning. I anticipate it being pretty smooth sailing from there.

While it technically isn’t Certified Preowned (so no million point checklist), it passed Maryland inspection (semi-bogus) and it still has 2 years, 25,000-mile original factory warranty on it so it should be a safe purchase. The Maryland inspection was stamped May 19th so the car probably hasn’t been on the market for too long (at least five days) and we didn’t anticipate it to last. Do you think my girlfriend got a good deal? What could we have done better?

{ 9 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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9 Responses to “Purchasing a Used Car from a Dealership”

  1. FMF says:

    I think it was probably an ok deal — not that great, but not that bad either. On the plus side, the car will run forever (we had one for 13 years) and with little maintenance. So that’s the good part. And the price wasn’t bad.

    You could have probably saved $500 or so by taking a few simple steps (buying at the END of the month — as you noted), being willing to walk away (i.e. considering other cars), offering to pay in cash (if you had it), etc.

  2. Flexo says:

    It seems like a very good deal, but did they tell you why it wasn’t certified preowned? That seems a little odd for such a recent model. In my experience with Honda (I purchased a 2004 Honda Civic LX a year ago) the dealer will tell you it has something to do with the tires.

  3. Sounds like a good deal … it doesn’t matter if it is certified or not because you still have 25k in the warranty. Maybe this used to be a lease car? Did you check out Carfax?

  4. jim says:

    We never asked why it wasn’t certified, I assumed because we were at an Acura dealership and not a Honda (though they’re the same really). Plus, the balance of the manufacturer’s warranty gave us assurance we weren’t going to have problems.

    No check on CarFax, didn’t feel it was necessary, the guy said it was a trade-in so probably a lease. The low mileage made it not a consideration and the test drive gave my girlfriend confidence that the clutch wasn’t abused.

  5. Tim says:

    Sometimes a good thing is really a good thing. Sounds like a good deal to me. Though i would never buy a Civic!!! They are so practical it is sickening…Tell her to get the exhaust and spoiler installed. Oh yea and a carbon fiber hood! That’s the only way she will be able to locate her car since there will be 52 other ones in the same parking lot…

  6. jim says:

    Hahaha, carbon fiber hood that’s a different color than the body and a particle board spoiler.

    The car is hers, title and everything. The reason given by the dealership as to why it wasn’t Certified Preowned was because the cost to the dealership didn’t outweigh any benefits. Since it was so new and because they are an Acura and not a Honda, it didn’t make sense for them to certify it. A 2004 Certified Preowned would command no more than a 2004 non-Certified preowned because the warranty is in place. Is that bogus? Who knows but I don’t think it makes a difference.

  7. ryan says:

    Well after some research on kelley blue book and The true market value of the car at retail is around 12800. I believe that if you showed that you were willing to walk away you could have saved about 1000 dollars (1500 at the end of the month). You could have gotten away with around 12K for this car. They would have paid about 11830 at trade-in….and if it was a lease they would have paid nothing!!!! I’d say it was a fair deal, but a new one would have only cost a couple thousand more!

  8. nickel says:

    The main thing that I would’ve done different given your circumstances would be CarFax, and/or a quick inspection by an independent mechanic and/or body shop. You can even get people on some message boards to run a VIN for you and e-mail you the result (people who have paid for a month of access can do it for free). But otherwise is sounds like a good deal. And given that it’s such a long-lived car, even if she had overpaid a bit, it wouldn’t amount to much amortized across the next 12 or so years (assuming that she’s willing to keep it that long).

  9. jim says:

    Guess what Nickel? As it turned out my girlfriend ran the CarFax this morning (I didn’t ask her) before going in to formally purchase the car. It was owned (not leased) and traded in – clear title, no hassles.

    Ryan, I don’t know how you came to those numbers via KBB (I never checked Edmund’s myself) but it seems a bit low. This car has almost every available option on the EX that you can get from Honda so perhaps the options you used on Edmunds differed from hers. The option of walking away was available but we couldn’t wait until the end of the month. With her work being in NJ and her vacation ending this week, we were under a bit of a time crunch.

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