The Half-Price Used Car: Possible?

We all hear stories of the deals other people get when car buying. People brag about picking up a car for “under invoice” or knocking $2K off the purchase price during fierce negotiations.

Good deals, to be sure, but what about the mother of all car deals? The kind of sale typically reserved for grocery stores, discount electronic retailers and day-after-Thanksgiving sales… the holy grail of discounts: 50 percent off.

Is it possible to get a car for half off? Would a dealer even consider such an offer?

Absolutely. Sometimes. Maybe.

A month ago I sold one of my cars thinking my family could make it as one of those one-car-families we sometimes hear about. It worked for a while, and I actually enjoyed the time on my bicycle. My wife enjoyed bicycling, too, until a fierce thunderstorm impeded her progress on her normally enjoyable trek home from work on her day without the car.

We could have continued through the summer (at least) without a second car and weren’t in a hurry to buy, but with me being a compulsive car nut, it wasn’t long before I was trolling DealFinder and creating alerts for vehicles I might consider.

Sure enough, I got an email alert for a listing that looked interesting, but DealFinder told me it was a bit overpriced at $10K. Still, I e-mailed the dealer and after a few days went for a look.

The car, a 2004 model, was spotless and looked right off the showroom floor. Straight sheet metal, no door dings and clean AutoCheck and CarFax reports. The engine compartment was as clean as that of any used car I’ve ever seen, and the trunk looked like it had never been used. I opened the front door, sat down on the flawless leather, put my hands on the steering wheel and was overcome by the smell of stale cigarette smoke. This beautiful car smelled like a neglected room at a roadside Econo Inn.


I drove the car anyway (with the windows down) and enjoyed the sound of the V6 and the feel of rowing my own gears.

After the drive I politely excused myself, told the salesman I had to think about it and went home. After stewing on it for a week, I decided the car was worth it and I could deal with the smell… at half price.

I emailed my salesman and made my offer: $5K. Two days later he called, countering with $8,700. I laughed, said no and hung up. He called back: $6,388. Closer, but no. From here we engaged in my first ever experience with text-message negotiation. He came down to $6K. I said never mind. Then he broke: $5,500.

Close enough.

Now we’re a two-car family again. I’ve had the car for almost a week, and the smell is already going away thanks to some coffee grounds, baking soda and new rubber floormats.

While the circumstances have to be just right, the half-price used car (or darn close to it) is absolutely possible.

What’s the best car deal you’ve ever negotiated?


Find Used Cars in Your Area at CarGurus


  1. I did great on my 2006 Trailblazer. I bought it a few days before Christmas (best time of the year to buy) as the financial world crashed down in 2008, so nobody was buying new or used cars. The dealer had a row of off-lease Trailblazers on the lot at bargain prices. The one I picked out was like yours— some butt head had been using it as an ash tray for three years, and in addition to the smell, there were several burn holes that had been repaired on the seats. Tires were a bit worn, too. It was so cold I didn’t notice the smell until I returned to test drive it the next day, so I managed to get $2000 knocked off the price because of the tires and smoke. I can say the car still stinks a little inside, but the used value didn’t match what I paid for the car until this past winter, meaning I’ve been driving it for free until this year.

  2. Nowhere near what you got! Would you consider being my agent for my next car purchase?

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