I NEARLY bought a Ford Cougar by mistake the other day. Having been lured in by the online prospect of a cheap V6 coupe for the price most of you spend on package holidays I ended up in North London’s dodgiest-looking secondhand car lot – and ended up walking away.
Sorry for the Minder-esque opening but that’s genuinely how it happened. If you’re not familiar with it the Cougar’s a sort of two-door Mondeo with crisper detailing and an aggressive front end, and it’s now in the same price doldrums the Capri was 15 years ago. In the end the one I looked at was in the midst of a three-deep crowd of rather ropey-looking cars guarded by two rather angry dogs with a sales office operated from – and I’m not making this up – a garden shed hastily erected in the middle. Oh, and the car itself had a broken radiator grille held in place with some string and made a rather worrying whine when it started up.
But the biggest disappointment was that walking away meant I couldn’t down with some Arthur Daley-esque character and thrash out a deal. My boss had already told me if I’d be sacked from motoring journalism if I couldn’t bag this V6 beast for under £500, but in the end I concluded this particular Cougar looked like one very poorly cat. Which is a shame because I like haggling – but apparently the vast majority of you don’t.
Apparently 55% of you would rather not talk turkey when it comes to car prices and find the experience of negotiating a deal uncomfortable. My generation is apparently the worst for it, with 71% of younger buyers preferring not to get involved at all and would much rather pay full whack and get it over and done with. Which is staggering, because haggling is a time honoured way of getting more for your money.
It needn’t be unpleasant and it’s not about rude or abrasive to whoever’s trying to flog you a set of wheels – all it takes is a polite “Can I make you an offer?” and doing your homework beforehand. Far from being intimidating, haggling is a wonderful game of motoring chess to be enjoyed and a skill to be honed. You learn what the car’s going to be worth elsewhere and factor it into the negotiations. You use the little niggles and faults you find as bargaining chips. Most importantly you know the power of politely declining and walking away – if the deal isn’t right or the seller’s rude or dismissive, you stay calm and remember patience is the key to finding the right car.
That’s part of the reason why I never go for classified ads which tersely end with ‘NO OFFERS’ – it almost seems a bit unsporting. Ending things with ‘ono’ – as in Or Nearest Offer – gives you and the seller the chance to strike up a deal that works for both parties, and it’s important because it helps keep the market on its toes and prices realistic.
If you’re thinking of getting another car don’t be put off by the idea that haggling is frightening – it really isn’t, and the more you do it the better a deal you’ll get it. Top tip though; if it involves batting your way past angry dogs and chatting to shifty blokes in garden sheds, it’s probably best looking elsewhere.
Originally published in the 2 March issue of The Champion