Should You Hire a Broker to Buy a Car?


After four years living car-free, a job change recently pushed my family to buy a vehicle. I dreaded going head-to-head with a car salesman and possibly failing to negotiate a good price.

While researching how to get a good deal on a used car, I happened upon this quote in an Edmunds article: "You're not a professional car buyer, so why go up against a professional car seller alone?" The piece was about hiring an auto broker to locate a car and negotiate a good deal. It was a practice that I had scarcely heard of, but the one person I know who used a broker raved that it saved her both time and money. And a little online searching had showed me that the specific used car I wanted was going to be hard to track down at a good price. (See also: How to Buy a Used Car Without Getting Ripped Off)

So I decided to give it a whirl.

How to Hire a Broker

Car brokers tend to be solo or small-group operators, and each brokerage may operate slightly differently, but this is what the process was like for me.

First, I emailed a local broker who had positive reviews on Yelp, and told him exactly what we were looking for: make, model, acceptable years and mileage range, colors, and trim level. He replied, explaining how his service works and the fee, which for used cars is $800. He would search online through publicly available sites, dealer-only wholesale sites — a good source for finding former rental cars, he said — and possibly through his network of other brokers. He'd check vehicle history reports, eliminating cars that had been in accidents or driven in rust-prone regions. Then he'd call sellers to verify availability and nail down the lowest price they'd be willing to sell it for. Finally, he'd send me a list of matching cars, so I could pick the one I wanted to buy.

The process went pretty much as he said it would. When he sent the list, he also showed me how to judge how good a deal each car was, and gave his recommendations for the best bets.

Be Sure to Confirm Broker Services

One thing that I did not realize going into the experience was that my broker's work ended when I selected a vehicle. I had hoped that I would simply tell him which car I wanted, and he'd have the necessary documents sent to me, tell me where to wire the money, and the car would be delivered to my door without me ever having to speak to a dealership. Some services — more likely those that market themselves as car concierge services — do some of this for their clients, but in my case, the broker simply gave me the phone number of the dealership and the price they'd agreed to, and got a shipping quote for me from his preferred shipping service. I had to talk to the dealership, in a series of back-and-forth calls that ended up stretching over several days, sign the paperwork they FedExed me, and then call the shipper to schedule the delivery.

In the end, I got the car I wanted at a good price, with less hassle than I would have gone through if I'd tried to do it all on my own. Because the car I wanted, a late-model Toyota Highlander Hybrid, is in high demand, my broker wasn't able to get the dealership to budge from its advertised price. But it was still a good deal — in fact, when I contacted a local dealer to see if they could match the price, they congratulated me on getting a steal. But the main advantages of the broker, for me, were saving time and peace of mind. If I'd done it on my own, I'd have felt uncertain as to whether I'd gotten a good deal or a bad one — and I also wouldn't have had the nerve to attempt an out-of-state transaction without someone to explain how it works.

Is It the Right Move for You?

Car brokers also help people buy new vehicles, but because my purchase was used, the tips here mostly pertain to pre-owned car purchases.

You may want to work with a dealer if:

You Hate Negotiating

Even though I would have loved to save more, I liked knowing that when I contacted the dealer, we had already agreed on a price. I had considered avoiding negotiation by visiting a fixed-price outlet like CarMax, but I'm glad I didn't, because CarMax is selling an identical vehicle to the one I bought — for $3,000 more than I paid.

You Are Really Busy

In the past, I have bought cars through ads posted on Craigslist or even the classified section of the newspaper. It takes a lot of time to contact individual sellers and dealerships this way, not to mention checking Carfax reports. My broker made all these searches, phone calls, and background checks for me, earning his fee in the hours he saved me, alone.

You Want to Find a Vehicle Quickly

My broker located a car with everything on my wish list in under a week. If I were searching myself, I'm pretty sure I would have spent all summer searching Craigslist and other sites before I found a vehicle that matched my list so well.

You Don't Know Much About the Car-Buying Business

If I had been well-versed in how to compare prices based on the NADAguides trade-in price, and knew what to look for in a car's history, I might not have needed my broker's help. As it was, I learned so much from my broker that I would feel comfortable searching and negotiating on my own next time around.

You're on a Tight Budget

It may seem counterintuitive to be willing to shell out hundreds of dollars up front in order to get a good deal, but think of it this way: If you're not price sensitive, you don't need a broker, because you can save time and hassle by walking into a dealership and buying a new car at the advertised price.

Downsides of Working With a Broker

Although I'm glad I did it, the experience wasn't perfect.

Pressure to Work on the Broker's Timeline

My natural inclination would have been to only spend an hour or two a week working on my car search, and spread it out over a longer period. Understandably, my broker wanted to get the job over with and get paid. Because of that, I ended up fielding multiple phone calls and emails from him during that week, often at times when I was busy with work.

The Broker May Have Other Incentives

Some brokers are also compensated by dealers — which is something you should ask about in advance. My broker sold extended warranties, and while his warranties were less expensive than those sold by dealerships, I felt like he expected me to buy one. It would have been awkward for me to say no after working together all week. (In the end, I bought a car that came with a warranty, so the point was moot.)

It's Not Ideal for Introverts

On one hand, it was great to have someone available to answer my questions at every step of the car search process. On the other, I'm not much for talking on the phone, and it felt awkward to have to work on a team every day for a week. Sometimes we had communication issues that caused me stress, especially when my broker would sound irritated, because I didn't understand what he was talking about.

Have you worked with a broker before? What was your experience like? Share with us!

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Maricor M. Bunal

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