class notes: top five

Illustration by John Dykes

Top five ways not to get ripped off buying a used car

By Joseph Neiman, BS ’08 CEO, ACV Auctions


After working both sides of auto sales—at his own used-car dealership in Albany and then as a manager at a new-car dealership in Buffalo—Joseph Neiman had a revelation. “Used-car dealers want to buy inventory to replenish vehicles sold. New-car dealers want to sell off customer trade-ins. And consumers want to know what their old car is really worth. If we can create a tool and a marketplace in real time, there’s a great opportunity here.”

That opportunity became ACV Auctions, an app that allows dealers to buy and sell used cars through 20-minute live, mobile auctions—an innovation so transformative that it garnered the $1 million grand prize for Neiman and his team in last year’s 43North competition. In addition to eliminating the significant travel, transport and staffing requirements of physical car auctions, the app tells dealers and customers exactly how much a used car is worth—meaning no more guesswork on how to price trade-ins.

ACV Auctions is bringing a level of transparency to the wholesale used-car market that it’s never seen before. But the app, launched in 2015, is still young. Until it takes off on a larger scale, we thought we’d ask Neiman for some pointers on how to buy a used car off the lot without losing your shirt.

1. Get the facts
Make sure the dealer shows you a Carfax report. While it’s not the word of God, it’s a good guide.

2. Be cool
If you’re impulsive, a dealer will realize it—slow down a little. Take the time to check out all your options, and never let a dealer know you’re in a hurry even if you are.

3. Make sure the tires are new
This means either the person who traded it in took good care of the car or the dealer put on new tires. Either way, new tires increase the value by at least $400. And as a general rule, always ask the dealer what they did to recondition the car when they bought it.

4. Do a thorough check, down to the smallest detail
Make sure the sunroof opens and closes, the locks work, the trunk opens—inspect every switch and dial. Because once you’re off the lot, that’s it. You’re stuck with it.

5. Be a nice customer
Everyone wants to “win” when negotiating with a car dealer, but buying a car isn’t a zero sum game. You’ll get a lot further if you’re a decent person to do business with. Be courteous, respectful and remember: Car salesmen are people, too.