A British Guide To Haggling – Part 2: Car Boot Sales


Buying From UK Car Boot Sales

There are many car boot sales across the UK. Most are outside in fields and car parks. Most are on Sunday mornings and bank holidays, with a few on Saturdays and a small number on weekdays in summer holidays. Some operate all year round, obviously depending on fair weather and ground conditions. Some are indoors, so are always popular when it’s raining! They range from small charity or school car boot sales to the very large ‘mega car boot sales’ and markets. So let’s go to a car boot sale and buy some stock.

Rule #1 – arrive early! The early bird catcheth the worm! Arrange to get to the boot sale at the time the sellers are setting up. I don’t condone harassing sellers who are busy setting out their stall, but as things appear on their tables you can ask for prices and offer along as the seller is happy to do so. Some sellers will tell you to come back when they have finished setting up – you should always respect their wishes. Fresh stock is a great draw, most serious pickers will have conducted business within the first two hours and before most people arrive.

Be aware and be safe

  • Car boot sales are cash-only trading places. If you go with a large amount of cash, do keep it safe in a bag or money belt.

  • Ladies, keep your handbags zipped or buckled up and don’t get distracted when opening it up to take out your phone, glasses or purse.

  • Don’t flash your cash.

  • Don’t keep folded bank notes in your back pocket.

  • Do keep alert and don’t stand out from the crowd.

  • Do dress down – you don’t want sellers to think you are wealthy and inflate their prices because they think that you have plenty of money. Nether, do you want to be targeted by pickpockets, being identified as a worthy challenge.

  • Blend in and be discrete.

  • If you are buying a lot of stock, take items back to your vehicle at regular intervals so as to avoid getting noticed as a buyer with plenty to spend. This can be a useful tactic to avoid giving away to sellers, knowledge of your interests, status and intentions.

  • Don’t crowd around close to people or allow anyone to get too close to you. Car boot sales are notorious for pickpockets.

  • Do keep your mobile phone safe.

  • Beware of being distracted by one person as someone else steals your cash or phone.

Look and listen

Take an overview of the car boot sale. Identify the stalls with items that interest you. Listen to the conversations between the sellers and other buyers. You can get a feel of what sort of prices are being asked for and if the seller is open to negotiation (willing to haggle) on price. Identify the regular dealers, house clearance traders and the one time sellers clearing out their mother’s or grandmother’s houses.

  • You spot a stall that has some items of interest.

  • You might be excited, and spot an item you have been searching for, but stay cool and don’t give the seller any clues that you want the item and will buy it at any price!

  • Pick it up, very carefully, especially if it is a fragile item, check it over for condition, any damage or repairs. If it has a price tag, you know your starting point, but many sellers don’t use price tags so they can be flexible with their pricing depending on who is asking.

  • If you know what you would intend to sell the item for you can then estimate what you would need to pay for it to ensure you make a profit. Make sure you build in a margin for your selling fees and overheads.

Profit Calculator

You can use the calculator below to establish your gross profit. This is the difference between what the item cost you and what you want to sell it for. As a rule, a healthy gross profit margin will typically be in the region of 35-65%. The higher you can get your gross margin the better, as low margins are risky and leave no room for errors, or bad luck.



I want to sell this item for £100

Selling fees 20% £20

Overheads 5% £5

Desired net profit 50%

Some items can make more profit than others. This will depend on many factors. Whether the item is common, unusual or unique, the item condition and the market or customer you are selling to. You also have to decide if you want quick turnover low margin or wait for a buyer to pay a higher price to achieve a higher profit. A good practice is to aim for an average profit margin, then you can offset lower profit items that sell quicker (sometimes called ‘bread and butter’) with some high ticket items.

Haggling at car boot sales

Although you want to be able to buy items at the lowest possible price, a good practice is to achieve a win/win outcome for both parties, buyer and seller. As a buyer, you need to get the item for a price that allows you to make your desired profit (margin). Sometimes items will not be viable to purchase, as the seller will want too much for it. Do not be afraid to walk away if a deal seems impossible. Sometimes the seller will have bought the item for too much and will hold off for sale to an end user to make their money.

These are some typical questions you can ask the seller.

  • I may be interested in this item. Is there any movement on this price?

  • Can I offer you £x for this item?

  • Would you take £x for this item?

If you see several items that interest you on the same stall, the prospect of a multi-buy can result in a good overall discount.

Questions to ask in this scenario:

  • Agree on a price of your first item, then for a second item. Add the total in your head and then ask, what can the total be if I have both items? The seller may offer a further price reduction for buying both items. This method can be applied to two or more items you may wish to purchase from one seller.

  • You can also group a few items together and ask for a total price. But you will need to have a clear idea what price you want to sell each item to ensure your desired profit can be met.

  • What would be the total price of all these items?

Good luck and happy car-booting!

Part 3 will be up next month (April) and will feature our Classic Brocante guide to buying and haggling at antique shops, emporiums, and charity shops. Follow us on social media to get notifications of new blog posts and other pictures and stories from our travels.