It is now not possible for a day to go past without at least one person ringing me up and telling me an ever more outrageous tale about the price at which a certain car has changed hands.

Merc wagon1 Today’s came from a gentleman whom I have known since I was a child and is the last person on the planet to make something like this up.

He needs a large SUV for towing purposes, but was happy to have a petrol-powered car because he’ll only do about 5000 miles a year in it. He found one such car from a premium brand that, with a few optional goodies, should retail for £40,000. He paid £18,000 for it. New.

Nor are these bargains restricted to large and unpopular SUVs. A dealer I know insists there is now effectively no such thing as an undiscounted car. ‘Don’t do the deal until you can see the whites of their eyes’ was his uncompromising advice to buyers before going on to predict things will get still worse before they get better.

At times as bad as these, it is good and even imperative to spend at least some time accentuating the positive, and the one shining truth in all of this is that the person who chooses right and haggles hardest is going to bag a bargain. Take my mate with his SUV: However long he keeps it, someone paying full whack would still lose more money than him just by driving out of the showroom.

It’s even tempting me, and when motoring journalists start considering spending their own money on a car you know things have got to be bad. I last did this exactly 10 years ago when I bought my wife an ex-demo A-class Mercedes because a child was on the way. A decade later the child has grown somewhat, been joined by a sibling and a large mutt, but still my missus and her A-class soldier on.

What I’ve always wanted but never been able to afford is an E320 CDI estate, but now I notice that 2008 models with four digit mileages are trading for only a little more than £20,000 or, put another way, half price. Sadly I still can’t justify blowing that kind of money on a car that will spend most of its life on the school run. But others will and, in the process, do the deal of a lifetime.