How To Buy A Car – Part 1: Research

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Today I’ll start a new series on buying a car.  For something that expensive, there should be plenty of room to avoid paying full price if you do it right.  Doing it the right way means starting with research.  Whether a new or used car, buying a car may involve researching your financing, researching your potential cars, visiting several dealers, test driving your choices, evaluating options packages, negotiating a deal, and filling out all that paperwork; but at least you shouldn’t have to do it very often.  In return for all that hard work and loads of cash, you get one sweet toy – that is, vital necessity.

For something this expensive, and hopefully something you will have for a long time, your research in advance will pay off big.  Only visit a dealer when you are ready to test drive.  Thankfully, the internet has made shopping for a car much easier.  On the web, you can research potential makes and models, reviews, safety reports, comparisons, prices, how much others are paying, trade-in value for your current car, financing, incentives, dealers, payment calculators, and car buying services.  Many websites enable you to get quotes from multiple dealers.  Many dealers will even let you search their inventory.  The better your advance research, the more successful you will be when dealing with that sales person and getting the car you want for the best price.  As always, the first place to start is reviewing your own budget to see how much you can afford for a down payment and monthly payments.  In addition to car type, price, and looks; consider these in your car selection and research:  safety record, gas mileage, maintenance costs, and resale value.  Then start your research at these websites:

  • http://www.safercar.gov/ – Review safety ratings.
  • http://www.caranddriver.com/ – A good place to narrow down your choices with reviews, road tests, comparisons, and buyers guides.
  • http://www.kiplinger.com/fronts/channels/cars/ – Kiplinger’s “New Car Comparison” tool enables you to compare models, prices, service cost, resale value, miles per gallon, and more.
  • http://www.edmunds.com/ – One of the most comprehensive car buying sites for both new and used cars with information on car reviews, ratings, incentives, road tests, price quotes, dealer inventory, calculators, and used car appraisals.
  • http://www.kbb.com/ – The Kelly Blue Book website is a must visit and provides price data for new cars, used cars, and trade-ins. You can also find information and tools including calculators, car comparisons, price quotes, recommendations, reviews, car buying wizards, and incentives.
  • http://www.nadaguides.com/ – Among a wealth of information is a “cost to own” calculator for hundreds of cars.
  • http://www.truecar.com/ – Enables you to compare prices and see the sticker price, average price, and target price for new and used autos. Their target price is sometime below the dealers invoice price because it can account for other hidden incentives the dealer gets from the auto company that you can negotiate for.  Truecar is also one of the many “car buying services” so it can also provide you with a certificate to print and hand the dealer with the price, thus minimizing haggling.
  • Smartphone apps – Of course there are a growing number of smartphone apps that are very useful when visiting dealers including apps from Edmunds, Kelly Blue Book, Car and Driver, AAA, and several independents.

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