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So You Want to Buy a Car

So You Want to Buy a Car

One of the best kept secrets in business is that everything is negotiable. This is particularly applicable when shopping for a car. You’ve probably seen car salespeople hovering in the doorways of the dealerships, watching your every move and waiting to strike. This is because they make money every time they sell a car…which puts you, the consumer, in a position of power. In order to use that power, you need to be an informed consumer; you must know what type of vehicle you need and the price range you can afford. You should decide how you are going to pay for the car. You should also know your credit score because the higher your score, the more negotiation power you have.

Before you put money down on a car, do some window and comparison shopping—this can be done on-line and at the dealerships. Inform yourself by checking out Consumer Reportson the vehicles you are interested in. Figure out gas mileage and repair costs—some cars cost a lot more to repair than others. Also factor into your decision the length of warranty and loss if the car is totaled. Your best bet is to focus on best-selling models. A vehicle becomes a best-selling model for several reasons, one of which is reliability. Also, selection will be wider (more colors, features, and prices) and the repairs will usually be less expensive.

Most of the time, when you buy a car, a sales person will try to get you to buy more car than you need for a higher price than you can afford. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the first price you are offered is the highest you could possibly pay…and if there’s a highest price, there must be a lowest price. The dealer will probably ask you how much you want to pay a month. They then calculate how many years it will take you to pay off the vehicle, often without telling you what the total cost will be to you. It is up to you to do the math! (Use our online car cost comparison calculator.) If the total cost is outside of your price range, negotiate until you end up with a price you like. (One mistake that many buyers make is to fall in love with a car in front of the seller. If you do this, you might abandon any opportunity to negotiate a good deal.) Don’t be intimidated by the sales/buying process, even if the seller plays hardball with you. Remember, you are in the power position and you can always walk out the door.

If you are buying a used car, take a walk around the vehicle and make sure there are no scratches or dings before you sign the paperwork. Pop the hood and look at the engine. Turn on the vehicle and check the bells and whistles—does everything work like it’s supposed to? You may even want to have your own mechanic check it out. Check out or to find the retail, resell, and trade-in value of used cars. When you are satisfied that this is the vehicle for you, read everything TWICE before signing. Be sure that all the blanks are filled in and that wording on warranties is specific and understandable.

Lastly, be prepared to walk away from the deal if the seller is not willing to negotiate with you. If something doesn’t feel right or if you feel as though you’re not being respected, walk away. You can always find another car. Promise yourself that you will stick with your plan no matter how appealing that shiny red sports car may be.

Published Jun 13, 2008.