There's so much to remember when you're buying a new car. Looking up invoice prices. Gathering consumer and insurance ratings. Finding a dealer who will treat you right. But in the end, it'll all be worth it when you're driving the car you really want and don't dread the day you'll have to bring it back in for service. Sure, buying a vehicle takes a little effort, but it's not hard getting a good deal when you follow a few simple guidelines.
Think about the next buyer. If you're like most Americans, you won't be holding on to that car longer than three years. Naturally, you need to consider vehicles that will best suit your needs. To maintain resale value, however, consider cars that are not too "exotic", have a limited production, or those that change body style often.
Do the research. Look up consumer and automotive web sites or magazines for consumer information on the specific makes and models you're considering. Such information will often allow you to directly compare one vehicle to another.
Reputation is everything. Look for a reliable, trustworthy dealer or seller, and avoid those you feel are not. If you have any reservations about the integrity of a dealer, shop their competition.
Bring along "friends" Take these items along when you inspect a used car:
- A flashlight to check dark places for leaks, rust or damage
- A magnet to detect body filler after an accident
- Rags to wipe your hands
- A note pad and pen to make notes
Try to contact the previous owner of a used car to learn about its maintenance history and verify it's current mileage. Take a used car to an independent mechanic and body shop to inspect the car for mechanical, body or structural problems so you'll know of any necessary or expected repairs that will need to be made. Look for any recalls on the vehicle you're interested in.
Put it to the test. During the test drive, drive the car as you'll expect to once you own it -- load it with people or stuff, do some freeway driving, try a tight U-turn in a parking lot -- to see how it works under real world conditions.
Gather the numbers. Find out the invoice price or market value of the new car and the value of your trade-in before you visit the dealer or seller. Watch for any special incentives or dealer hold-backs that aren't necessarily advertised but provide extra profit to the dealer.
Know your trade. If you're trading your car, spiff it up and know what repairs may be necessary before showing it to the dealer. Negotiate the price of the new car first, then tell the dealer you'll be trading and negotiate the trade-in value separately from the new car.
Watch out for last-minute additions. Be wary of expensive dealer installed options like rustproofing, fabric and paint sealants, extended warranties or extra insurances which tend to have a high mark up.
The relationship shouldn't end with the sale. Before you buy, visit the dealer's service department and ask about the service they will give you once you own the car. Read the contract very carefully, and don't sign it until all your questions are sufficiently answered. Get it in writing that all recall work or agreed on repairs have been or will be made by the seller.
Take your time. Make sure you really want the car and can afford to pay for it, since it can be very difficult to return it after you sign the contract. Finally, don't succumb to pressure by a salesperson, or even friends or family, into buying a car you don't really want.