How to Buy a New Car & Not Get Screwed

You can get a good car deal by researching the car at home first.

You can get a good car deal by researching the car at home first.

A car dealer can spot that deer in headlights look a mile away. To the car dealer, that look means an unprepared and often gullible customer has just entered his playground. Don’t let the dealer screw you by selling you an inappropriate car at a too-high price. Don’t be lured into buying that shiny new convertible, either. Prepare yourself before entering the dealership.

Decide what kind of car you need to buy. The key word being need, as opposed to want. Think about what you are going to use your car for. If you commute a long distance to work, for example, you should get a car that gets good gas mileage. You may need a car that has a lot of cargo capacity, or you may need a car that can fit into a small parking garage.

Establish a budget to determine how much you can afford. You must consider the monthly payment, the down payment, the interest rate, the length of the loan, maintenance costs and gas.

Use the Internet to determine the car you want. You should only use the dealership to test drive the car and sign the contract, according to Edmunds.com.

Use a tool such as the True Market Value calculator on Edmunds.com. This lets you know the average price buyers are paying as opposed to the sticker price on the car that the dealer wants you to accept.

Contact lenders to be pre-approved for a loan. You may not get the best deal by using dealer financing.

Keep your poker face on. If the car dealer has the exact, dream car you had in mind, do not tell him. Otherwise, you will lose your edge in negotiating.

Leave the dealership after you test-drive the car and before making any promises to the dealer. You want to test drive other cars, even if you are sure you found the car you want at the first place.

Call the dealer that has the car you want and ask her to fax or email you an invoice that lists all the costs. That way, you can review the deal at your leisure at home. If you see something that you don’t understand, you can ask for an explanation or to have that item removed before making your final decision.


  • When you test drive, replicate the conditions you will be in when you drive the car as your own. Drive in stop-and-go traffic and on the freeway. Drive over bumps and make sharp turns. Drive fast and test the brakes. Drive with the radio off; evaluate the radio before or after your test-drive instead.
  • If you are successful in negotiating a good price for your car, do not let your guard down. The dealer still can have some tricks up his sleeve and try to make up the lost profit on hidden mark-ups, such as “administrative costs” or “advertising fees.” You can ask the dealer to remove these types of fees. The price you pay is your total cost walking out the door, not simply the purchase price.


  • If you finance your car through the dealer, the finance manager might try to sell you additional items, such as an extended warranty, an extended service contract, alarms or fabric protection. Edmunds.com recommends that you turn these offers down.

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About the Author

Laura Agadoni has been writing professionally since 1983. Her feature stories on area businesses, human interest and health and fitness appear in her local newspaper. She has also written and edited for a grassroots outreach effort and has been published in "Clean Eating" magazine and in "Dimensions" magazine, a CUNA Mutual publication. Agadoni has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University-Fullerton.

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