Buying your first new car without mom and dad is probably one of the more important and expensive purchases you are going to make. If you walk into the car dealership all fresh-faced and naive, though, you may as well just hand the dealer your wallet. You have to come in armed with knowledge, or you run a huge risk of being talked into buying a lemon.
Be in Control
Some dealers truly do want you to get the best car at the best price. However, face it; many car dealers are mainly interested in increasing their profit margin. Don’t only rely on them to get your information on cars. You should research all of your car options--such as what type of car you need and how much you should pay--before you ever set foot in a dealership. You must be in control, not the dealer.
Your Type of Car
Know what you are seeking. The Kelley Blue Book Website delineates the different types of car shoppers. Figure out which one you are. The price shopper wants the cheapest car possible that can go from place to place, period. The value shopper wants a good price, yet he is also interested in quality. The image shopper cares about what the car looks like. The safety shopper wants the safest, most reliable car out there.
Once you know the type you are, keep in mind your budget. You may have to forget about your image, for example, if you need a safe car with room to unload the baby’s car seat easily. Research cars on the Internet. Read plenty of car reviews to determine which cars fit your needs.
Once you’ve narrowed down the type of car, view the car-pricing reports through places such as Kelley Blue Book online or by using the True Market Value tool from Edmunds.com. This gives you an idea of what the fair price should be on the car you want. The True Market Value tool also lets you know what other people paid for the same car in your area.
Make a budget and determine how much you can spend. Besides the monthly payments, you have to figure in gas, maintenance and insurance. Edmunds.com has another helpful tool called the True Cost to Own system. This reveals all the costs you might incur with any particular car over a five-year period.
Make sure you test drive the car by driving in conditions that mirror your typical driving circumstances. The ride should feel smooth. You shouldn’t hear funny noises; it should accelerate decently with no lurching or hesitating. It should brake smoothly and be easy to park. This is not the time to chit-chat with the dealer or blast the radio; really evaluate the car. You can check out the radio and ask questions after the test drive.
When you go to the dealer, you should know how much you are willing to pay for the car. Ignore the sticker price on the vehicle, because that is sure to be more than the number you have. The dealer is probably going to get you to his negotiating table and mix three separate negotiations into one. According to Consumer Reports, dealers like to mix financing, leasing and trade-ins together. They do this because they can make one price look good, while making up for it on their end by giving you a bad trade-in deal or bad financing terms.
You don’t have to get dealer financing. You may do better by visiting your bank or credit union and being approved for a loan first. Either way, negotiate each deal as a separate transaction. First, settle on a price. Then, discuss financing if need be. Finally, if you have a trade-in, discuss that last. If the dealer tries to add extras, say “no.” You don’t want to pay for rustproofing, fabric protection, paint protection or any other add-ons.
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.