On The Road To Savvy Buying

By Melissa Bobbitt

August 20, 2010 4 min read

Committing to a big purchase, such as a car, can be intimidating. But you don't have to go it alone. The more knowledge you compile about the experience before driving off in a brand-new beauty the likelier you'll be to score a deal and not feel as if you were duped. Here are some tips for savvy car buying.

Most importantly, seek help before you step onto a lot. There are myriad websites and organizations to educate you in your pursuit. Explore the sites of the models and makes in which you're interested. Once you've homed in on a few selections, surf over to automobile-expert pages that will provide further insight.

For example, Edmunds.com has the True Market Value indicator, which will reveal actual projected costs of the models you're eyeing, taking into consideration the average prices buyers report, as well as unadvertised costs that might spring up at dealerships.

Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com, asserts that the True Market Value is a forceful ally in getting a fair price. "Start low and negotiate no higher than that price ... unless that car is an unusual color or has very specific options," he says.

Reed recommends that the prospective buyer hone his haggling skills before approaching a dealer. "You don't need to go to acting school to be a good negotiator; you just need to know the numbers."

Those numbers include your credit score. CarBuyingTips.com's Jeff Ostroff writes on his website that knowing one's score prior to shopping is imperative, lest you get suckered into an astronomical interest rate on your loan. You can obtain your credit score for $15.95 at http://www.myFICO.com. If your score is less than 550, Ostroff discourages signing a loan by yourself; it may be more suitable to get a co-signer with a better credit rating.

Also, be wary of scams and aggressive sales tactics. Audri Lanford runs Scambusters.org, which features numerous articles with car-buying advice straight from the horse's mouth, former salesman Peter Humleker. Lanford says that with Humleker's help, she's realized the error of her naive purchasing, and she wants to make sure other potential buyers don't fall into those traps.

"Pretty much any car sale is a scam," she says with a laugh. "They're just ways to get you down there (to the lots)."

Lanford warns against "tent sales" and wacky incentives, such as $1,000 gift certificates. Often these are garish opportunities for outside dealers to pilfer more money from dazzled shoppers. Generally, if it sounds too good to be true, it is, and you'll suffer the consequences in your expanding monthly payment.

FinWeb.com offers some additional quick tips for the savvy buyer:

--Do not give your Social Security number or even fill out a loan application until you're absolutely ready to purchase, because any ammo against your credit may be exploited by the dealership's financial team.

--Shop midweek, at the end of the month or during Christmastime or inclement weather for possible price tinkering in your favor.

--June and July are often good months to shop because that's when dealers are phasing out the previous year's models, and they want to get those off the lot ASAP.

--Don't go alone. Bring someone with negotiation and automobile know-how so you don't get bullied into buying at an unfavorable price.

--Say no to unnecessary extras. Nothing racks up the bill more quickly than add-ons such as "power" components, beefed-up audio equipment and super-duper warrantees.

As a last bit of assistance, the Federal Trade Commission offers consumers a new-car-buying checklist to bring with you to the dealership. Go to http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/menus/consumer/autos/buy.shtm. Print it off and you're armed and ready for your big purchase.

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