Go Prepared

By Sharon Naylor

August 23, 2011 5 min read

When you visit a car dealership intending to buy a new or used car, what you bring with you is quite important. The goal is to find the best deal on a vehicle and conduct a safe and secure purchase. Here is your list of must-have items:

1) Your credit card. Car-buying experts agree that it's best to pay with a credit card, rather than with a check or cash. When using a credit card, your purchase is protected by the consumer rights of your card agreement, and you may be able to cancel your transaction if you experience a fraud in your deal.

2) A photocopy of your driver's license, with your handwritten note that the dealer does not have permission to run a credit check on you while you're on a test drive. In 1998, the Federal Trade Commission made it illegal under the Fair Credit Reporting Act for car dealerships to get your credit report while you're test driving a car. Remind the dealer of this fact, and mention the $2,500 fine the FTC levies against any dealership that does so. You'll see it on your credit reports if they do. Your personal information, including your Social Security number, is to be saved until you're sitting down to sign a contract.

3) The insurance quote from your car insurance company for the coverage you'd like to get on your vehicle.

4) Printouts of the fair market trade-in value of your current car, if you plan to trade it in. Dealers might not use Kelley Blue Book to assess your car's trade-in value. If you have your car's trade-in assessments from Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds and NADA Guides, you'll be in a better position to negotiate a fair trade-in value for your car, rather than just accepting any potentially disappointing figure the dealership offers.

5) Printouts of any manufacturer rebates and incentives you've found online. Dealerships might not mention current rebates to you, and some dealers might simply be unaware of any new ones available from carmakers. These lists could save you thousands of dollars off your new car purchase.

6) Printouts of extended warranty quotes from other car-buying sites to compare with the dealer's quote, also putting you in a better position to negotiate.

7) Printouts of DMV fees. Since your dealer will likely handle the Department of Motor Vehicles-related tasks such as getting your new license plates and trading in your old ones, it's important for you to know what the DMV actually charges. In your state, dealers may charge a $400 "document fee" for handling paperwork to get your new license plates. It may be smarter for you to handle this task on your own or use your printout to negotiate lower fees than the dealer's list shows.

8) A smartphone with Wi-Fi capability. While you're on the lot, you can access the manufacturer's site, rebate listings and other essential information to help you with your car purchase. Your phone can also connect you to the site CarBuyingTips.com, where you'll find a glossary of car purchase fees. For instance, if you see a $250 charge for "dealer prep," you'll see that the fee is charged for the dealer's looking over the car to assess any damage and also to remove bumper stickers. You may also be able to negotiate out a "drive-off deposit" or "VIN etching fee" that you don't feel applies to your purchase.

9) Your poker face. Never act overly enthusiastic about a car you wish to buy. Car salespeople are especially adept at working your emotional attachment to your "dream car" and potentially getting you to buy it without adequate forethought.

10) Maintenance records and your car's history report, which will be essential for a better trade-in value of your old car. Very often, dealers will credit you when they see that you've had the tires rotated every six months, never had an accident and had a new battery placed in your car just a few weeks prior.

11) Your car insurance card and car registration card.

12) An experienced friend or relative. Put your ego aside, and invite a good knowledgeable negotiator to accompany you to the car lot. He or she might know just the right questions to ask or warn you about a term in the contract.

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