Despite popular perception, it is possible to buy a car and feel good about spending a lot of money. Armed with a little bit of knowledge and the right questions, the buying experience can be emotionally — as well as financially — rewarding. Here are 10 basic tips.
1. First of all, be realistic about the kind of car you need. If you’re planning to drive the car on a daily basis, go for something that’s comfortable, gets good city gas mileage and is easy to hop in and out of. Planning to take your new wheels to far-off destinations? You’ll need room for people and luggage. If you have a family, you probably need to think utility — not two-seater.
2. Plan ahead for price. You may want a dream car, but do you want to be saddled with statospheric monthly payments for the next five years? To avoid getting in over your head, be realistic about what you can afford. If need be, talk to a financial advisor or get a pre-approved loan from a bank.
3. Know ALL the hidden costs. Remember, the sticker price is just the beginning: finance charges, insurance, registration and yearly operating and maintenance expenses quickly add up.
To get an accurate picture of how much your car will cost, call your insurance agent for an estimate on your make and model, contact the Department of Motor Vehicles to find out the registration fee, ask the dealer for a service estimate and figure out your expected annual gas costs.
4. Always consider safety. Don’t worry — all new cars must meet government guidelines for safety. But there are a few additional safety features you should consider that may affect your final tab: antilock brakes, traction control for snow and side-impact airbags among them. (One simple rule of thumb: Bigger is better. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, twice as many people die in small-car crashes as in large-car crashes every year.)
5. Shop around. Take note of how you’re treated. You’ll feel better about your purchase if you get the utmost respect. Saturn became a benchmark in the business by being courteous and offering customer and service conveniences.
Find a dealer close to your home — one with a clean service department (poke around a bit, really!) and service technician certificates on the walls. Be sure the employees are friendly, as well as helpful. Ask whether loaner cars or shuttle services are provided when your car is in the shop.
6. Ask around. Word of mouth carries weight for a reason. If your friends and relatives had good experiences at one dealership, go there and mention them. It’ll make you a more interesting customer to the dealer.
7. Beware of options you don’t need. For example, four-wheel or all-wheel drive options are great in Alaska. But you probably don’t need them in warm climates where it rarely snows.
8. Check the history of the vehicle. How is it reviewed in Consumer Reports? Does it have a recall history? How about a reputation for expensive repairs? (Fiat cars, for example, earned a dogged reputation that plays off the acronym: “Fix it again, Tony.”)
9. Don’t be afraid to haggle. If you hold out a bit, you’ll likely get a better price. But if you’re shy, the preset price may be the best way to go. (Keep in mind that different dealerships will offer different prices.)
10. If the vehicle is a first-year model, take heed. Many models have problems during the first year of being manurfactured, simply because they haven’t been on the road long enough to work the bugs out. That snazzy new car everyone is talking about may be really appealing right now — but if it really tickles your fancy, you’ll love it just as much next year.