Buying a car is no trivial matter. If you don't plan to buy a house, a car may very well be the most expensive purchase you'll ever make -- one that you'll spend several years paying off. And unless your bank account is somewhere in the neighborhood of Warren Buffett's or maybe Scrooge McDuck's, you don't want to spend more money than you really need to.
But car buying can also be an intimidating experience. How do you know you're getting a good deal? How can you be sure you aren't making some crucial mistake that will lead to spending thousands of dollars more than you have to in order to get the car of your dreams? There's no magic formula for getting the best deal on a car, but on the next few pages we'll give you some common sense tips for improving your chances of getting a terrific car without driving yourself (literally) to bankruptcy.
It's a truism that the best time to buy a new car is in the early fall, just before the new models come out. Dealers need to clear out space on their lots for new inventory and are willing to sell the old cars at rock-bottom prices just to get rid of them. This isn't as true as it used to be, simply because computerized inventory control practices have helped dealers to minimize overstock, but it's still a good practice. You should think about buying a car in September or October. That's because enough new models come out over the summer to make that a good buying period. If the particular car you want is about to begin a new model year, that's the time to make your move.
However, some dealers claim that the best time of all to buy a new car is mid-to-late December, when dealers are offering special bargains to push up their end-of-year sales figures and attract the crowds of shoppers on their way to the mall. Keep your eye on the local automobile dealer ads right before Christmas -- and right after the holiday as well.
It's no secret that the last few years haven't been good ones for the automobile industry -- or for the economy in general. People still need to buy cars, of course, but there are some good cars out there with flagging sales. It's to your advantage to find out which ones they are because dealers might be willing to give you a better price to move their inventory on those particular models. Be sure to do your research: Look at reviews of cars, look at sales figures for the cars that get good reviews -- and see if some well-regarded car that fits your needs isn't selling well. Then give serious thought to buying one. The dealer may be very glad to see you and give you a price that will make your visit worthwhile.
You wouldn't necessarily want to buy a car online the way you'd buy a book from Amazon.com -- sometimes it's better to check out the car in person before you buy it and only then have it shipped to your doorstep. But there are several Web sites, including Consumer Guide Automotive, CarsDirect, Cars.com and AutoTrader, that let you read automobile reviews, see what actual owners have to say about these models, and then search the local dealers near your ZIP code to see what kind of price the best cars are being offered for. You can do all of this from the comfort of your very own computer chair. And if you really do want to buy your car directly from the Web site, some will give you that option, too. With a greatly reduced overhead cost, these sites can offer some impressive bargains.
Needless to say, all of the tips in this article involve researching the cars you want to buy -- to see how they match up to the competition, to see how well they're selling and to see who's offering the best price. But the importance of knowing a lot about the car you want to buy can't be overstated. Before you walk into a dealer, you should have a pretty good idea of what you're looking for and what specific car is most likely to deliver it.
In particular, it's always useful to learn how much the dealer is actually paying for the car. It's unlikely that you'll be able to buy it for less than the dealer's cost and you don't necessarily want to insult the dealer by insisting that they sell the car to you at a loss. But you'll also want to know if you're paying too much. If the dealer sees that you know when a car is overpriced, you're in a better position to bargain for a better deal.
Sure, we all have an image of automobile salespeople as fast-talking con artists who will say anything in order to enhance his or her commission. There may even be a few salespeople out there who really do fit that description. But the truth is most are just trying to make a living. And if you'll make their life easier by being polite and uninsulting, they'll usually return the compliment by helping you find a deal that will be profitable for both you and them. Remember our last tip, though: Do your research ahead of time. If the salesperson realizes that you have the knowledge that a good car buyer should have, then they'll treat you with respect too.
And if they don't -- well, just remember they're probably not the only dealer in town.
For more information about buying a new car and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.
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Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Car Buying Tips. "How to Buy New Cars and Avoid Car Dealer Scams." (July 15, 2010)http://www.carbuyingtips.com/carintro.html
- Deaton, Jamie Page. "Best Car Deals: June 2010." U.S. News Rankings & Reviews. July 7, 2010. (July 15, 2010)http://usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/cars-trucks/Best-Car-Deals/
- Deaton, Jamie Page. "Five Ways to Get the Best Deal in a Down Market." U.S. News Rankings & Reviews. (July 15, 2010) http://usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/cars-trucks/5-Ways-to-Get-the- Best-Deal-in-a-Down-Market/
- Hoffman, Gary. "Three tips to get a good deal on a car." CNN.com. (July 15, 2010)http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/wayoflife/02/01/car.shopping/index.html
- JustGoodCars.com. "Car Deals, How to Find Good Car Deals." (July 15, 2010)http://www.justgoodcars.com/43/articles/car-deals_how-to-find-good-car-deals.html