Buying a new car is an exciting prospect, but we all know it can also be frustrating and troublesome. The last thing you want is to buy the car and then have that awful feeling that maybe you could have done better in terms of the deal. How do you know you’re getting the best deal? Here are 10 steps to help you get the best deal possible.

  1. Do your research – Before you go to the dealership, gather all the research you can on the vehicle or vehicles you’re interested in. Be sure to include horsepower and fuel economy, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution scores, quality, safety and technology, cost to insure, and any other pertinent data. Weigh and balance what you want in a vehicle – luxury, towing capacity, best fuel economy, hybrid or alternative vehicle, etc. – and narrow your list down to one or two vehicles.
  2. Know your credit report – Be proactive and learn what’s on your credit report. You can obtain a free credit report every 12 months from Annual Credit Report (www.annualcreditreport.com). Free reports are available for the three consumer reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. If you have any negative items, clear them up – before you try to buy a car.
  3. Shop rates – If you’ll be financing or leasing your vehicle, it pays to comparison shop rates. Consider various sources: banks, credit unions, online lenders, automakers, and dealers – even the AAA. Check rates through sites such as BankRate.com, eloan.com and lendingtree.com.
  4. Educate yourself – You may be able to lease a more expensive or higher-contented vehicle than you could if you purchase it outright. Leasing may offer tax write-off benefits as well. Take the time to educate yourself on the difference between financing and leasing, especially the terms and conditions. Decide which is better for your particular circumstance. Automakers may offer special financing rates for certain vehicles.
  5. Stay in your budget – Don’t be tempted to go overboard and blow your budget. After you’ve done your research, obtained your credit report, shopped rates and decided on purchase or lease, know what you can afford to spend. Take into consideration the monthly payment as well as the length of the contract.
  6. Insist on a test drive – You wouldn’t buy a home without a thorough walk-through, would you? A car is one of your highest-ticket items after a home, so it only makes sense that you’re satisfied with how it performs on the road. If you’re considering a couple of makes, be sure to test-drive both. Also, have the salesman do a walk-around and explain all the vehicle’s features and highlights. Ask lots of questions. If the salesperson doesn’t know the answer, ask to speak with someone at the dealership that does.
  7. Check out any optional additions – Be sure you understand any additions or options in your contract – before you agree to them. These include extended service contracts, guaranteed auto protection, credit insurance, and things like undercoating. Know what the item includes, the value of the item, and the price.
  8. Negotiate the deal – Don’t be afraid of this step. Negotiation is a key part of getting the best deal on your new car. Negotiating points include purchase price and financing, throwing in items for free, beating a competitor’s price or deal. Be sure you discuss any available incentives and rebates for the vehicle you’re interested in. These include cash-back and/or discounted financing rates. Customers are in the driver’s seat in today’s car market. Be confident, polite, but firm. Just don’t be unreasonable.
  9. Be prepared to walk – If, at any time during the negotiation process, you feel uncomfortable or at an impasse, be prepared to walk. This is especially true if you already have a deal offer from a competitive dealership. Chances are, when you’re about to leave, the negotiations will reach a new level. The salesperson doesn’t want to lose a potential customer and may be able to match or beat your other offer. They may have to go to a manager to get approval, but this is worth it to you. If not, go elsewhere.
  10. Read the contract completely – The last step, and one that many consumers fail to pay attention to, is to thoroughly read through the contract. There may be an error in your down payment, length of contract, interest rate, sales tax calculation or other items. If you buy the car in a county different than where you live, be sure your sales tax is calculated according to your residence. This will save you money if your resident-county tax rate is lower.

By Suzanne Kane

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