Let's paint a picture ... (cue the 'Jaws' theme music). Your hands are trembling from the anticipation -- no -- the fear of what lies ahead. A vast sea of warm black asphalt, its surface covered with a plethora of shiny new vehicles waiting to be bought, patrolled by a predator unlike any other. A predator that skillfully blends in with its surroundings, can sense you coming from the nearest Home Depot and is occasionally adorned with gaudy gold and Johnston & Murphy alligators. This predator, the car salesman, somehow greets you at your car before you can get the key out of the ignition and then the fun begins. But don't fret, because this car-lot shark can be turned into a guppy if you are mentally prepared for the adventure. Take heed of the basic concepts below on your next car buying excursion and you'll be fine.

1. Research, Then Research Again: The Internet is a wonderful place. For car shoppers it offers some of the best consumer information available. Make an effort to research the vehicles you are interested in and you will not be sorry. Be sure to get the invoice pricing and latest incentive information on the models you are considering. Know the options available and find out how it stacks up to the competition. Get educated before heading out to the dealer. Here are some places to start:

· Reviews, pricing and detailed options
·

Incentives and rebates
·

Compare your choices

2. Get Your Own Financing: If you want to make your buying process less stressful and gain an advantage, secure your own financing before walking onto the lot. Simply contact your bank or credit union and ask to apply for a car loan. This can be done over the phone, via fax or even online. By doing this you determine ahead of time what your finance rate is and what your monthly payments will be. Not only are you armed with this knowledge now, but you can use it to your advantage later. See, the finance manager, like the car salesman, also works off commission and by securing financing for you through one of the many institutions he or she works with, they make money. If you come into the deal with financing secured, it will place them in a position to try and beat it. If they beat it, you win. If not, you know what you need to pay for the car per month and just need to deal with the final sale price of the vehicle.

Keep this in mind: For every $10,000 financed you will approximately pay $250 a month. For every $1,000 of down payment you will reduce your monthly payment approximately $25.

3. Are You Leasing or Buying? Let's keep this one short and sweet. If you are the type of owner that keeps a vehicle longer then three years, then you should probably stick with traditional financing. If you are the type of owner that wants a new shiny ride every two to three years, then leasing is your friend.

· Find out more about leasing here
·

Get easy financing tips here

4. Know What Is on the Lot: Some dealers, key word here is 'some,' may artificially create demand for a car by employing a simple trick: hiding cars on the back lot. Let's look at an example: Say you are looking at a hot new sports car or family sedan and you want it in a popular color combination, like black on tan leather. A sneaky dealer might place only one of these color combos on the front lot and hide the rest. You only see one left and the car salesman is able to capitalize on this by saying it is the last one and they can sell it at a premium. In some cases this might be true, but you can avoid the situation by looking at a dealer's inventory online (through the manufacturer Web site or the dealer's Web site), or simply walking around to the back storage lot and browsing the cars.

5. Look Out for Dealer Add-Ons: Be sure to look at the car's sticker price very carefully because there may be some additional costs you don’t want or need. If the dealer has added extras, there should be a smaller sticker to the right or below the MSRP pricing. Sometimes this sticker is hand-written or printed out and combines the add-ons with the MSRP for a final vehicle price. These additional cost items are often pinstripes, wheel locks, mud flaps, door edge guards or trunk organizers and may cost you an extra $500 to 1,000. That’s $500 to $1,000 for items that you probably don’t want, need nor do they even remotely cost that much. You can get wheel locks at the parts counter for about $35. Door edge guards are pieces of rubber molding that don't cost much and pinstripes ... who wants pinstripes on their car anymore? Don't be fooled into thinking these items can't be removed either, they can and should be, especially if you don't want them (wheel locks are a good idea if you have expensive rims though). Lastly, do not allow the dealer to make you think that they are reducing the cost of the vehicle by removing these items. These shouldn't have been there to begin with, you didn't ask for them, so the cost of these little things should not be a factor in the negotiation.

6. Just Walk Away: The most powerful tool you have in your arsenal during this car buying adventure is the ability to walk out of the dealer showroom. Even if you know you want a new car you should be prepared to walk away from a deal. The dealer wants to make an emotional connection with you and the car you are looking to purchase. That makes it easier for them to sell a car with their goals in mind, not yours. You need to understand that if you are not 110% happy with the deal on the table, you can walk away. There are other dealers around you can go to, the car won't disappear and, if the salesman is good, they will call you back within the next day or two to try and make the deal. So remember, walk out if you are not happy.

And last but not least ...

7. Be Respectful of the Car Salesman: No matter how much we joke about the lot sharks or how many bad salesman stories we hear, you have to remember these are normal people trying to make a living and provide a service. One of the best things you can do is be respectful, treat them kindly and be honest. Tell the salesman what your goal is for the day. Be upfront and provide some basic information and it is you that control the experience. Are you just there for a test drive? How long have you been in the market? What are you looking for? But be nice about it. If you show them kindness you will be treated the same way. Also, if you are dealing with someone that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, ask the sales manager for a new salesman.

So that's it folks, some simple tips to prepare you for the car buying experience. At the end of it all make sure you are happy with what you buy and enjoy the drive.

Read about Car Ownership:

- Is Your Car Loan Upside Down?

- Best Cars for First Time Buyers

- Consumer Reports Cost of Ownership Comparison

- Looking for the Smart Car?



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