If you dread the idea of haggling face-to-face with a car salesperson, slogging from dealer to dealer, or searching in vain
for the exact model you want, relief might be just a few mouse clicks away. The Internet can help you find the right model,
search numerous dealers’ inventories, and even nail the best price.
Indeed, our own automotive experts often use the Internet along with e-mail and phone when anonymously buying the more than
80 cars and trucks Consumer Reports
tests annually. Here are five important steps that they and our other experts recommend:Zero in on models.
Find some suitable models for your taste and price range by reading the new-car reviews, Ratings, and reliability and safety
data in this issue. ConsumerReports.org subscribers can access our full test reports online. It might also be helpful to check
the owner reviews posted on our site and on other car-related sites. You can compare models side by side online using CR’
s New Car Buying Kit ($39). You can also print out details on the models and options you‘ve chosen at the carmakers’ own Web
sites.Take a test spin.
The Internet is still no substitute for a test drive. Do your best to focus on the car and its handling and not be distracted
by the salesperson’s small talk. While you’re at the dealership, don’t try to negotiate a price; instead, get an e-mail address
and a phone number so that you can do so later.Go price shopping.
Many carmakers’ Web sites let you configure the vehicle the way you want it, then forward the results to dealers, who can
get back to you with offers. Many sites, such as GM’s and Nissan’s, also let you search dealer inventory. In our experience,
however, it’s often faster to contact dealers directly, by phone.To be sporting about it, don’t forget to give the dealership
where you took your test drive a chance to bid. Be as specific as possible about the model and options you have in mind. Stress
that you’re ready to buy and want the dealers to give you their best price, including a complete list of any additional fees.
To put those offers in perspective, it helps to know how much room the dealer has to haggle. You can find what the dealer
paid for the car, as well as any rebates and factory-to-dealer incentives, at car-pricing Web sites or by ordering a Consumer Reports
New Car Price Report ($14 each, or free with the New Car Buying Kit mentioned earlier). If you’re curious about what others
have paid for similar models, check the car-pricing forum at Edmunds.com or the new free Your best deal forum
.Drive a better bargain.
If you aren’t satisfied with the prices you’re offered, don’t hesitate to phone or email the dealers again, asking whether
they can beat the best offer you got in the first round. If that doesn’t get you any closer, consider switching to one of
your alternative models.Close the deal.
Once you find an acceptable price, call the dealer to verify the numbers. Emphasize that you don’t want to see extra fees
or other surprises when you show up to close the deal. If you’re planning to finance, go in knowing the loan rates available
elsewhere and ask the dealership for its best rate.
Steer clear of these car-buying mistakesYielding to pressure.
Don’t get bullied into buying until you’ve done all your shopping. (It’s a myth that federal law gives you three days to
cancel an auto contract.) Use a credit card for your deposit instead of a check. That will give you more protection if there’s
dealer hanky-panky.Financing for longer than 48 months.
Long-term loans come with higher interest charges. And they increase the chances you’ll owe more than the car’s worth if
it’s stolen or wrecked or if you decide to trade it in early. Consider taking a shorter loan or buying a reliable used car.Taking the dealer’s word for it.
Whether it’s free oil changes or anything else, make the dealership write any promises into the contract.Buying unnecessary add-ons.
Say no to dealer VIN glass etching, rustproofing, fabric protection, paint sealant, and extended service plans. Ditto for
any expensive extras you might never use.Blindly accepting dealer financing.
Compare current car loan rates at www.bankrate.com,
and then get your best offers from banks, credit unions, and online sources such as www.eloan.com.
If the dealer can’t beat your best rate, finance elsewhere.Failing to negotiate a lease price.
Dicker just as if you were buying, and make sure the dealer uses that price as the basis for your lease payments.Leasing because you’re financially strapped.
Yes, leasing can give you a lower monthly payment, but you won’t own the car at the end, and you’ll pay a much higher finance
charge. Consider buying a reliable used car instead.Talking trade-in too soon.
Don’t mention trading in your old car until you’ve completed negotiations on the new one.
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