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Guide to Buying a New Car: Eliminate the Fear Factor!
Tips to Take the Fear Out of Car Buying

by Courtney Caldwell

Guide to buying a new carCar buying, whether new or used, can be a daunting task at best. It's so overwhelming that many of us put it off until the very last minute. By then we're so anxious to get it over with that we may not do the proper research or make the smartest choices in our haste. So what is it about the car-buying experience that puts the fear of God into so many of us?

There's no one thing for every person. Ask anyone and you'll get a different answer every time. For some it's the fear of not being knowledgeable about cars and getting ripped off. Some don't like dealing with salesmen and fear condescending treatment. For others it's the nightmare of negotiating. Then there are those who just can't or don't want to wrap their brain around spending $20,000 for a new car. I understand this…that's twice the amount of my first new house 30 years ago and half the cost of what it sold for 10 years later. Go figure.

Fear not. There are solutions that can rid you of these fears but you must be willing to look, listen and follow a few simple rules. Since there are a series of actions you must take to purchase a new car successfully I'm going to offer these solutions in a two-part series to give you time to do the homework. Today we'll talk about budget and research, the two most critical issues for buying a car. Do these two things well and the rest will easily fall into place.

Let's start with the first and most important step: putting your budget together. What can you afford? Don't waste your time on the next step, which is homework, until you have a good handle on your budget. Start by making a list of questions to which you should have defined answers before moving on.

  • What is your budget for new or used car?

  • How much can you afford to put down?

  • How much in monthly payments can you afford?

  • How many months can you afford a loan?

  • Have you included finance charges in your monthly payments?

  • How much would taxes, license and other fees be with the purchase?

  • How much would your annual property taxes be?

  • How much would it cost in monthly gas and maintenance to operate?

  • How much would auto insurance cost each month?

  • Do I want options and which ones can I afford?

Only you know your annual income and from that what you're monthly bills are such as rent, food, utilities, credit cards, medical expenses, etc. What can you afford to add to those expenses each month and still have money left over for dinner and movie?

Owning a car, new or used, is a big financial responsibility so it shouldn't be taken lightly. Understand that it takes an average of four months to adequately purchase a new car. This includes working out your budget, researching the cars that interest you, going to dealerships to test drive, and exploring your financing and insurance options.

Buying a new car is a large investment. You don't want to rush and have regrets later. Cars depreciate as soon as you drive them off the lot so once you buy it you own it for the next three to five years whether you like it or not. So shop wisely and take your time. Knowing the financial expectations up front will not only save you money but time in the search process which brings us to step #2.

Once you've determined your budget, you then want to go online to research which cars are available in that price range. You may already have something in mind like a sedan or sports car or sport utility vehicle. If you know what type of vehicle you want that will make the process easier. The best way to determine the type of vehicle you need is to look at your own lifestyle.

If you're young, single and have an active lifestyle you may want a pick-up truck or sport utility vehicle. If you're a parent hauling kids around you may want to consider a minivan, station wagon or crossover vehicle. If you're more mature, have a successful career, and the kids are grown up, a more luxurious car may be more suitable.

The cars we choose should reflect the lifestyle we're currently living to maximize their service and convenience to us. Someone who enjoys camping and off-roading on weekends may find a sports car fun but not suitable to fit his or her needs. Or a parent who has 2.5 kids and a dog may not find a sedan suitable. You get the point. Make another list and ask, "What do I need my vehicle for the most?"

Once you determine which type of vehicle you can afford and the one that fits your lifestyle you can begin your research in many ways concurrently. Watch commercials on TV by automakers and pay attention to cars you see on the road or in parking lots. However, it is the Internet that has become a consumer's dream for research of this nature.

If you know which automaker makes the car of your dreams then go to their site to start your research. If you don't know their domain address simply go to Google and type in the company name. Or you can go to online magazines such as or that offer buyer's guides on various products for consumer review. These reviews are written by professional automotive journalists who personally test drive the cars and know their stuff. These reviews will be very helpful in your search.

Once you've read the reviews and compared notes on the models you're interested in, go back to the automaker sites of choice where you can actually build your own car online with all the options you want. Their sites are designed to help you determine financing and monthly costs to ensure you stay within the budget you've created. This is the beauty of the Internet. Most of your legwork can be done right from your home computer without spending a cent or investing the time to drive all over town to meet with dealers. At least for now.

Don't assume this will take a weekend or two to finish unless you have money to burn. Buying a new car is a process, one that takes time and energy. If you want to do it right and be happy with your purchase, just follow these initial steps and you'll find the rest wil flow quite naturally.

Speaking of which, in our August 1 issue, we'll discuss going to the dealership, dealing with salespeople, and negotiating the deal. It's much easier than you think.

Guide to buying a new carSome people would rather get a root canal that go through the process of buying a new car. Not only is it extremely time consuming, it can be downright scary getting into a financial commitment on an expensive product that many people know little about. More over, most people don't want to deal with salespeople for fear of being ripped off or taken advantage of. While most salespeople, especially at reputable dealerships, are quite knowledgeable and sincerely want to help buyers get into a vehicle that will make them happy, the sad truth is that most car buyers still don't trust salespeople.

This article is designed to help eliminate those fears and provide the tools necessary to take the right steps in the car buying process. In our July 15 issue, we offered tips on the importance of budget planning, doing your homework and research, and making lists. If you missed that workshop please click here to access part one. These tips will help you make smart choices and prevent bad decisions.

Once you've outlined your budget, determined which car fits your lifestyle and researched cars online, it's time to contact dealerships. Armed with the right information you'll better understand the lingo used by salespeople.

Reputable dealerships have websites on which prospective customers can search for make and models, costs, options and financing. Most also offer an email option in which you can communicate with someone at the dealership to ask questions. They don't have to know your name, where you live, or if you're male or female. That's the beauty of the Internet. It not only saves you time, it also provides total anonymity.

If you've done your research as advised in part one there won't be much a salesperson can say that you haven't already learned, which in itself helps to quell your fears and insecurities about purchasing a new car. Knowledge is power.

If you want your car right away, then search dealerships that have your dream car in stock. If you can't find it, inquire as to how long it will take to get the car.

Either way, provide each dealership with your wish list of options but never disclose your budget. The idea is to try to come in under budget for other things you want. Or you may want a little cushion for any unexpected surprises.

Once you've submitted your full wish list to each dealership and they've returned a quote, you can then start the negotiation process. Compare quotes and be sure that everything is included on each quote as you've requested and there are no hidden charges, questionable options, or important items omitted. You don't want any surprises.

Take time to go through this process. Let them all know you'll get back to them. Compare and discuss with whomever you use as an advisor whether a friend, family member or co-worker. It always helps to get a unbiased second opinion.

The next step is to go to each dealership and meet your respective salesperson. Be sure you're as comfortable with them in person as you were in emails. You'll likely have a long relationship with this dealership so you want it to be a happy one. Are you comfortable with the way they treat you? Is the dealership reputable? Do they offer a warranty? What's their service shop like?

If you like what you see, then request a test-drive in the car. Most salespeople go along for the ride to answer questions. Insist on a decent test drive. Don't be bullied into a two-mile test drive around the block especially if it's a used car. You wouldn't want to spend $20K on a car then find out after you bought it that the seats hurt your back or access is difficult when wearing a skirt or it doesn't have enough power. So, your test drive should be similar to what you'd normally use the car for on a daily basis. If a salesperson does not permit you to test drive a car get up and walk away. This is a red flag that something may be wrong with the car.

You'll find that each test drive, although the same car, is a little different. It's like buying a pair of pants. You can try on 5 pairs of the exact same style and find one that fits you the best even though they're supposed to all be identical.

Once you've met each salesperson and have driven each car on your list, sit down to discuss their quote but commit to nothing. You may want to ask if they can do any better on the price. Listen to what else they have to offer and take notes. Let them know you'll get back to them. They'll likely try to pressure you into making a commitment now by saying that they can't hold the car or they may not be able to get any more. Don't be bullied. A good salesperson does not need to do a hard sell on a good car. Trust your instincts every step of the way.

Unless you've found the perfect price and car, take some time to think about it. Confirm all your costs one last time. Ask yourself which car felt the best? Which dealership did you like the most? Which salesperson did you feel the most comfortable with? Can they meet all your requirements with the make and model, financing and service? Make a new list of all your needs then compare notes to see which dealership scores the highest points in meeting those needs.

Armed with these answers, you can now get into the final negotiation by making an offer. Dealers are willing to go below sticker but it's up to you to negotiate how low they will go. Narrow your negotiations down to those dealers willing to work with you to negotiate a deal that is mutually rewarding. It should be a win-win situation. Good luck...and enjoy your new car!

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