Many people set aside the long holiday weekends such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day to buy a car. Sure, it's usually busy on the car lots. But the three-day weekend is plenty of time to get the job done — if you go about it systematically.
DAY ONE: RESEARCH
1. Financing decisions. Do you want to take out a loan and buy a new car? Can you afford to pay cash for a used car? Do you want to take advantage of one of the leasing specials you've seen advertised lately? Your choice in these areas will lead you on three different paths. Answer these questions now and you can proceed with confidence.
2. Determine your budget. A good rule of thumb is that your monthly payment (whether buying or leasing) should not be more than 20 percent of your monthly take-home pay. If you have two car payments, the total should still be no more than 20 percent of your take-home pay. Use our Affordability Calculator to guide you.
3. Read reviews. If you already have a car in mind, read Edmunds.com reviews of the vehicle by expert road test editors. Also look for consumer reviews of the car you are considering. Then, take a moment to see what other cars compete with the car you have selected. Build a list of three "target cars" to test-drive.
4. Check incentives. Check to see if customer rebates, manufacturer financing or dealer cash (marketing support) is available for the cars you are considering.
5. Look for Price Promise Offers. The Edmunds.com Price Promise® program assures car shoppers a guaranteed, up-front price on a specific car. When you find Price Promise offers on the car of your choice, print out the certificate on the page and you are ready to go to the dealership to conclude the deal. It's a good idea to call ahead and make sure the car is still available. Here are other tips on how to use Price Promise to buy your next car.
If there's no Price Promise offer on a car you want, shopping through a dealership's Internet department will save you time and money. You can easily communicate with the Internet manager by phone or e-mail.
6. Plan Your Test Drive. Work with the Price Promise dealership or use the Edmunds.com Dealer Locator to find a highly rated dealership. Speak with the Internet manager and ask for a test-drive appointment. Tell them that you will be test-driving only the next day and making a decision later in the weekend.
DAY TWO: TEST-DRIVING
1. Test-drive your target cars. Arrange to drive the different models back-to-back. In this way, the differences in the cars will become very apparent. This also will allow you to make a more informed decision. Test-drive the car the way you intend to use it. If you go into the mountains, make sure you climb a hill. If you do a lot of highway driving, do so on the test-drive. Make sure the car fits your needs first, and then your wants. For more information read How to Test-Drive a Car.
2. Leave the dealership. You might be encouraged to make a deal on the spot, but you're better off if you tell the salesperson that you are test-driving competing models and must leave. If you like the way you've been treated, say you'll be back if you decided to buy the car.
3. Follow up research. Some questions might have come up during your test-drive. Do you want to do more research on safety features? Do you need to consider other financing and pricing issues? Now is the time to take care of those questions by visiting Edmunds.com.
4. Locate your car. By checking Price Promise offers, you might already have a specific car at a local dealership you want to buy. You can skip ahead to the steps in Day Three. But if you are still searching for a car with a hard-to-find color or unusual option package, you'll use other tools. Search for a match on Edmunds.com by going to the home page and entering the year, make and model of the car you're considering. You can expand the search area and filter the options until you find what you want. Then, call or submit Internet requests to dealers to get prices quotes for the car, if they have it on their lots.
DAY THREE: MAKING YOUR DEAL
1. Compare quotes to the Average Price Paid. Take the quotes you got from the local dealers and compare them to the average price paid on Edmunds.com by configuring the car with all the included factory-installed options. If the price is below the average price paid, you are getting a better deal than most other buyers in your area. Consider agreeing to this deal, but remember to read the next steps to insure you get this price without extra fees and expenses.
2. Maximize incentives. Confirm that you factor in available incentives into your final price.
3. Push for deeper discounts. If you want to try to get an even lower price, call competing dealers and ask them to beat the deal you have in hand. But keep in mind that there might only be an additional savings of about $200-$400.
4. Arrange delivery of the car. Set a time to pick up your new car so the dealership can have it gassed and washed. Ask the dealer to prepare the paperwork ahead of time to speed the transaction. If you decide to skip that call, be prepared to wait. The dealership is likely to be crowded on a holiday weekend.
5. Inspect the car. At the dealership, consider test-driving the car once more to confirm your choice. Inspect it to make sure there are no scratches or dents from the shipping process.
6. Review the contract and be smart about extras. In the finance and insurance office, make sure the dealer includes all your agreed upon terms in the contract. Be ready for the sales pitch on aftermarket items and the extended warranty.
7. Drive away in your new car! Enjoy your new car, knowing that you did an excellent job researching and negotiating a great deal all in one weekend.
To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.