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100 Tips for New-Car Shoppers

Insiders Share the Secrets That Make Car Shopping Easy

Shopping for a car is easier than ever, but there are times when a quick tip or two can make all the difference. Here are 100 such tips, covering everything from car research to financing to knowing what to do in the finance and insurance office. Got a tip of your own? Share it in the comments.

When you're car shopping, it's best to focus on the practical aspects. Shop for the car you need, rather than the impractical one you may want.

When you're car shopping, it's best to focus on the practical aspects. Shop for the car you need, rather than the impractical one you may want.

Getting Started

1. Take your time when you're car shopping. Don't buy in a hurry unless you really have to.

2. Get preapproved for a car loan. This lets you know what you can afford and the interest rate for which you qualify. It allows you to negotiate for a car as a "cash buyer."

3. Before you commit to buying a new car, call your insurance company to get a price quote and see how much more you'll be paying.

4. It's a good idea to get a free credit report and to pay a small fee to get your credit score. Correct any outstanding issues before you go car shopping.

5. Read editors' and consumers' reviews to get recommendations and figure out the pros and cons for any new car you are considering.

6. Check for any video reviews. They may be more helpful in visualizing what the car looks like on the road.

7. Read dealer reviews to discover the more popular dealers in your area. Reviews might also tell you which salesperson to ask for.

See Edmunds pricing data

Has Your Car's Value Changed?

Used car values are constantly changing. Edmunds lets you track your vehicle's value over time so you can decide when to sell or trade in.

Price history graph example

8. Use car comparator tools to easily see the differences between multiple vehicles, such as which car has more cargo space, rear legroom and better fuel economy.

9. Make a list of your wants and needs in a car. Buy the car that meets 80 percent of your needs.

10. Note your "must have" options or packages, first and second choice colors.

11. Jot down your likes and dislikes of the cars you are interested in. This will help when it's time to narrow down the search.

12. Review the current inventory on dealership lots. If your color and options choices in a car are not common ones, you may not be as able to negotiate as aggressively on price.

13. Check for incentives and rebates on the model you're interested in. Bonus cash or a low APR on a car could be the deciding factor in choosing between two cars.

14. Use Edmunds used-car appraisal tool to determine what your current car is worth and what to expect from a trade-in offer at the dealership.

15. Know your pricing terms: "Invoice price" is what the dealer paid for the car. "Sticker price" is the same as MSRP. True Market Value (TMV® ) is the average price paid for the car in your area.

16. Look for Edmunds Special Offers, which gives shoppers a guaranteed, up-front price on a specific car and saves the time and hassle of haggling.

17. Use model-specific message boards, such as the Edmunds Forums, for pros and cons of the car you are considering.

18. Try out the manufacturer's configurator tool to help you visualize what the different colors and wheels look like.

19. Get familiar with your dealership's Web site. Some will have an electronic version of the window sticker available. This is helpful in determining the options on a car.

20. Look up Edmunds True Cost to Own on a few models you're interested in to get a better picture of the five-year ownership costs.

21. Ask the dealer service department what a major service costs on a few cars you're interested in.

22. Know the warranty coverage of the cars you're considering and understand the difference between bumper-to-bumper coverage and the powertrain warranty.

23. Look for cars that come with free maintenance plans. These could save you a lot of money in the first years of ownership, particularly on luxury cars.

24. Remember that you can have your car serviced at any dealership for that brand, not just the dealership at which you bought it.

25. Don't let past car shopping experiences unduly influence your current deal. Each purchase is different and should be treated that way.

Test-Drive Tips

26. Schedule a test-drive through the dealership's Internet manager. The car will be ready and waiting when you arrive.

27. When you schedule a test-drive, tell the salesperson you are cross-shopping cars and won't be buying on the same day. This makes it easier to leave when you're done.

28. On your way to the dealership, call or text the salesperson and confirm the test-drive and vehicle. It shows you're serious and avoids confusion about which car you'd like to drive.

29. Test-drive all the cars you are considering back-to-back so you can more easily compare your driving impressions.

30. Narrow your list of target cars to three vehicles to avoid becoming overwhelmed with choices. If none of them seem right for you, go back to the research phase.

31. Make a checklist of options and features you want to closely inspect during a test-drive. In the heat of the moment it's easy to overlook or forget important items.

32. When you're test-driving, duplicate the driving you would do if it were your car. Try both stop-and-go and freeway driving. If mountains are part of your route, find some steep grades to climb.

33. People with back problems should ensure that the driver seat is fully adjustable and take a longer-than-ordinary drive to test seat comfort.

34. Bring golf clubs or other large items you regularly use to test the cargo area's capacity.

35. If you have small children, bring their car seats with you to the dealership and make sure they attach easily and safely.

36. Test-drive cars on weekdays if possible. You will get better customer service when there are fewer people on the lot.

37. Try not to have a distracting conversation with the salesperson during the test-drive. You want to concentrate on fully experiencing the car.

38. Get in and out of the car several times to see if you bang your head or have to crouch awkwardly. Sit in all the seats to make sure they are comfortable and provide adequate legroom.

39. Spend a few quiet minutes in the car after returning to the dealership testing the ergonomic layout of the vehicle's controls.

40. Turn the sound system off so you can concentrate on how the car drives. You can check out the audio features later.

41. Dealerships are often more flexible about test-drives than you might imagine. Some will even let you keep a vehicle overnight.

42. Check the storage compartments around the driver seat to make sure there are adequate places to put your wallet or purse, your cell phone and whatever else you commonly take with you.

43. Verify that you can connect your phone via Bluetooth.

44. Do your best to actually test-drive the car you want to buy, not similar models that are currently available on the car lot. Having an appointment helps.

45. Today's cars have a lot of new safety technology, such as blind-spot warning systems. Ask the salesperson to explain these features so you can experience them on the test-drive.

46. Try to test-drive a car during the day so you get a better idea of the color in natural light. It won't look the same at night.

47. While inspecting a car prior to the test-drive, check the window sticker to see the equipment on the car. Certain options, particularly safety features, may not be obvious and yet are very important.

48. Look for any supplemental sticker on the car, listing options the dealer installed, such as custom rims, wheel locks or door guards. These can complicate negotiations and raise the price.

49. Don't test-drive a car in the rain or snow if you can help it. You won't get a true feeling for how the car drives under most conditions.

50. Test-drive with respect. No burnouts.

51. Young shoppers might meet resistance when asking to test-drive an expensive car. Don't take offense at questions about employment or the ability to finance a car, as long as they are polite and appropriate.

When You're Ready To Buy

52. If you want a specialist to help with financing or a deep explanation of a car system, contact a dealership manager first and ask to work with that expert.

53. Between credit checks, negotiations and getting cars out of inventory for test-drives, buying a car just takes longer than buying other products. Bring a book and a snack.

54. If you're shopping in person without much preparation, a quick way to the best price is to ask for a salesperson from the Internet department. They are used to straightforward price discussions.

55. Buy during the week if possible, especially if you are looking to save time. It will probably be faster to get through the sales process on a slow Tuesday than on a busy Saturday.

56. To speed up the purchasing process, bring key papers with you to the dealership, including payment, driver license, title and current registration for your trade-in vehicle and proof of insurance.

57. Treat negotiating as a friendly game — and know that the car salespeople are doing the same.

58. Be nice. A former car salesperson says, "I was much more likely to go out of my way to help a nice car shopper than one who barked orders or was outright rude."

59. Keep negotiations relaxed and impersonal. You'll get to a win-win situation more quickly if you keep your emotions in check.

60. If you feel intimidated or uncomfortable, either leave the car lot or ask the manager for another salesperson.

61. Have a target transaction price in mind. This is where you want negotiations to wind up and should be around Edmunds' True Market Value (TMV), also known as average price paid.

62. If you have already arranged financing from a lender, tell the salesman you're a "cash buyer." You can then bargain on the actual price of the vehicle instead of the more confusing practice of negotiating a monthly payment.

63. Start negotiations with a figure that's low, but still in the ballpark. Improve your offer slowly.

64. Negotiate up from your opening offer, rather than working down from the salesman's opening offer.

65. Know what you're negotiating for. Is it just the price of the car, or is it the out-the-door price, which will include taxes and other fees? The difference could be hundreds of dollars.

66. If you have quotes from other dealers, use them as leverage in your current negotiation.

67. Negotiate your lowest purchase price — and then deduct any current customer cash incentives or "dealer cash."

68. If you're not making progress in the negotiation or don't like the tone of the discussion, or the way you're being treated, it's best to just leave. Arguing won't improve the deal.

69. Have reasons ready to support your low offer, such as "I'm trying to decide between two cars, and I'll buy the one that costs the least."

70. Car buyers sometimes try to use the dealer holdback in negotiations. It's better to negotiate a good price for the car and make sure you included any incentives or rebates.

71. As hard as it may be, don't show enthusiasm for the car. This weakens your negotiation stance. Use your best poker face.

72. Stay flexible while choosing and negotiating for a new car. If you have your heart set on a certain car, you might have a harder time getting a good price for it.

73. Resist "bait and switch," but listen to salespeople when they make honest suggestions. They may know of a vehicle model, trim level or option that you hadn't considered but would be perfect for you.

74. There is strength in numbers. Bring a friend along as your "wingman" in the car-buying process.

75. If you don't like the trade-in value you're offered for your car, you might get more for it by selling it yourself.

76. Print out the Edmunds trade-in price and take it with you if you plan on trading in your car. The dealer will be less likely to present you with a lowball offer.

Leasing Tips

77. When you're leasing, put down as little money as possible and ensure you have gap insurance. If the car is totaled soon after you lease it, this will minimize your loss.

78. Lease for no longer than you normally keep a car. If you generally keep your cars for three years, make the lease term three years.

79. Don't lease for longer than the warranty period that covers the car.

80. Be realistic about how many miles you will drive your leased car and remember that most lease contracts include only 12,000 miles per year. Consider buying extra miles up front.

81. To get a great deal, search for lease specials on Edmunds' Incentives and Rebates, $299 Lease Deals and Deals of the Month.

82. Make apples-to-apples comparisons of lease quotes from different dealerships. Ensure that all reference the same type of car with identical drive-off payment and included miles.

83. Convert the money factor in a lease contract to a more easily understood interest rate by multiplying it by 2,400. A money factor of 0.00125 is actually 3 percent interest.

84. To get the best lease deal, the most important thing to do is aggressively negotiate the cost of the car, known as the capitalized cost or simply the "cap cost."

85. Make multiple security deposits to reduce your interest rate (also known as the money factor). Not all leasing companies permit this, but it's worth asking.

86. If you are undecided about whether to buy or lease, ask your accountant if you can write off your lease payments as a business expense. This might be the deciding factor.

87. Cars with good resale values, which car called residual values in leasing, cost less to lease. Ask about the cars' residual values as you shop for leases.

Finance and Insurance Office Tips

88. You might feel worn out if you've spent several hours at the dealership. But stay sharp in the finance and insurance department (F&I). Don't sign the sales contract just to "get it over with."

89. If you have preapproved financing from your bank or credit union, let the dealership try to beat that interest rate. Verify all the other loan terms before accepting.

90. Ensure that the fees you pay when buying a car are the destination charge, sales tax, license and registration fees and a reasonable documentation fee.

91. The F&I manager will likely offer to sell you an extended warranty. But you don't have to buy it that day. You can purchase it any time before the standard factory warranty runs out.

92. When they're selling extended warranties with new cars, dealers often talk in terms of monthly payments. To really know what you're paying, ask for the cost of the warranty itself.

93. You can get an idea of the price for an extended warranty before you buy your car. Get quotes from at least two local dealerships' F&I managers.

94. The finance and insurance office often sells a "fabric protection package." Save money by buying a can of Scotchgard and applying it yourself.

95. You may be offered a dealer-installed security system. Most new cars have a factory-installed system, so a dealer-installed system is likely unnecessary.

96. Today's cars come with clear coat paint, so you can usually skip the paint protection package that the F&I officer will offer.

97. Remember that there is no cooling-off period when buying a car. Be sure you're comfortable with the purchase before you sign the contract.

Before You Drive Away

98. New cars should come with a full tank of gas and a detail job. Ensure that's been done for you.

99. Before you take delivery, look for scratches in the paint, or dings and dents on the body.

100. If you bought dealer-installed items like floor mats, be sure they're there. If not, ask for a "due bill" for anything that's missing or for work that has been promised by the dealership.


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