1. Conduct target-price reconnaissance. As basic as it sounds, many service members haven't checked the value of the vehicles they are considering buying, says Sheryl Reichert, CEO of the Better Business Bureau that covers California's San Diego, Orange and Imperial counties. Use Edmunds.com's True Market Value® (TMV®) pricing for new, used and certified pre-owned cars. It's also smart to check local classified listings to accurately gauge the asking price of cars. Knowing the numbers behind the deal will make you a good negotiator.
2. Plan for the total cost of a car. In his car-buying class, Gleisberg uses the acronym GRIM to educate buyers. There's more to a car's cost than just its purchase price, he says:
G is for gas costs. Buy a fuel-efficient car.
R is for registration. "We're not talking peanuts here," Gleisberg says. Registration costs can exceed $300 for a new car.
I is for insurance. Choose your car wisely or insurance could be more than the monthly car payment.
M is for maintenance. Gleisberg tells his classes to set aside extra money for routine service and repairs.