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Boot Camp for Military Car Buyers

Good Research and Accurate Pricing Info Will Win the Battle

Members of the armed forces are skilled in defending themselves and their country, but for young military personnel, buying cars for the first time can be a tricky maneuver.

In particular, service members returning from overseas with accumulated paychecks and the desire for a car can make buy-fast, regret-later decisions at car dealerships.

For service members (and civilians too), good car shopping combines smart strategy and good intel.

For service members (and civilians too), good car shopping combines smart strategy and good intel.

That's why Robert "Camo" Gleisberg, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and a community education officer for Pacific Marine Credit Union, set up a car-buying class at the Camp Pendleton, near Oceanside, California.

Gleisberg tells the "young troopers" in his classes that they don't have to go into the car-buying process unarmed (metaphorically, of course). Servicemen and servicewomen have a range of resources to help them prepare for buying their first car. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau provides information and support to military members about car-buying and other major purchases. And the Better Business Bureau has a special initiative for the military and veterans.

These experts and others provided this basic training for service members who are car shopping. It's helpful for civilians as well:

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

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'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.

3. Negotiate with your feet. Craig Hughes, a financial counselor based at the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, California, told Edmunds that he gives young military car buyers this advice: "Be prepared to do an about-face if you don't like what you're hearing."

4. Get good intel. Check the dealership's rating and reviews at Edmunds. If other shoppers have had a good experience, chances are you will, too.

5. Return to Base. Most shoppers test-drive a car and if they like it, they plunge into negotiations. Instead, Gleisberg recommends that you leave the car lot after a test-drive. Then you can contact local dealerships' Internet department managers for price quotes or shop for Edmunds Special Offers.

6. Know the rules of engagement. When you sign the sales contract, you are legally obligated to make all the car payments. Unlike many other large purchases, there is no "cooling-off period" when you buy a car. It's not a bad idea to sleep on your purchase decision before you sign the paperwork.

For more about the car-buying process, take a look at Edmunds' articles on how to get new cars, used cars and leased cars. There's also a special guide for first-time car-buyers.

Armed with good information and the right attitude, military car buyers can get the vehicle that's right for them.