Finding a car these days is a lot different than in the past when you found what you wanted by visiting dealerships or scanning newspaper classifieds. There are a wide variety of digital resources to make finding, and buying, the vehicle you want a process you can manage from your computer or smartphone. But the availability of great tools makes having a good plan and process extremely important for a good outcome.
Starting at the Start: Getting Comfortable with the Finances
Before making any large purchase, like a car or a home, the best first step is always to get a clear picture of the financial impact of such a transaction. Consider how much you want to pay overall for a car, how long you plan to keep it, and what is your long-term financial outlook.
Doing this before you have a particular car in your sights keeps the planning neutral, takes the focus off a specific, desired object, and concentrates on your financial security instead. InTouch offers a number of financial calculators to help you to clarify the long-term view of how different car-buying options affect you. Using these tools helps put you in the right frame of mind for doing your research.
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The Three Keys to All Car Shopping
Whether you are shopping in-person or online, there are three generally acknowledged keys to a good car buying experience. Once you have a clear picture of the vehicle you want (after considering your desired features, and how you use your vehicle), you are ready to start to assemble the following:
- Market value of the make, model, and year of the vehicle you are interested in;
- An estimate for the tax, title, and license fees; and
- A good estimate of your trade-in value, if you have one (minus any amount owed).
When you have these numbers in hand, you are in a stronger position to negotiate than going in hoping that a good deal will be the outcome. For market value of used cars, the well-known resources, NADA and Kelley Blue Book, have gone online. Your state’s motor vehicle department is the best place to find an estimate for sales tax, title transfer, and license plate fees. For a value for your trade-in, you can use NADA or Kelley Blue Book, or you can use the InTouch Credit Union Car Buying Service powered by TrueCar® site, which offers a free service to get a cash offer for your trade from a dealer.
Some Additional Research to Improve Your Experience
You can save yourself a lot of hassles by taking an additional step before you decide that only one model is the one for you. Looking at longevity and reliability data may show that your choice is a great one, or it may be that the next model year is a better one. Consumer Reports and Kelley Blue Book both offer information about reliability/repairs for automobiles.
Another way to get some basic information from the general public is to simply type your preferred Model, Year, and “common problems” into your search engine’s search bar. There are a wide variety of sites that are dedicated to various automobile makes, where people discuss common issues and solutions. They will often explain in detail about repairs and costs if they are outside the usual range of repair expenses.
And Finally: The Vehicle Itself!
Once you have amassed enough information to be fairly sure you are looking for the vehicle you want, it’s time to shop! There are well-known sites you can use, like Edmunds.com, CarsDirect.com, or AutoTrader.com, while InTouch offers members free access to the TrueCar auto buying service, where users can access local dealers’ inventories of both new and used cars and shop with upfront, discounted pricing.
Many of the typical car dealerships/showrooms now employ an “Internet manager” with whom you can establish contact. With the traditional dealerships, be sure that you are clear about whether you prefer to discuss prices online or in-person. Understand, you are the one with the negotiation power. You have your information in hand; you are looking for the best bottom-line price.
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If you have decided to look at a used vehicle, be sure to check the car’s history. All reputable auto retailers will be willing to divulge the car’s VIN (vehicle identification number). You can use this to check whether the vehicle was ever totaled or experienced flood damage, which could be a dealbreaker. CarFax has positioned itself as the go-to resource for automobile historical data. Some dealers even offer a CarFax history report for any cars they sell.
These days, the test drive may seem like an afterthought. After spending time researching and collecting data, you may feel as if you know your chosen vehicle inside and out. But nothing can replace the experience of driving the vehicle itself. You are the only one who can sit in the driver’s seat and know whether the visibility is good, whether the handling suits you or whether the interior is comfortable. Some online and traditional dealerships offer the luxury of a test-drive delivery option, but even if they do not, it is an important final step in deciding whether to start purchase negotiations.
Car buying today is a new world with all of the available online resources. Gone are the days of being stuck with very little information to help you bargain. You have a world of data at your fingertips, and that puts the negotiation process on much more even footing. When you are ready to get on the road to a new car, take the path that gets you what you want in a way that leaves you satisfied and also with a good deal.