Talk to me about car buying

I’m staring to consider replacing my 1994 Suzuki Swift GT. I even walked to the nearby Honda dealership today, just to see what’s there. While I was there, I realized that my car buying knowledge is…limited to say the least. I bought the swift used in 1996, shortly after I started my first post-college job. Dad went down, took a look at it, said it was a good deal, and I went for it. 9 years later, I’m nowhere near the parents, so that’s not a particularly good option.

There are several cars out there that I like, including the Civic (I like the SI, at least from the outside), the Suzuki Aerio and one of the Toyotas (I don’t remember which one off the top of my head - one of the small ones). I don’t know that I want to buy brand new, although for the right deal, it is an option. What stresses me out is the idea of having to deal with car salespeople, financing and the like. Basically, as I begin looking, I need tips - I don’t necessarily plan to buy until next spring at the earliest, unless something drastic changes.

Also, I’m thinking that talking to my credit union about financing before I set my heart on a car would be best - because then I’d know what I can get financed at a decent rate rather than falling in love with a car and ending up with a car payment that’s much too high.

So, basically, toss any advice you want to at me. Maybe I won’t be so clueless as I start looking at cars more seriously!

There are multiple car-buying threads in the archives. You might try doing a search before rehashing all that’s gone before. :slight_smile:

JD Power’s website has a good tool to get some ideas. You pull sliders along to show your priorities, and the site makes some recommendations. has reviews and a system to tell you what they think you should be paying in your area. has a cool system to estimate 5 year ownership costs.

I’m pretty set on getting a Toyota Matrix / Pontiac Vibe because they come up as about the top small wagon on JD Power if you only value mechanicals, reliablility and retained value, and Intellichoice calls the Matrix “excellent” for the 5 year cost. Car Guide magazine gave it a value rating of 10 out of 10.

find the invoice price, find out the dealer holdback/incentives, call a few dealers and speak to the sales manager to have them to commit to a price, get the closest dealer to beat the price or throw in inspection/oil changes/mats, etc…

it is a much easier process than it once was, and appears to be…

Check with your insurance company too. You need to know what your new rate will be with this car. Sometimes the insurance is a significant part of the cost.

Good Luck… Hope you get it. :slight_smile:

Once you decide on the car you want, secure the financing through your credit union first. Believe me, you’ll prefer that to dealing with the Finance folks at the dealership. Next, find the fleet manager at your local dealership. Make sure it’s the actual fleet manager, and not a salesman “acting” as the fleet manager that day. Call him on the phone, tell him exactly what you’re looking for and what you’re willing to pay. Get him to commit to the price, via email, if possible. Print the email, drive down to the dealership, hand him the check, leave with your car.

After much research and heartache and a very, VERY negative experience at a couple of dealerships when I bought my last car, I’ve found that fleet managers aren’t interested in playing games with you. They’ll go so far as to go on a test drive with you if you really must, but their job is to manage the fleet and move cars off the lot. They tend to work on flat commissions rather than price-based commissions. They are an entirely different breed than the floor salespeople. They want to make a little profit on their cars and then get them out the door. This attitude can truly work to your advantage.

Good luck. :slight_smile:

When I bought my car I probably went overboard on the research, but I am very happy with my car and dealer. I’m probably the sort of buyer who gets on dealers’ nerves, but a mistake on my part could mean a lot of cash. So first I checked what leading car magazines said about the car I wanted. I went and picked up those brochure thingies at a dealership and looked over features, though that can be done on line. I just wanted something physical to hold in my hand.

Then I signed up at boards dedicated to the make and model of my car, and watched what owners were saying, and asked questions myself. It’s good to get a board where people discuss pros and cons, not just one dedicated to fans. Soon, I knew what I wanted, what features and such to avoid or buy elsewhere and the price I should pay. During this time I went on test drives and made sure I liked the car and that it worked for me, plus I got a feel for various dealers and learned what to expect.

I settled on three dealers and went to each to decide who seemed best for me. Under more scrutiny, the first two left me cold-- something slimy about how they wouldn’t give me a firm price, tried to gain my sympathy, to be my friend and such. The last one struck me as professional and above board. I got a tour of the whole place, asked how things would go, like procedures for getting repairs done under warranty, their days and hours of service, etc. to make sure I could work with them (mainly my work schedule issues). Then I went home and Googled them. I found nothing but positive remarks.

I then visited my friendly credit union, after checking around for rates of course, got everything explained and in motion. On a day I had plenty of time, I went back to the dealer with my mom and sister both. This is a good idea if you know someone who’ll be a help. Both of them had bought cars before, though I hadn’t. My sister is an insurance adjuster and really knows cars and everything that goes with them. Mom was my teddy bear. After what seemed like forever, I had my car. Sort of. The one I wanted needed to be brought from another dealer so I picked up my car a few days later.

Used cars are a good idea if you’ve got a dealer you trust, who’ll stand behind their car per waranty. A car that’s a couple of years old is a huge savings over new and is still in good shape. Anything that’s going to go wrong generally happens in the first couple of years. By buying a used car you know pretty much what’s what about your car and saved a bundle. I bought new because I wanted my first new car, now I’d buy used. I like saving more than a new car smell that I can buy in a spray can anyway.

Miscellaneous stuff I learned (though I sure don’t claim to be an expert): special coatings and preparations are almost always a rip off, proceed with extreme caution. I learned that the extended warranty is usually not needed, though I got one and it did happen to pay for itself, but no more. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about anything, no matter if the person speaking acts as though it’s something everyone understands. It’s simple for them because they do it everyday, you don’t, so ask away. Have them repeat themselves and show you where everything is written so it’s all clear. You can also have them compare the costs of different options. Ask what’s going on if the price is higher than you expected and make sure you’re not paying for something that should be included. Like the car should come with tires at no additional cost. Don’t let them charge you fifty dollars for ‘special premium’ floor mats you can buy at an auto store for ten bucks.

Arrange for the highest payment you can afford, and putting down a big down payment is usually a good idea. Cost it out though, to be sure. Leasing your car can be a very bad idea based upon your circumstances and the deal they’ll make with you. Usually you lease a car only if you’re going to want a new car in a couple of years. You don’t really start to break even with a car until it’s seven years old. When you’re done paying off your car, now put that money into savings to be used for the down payment on your next car.

No matter what, don’t be afraid to say you want to think on it and walk out. You can almost always come back another day. It’s their job to help you out, you’re not a burden, you’re a valued customer. Happy shopping!

I would be very careful about signing up for the biggest payment you think you can afford. Why not sign up for a smaller one and then just make bigger payments as you can?

My parents just bought a new Camry by getting quotes (via email I think) through They got a great quote from Oxnard Toyota and went to Ventura Toyota, where it turned out they were given the standard junk with gradually decreasing prices until they were told to “go home and think about that number”. They then scoffed and went back to Oxnard and bought the car.

I would use those quote services on Edmunds or if you’re serious about buying soon. That’s what I’m planning to do. I’m betting I get widely diverging prices like when I called around for car insurance. Personally, I’m also willing to wait for the color and options I want even if it takes a couple weeks for it to be found, since I plan to drive this for 10+ years.