Even if you get a low price on a new car, you may still come out on the wrong end of the deal if you don’t pay close attention to other areas of the buying process.
Consumer Reports lists five critical steps you can take to save money across the board. Fortunately, a lot of the work can be done from the comfort of your own home by using the Internet, a phone and email.
Choose your exact car.
It’s important to identify which car you want, down to the trim level and options. Use Consumer Reports Ratings to help narrow down your choices. Every automaker lets you configure a car on its website, and most let you search their dealers’ inventory.
It’s also vital that you test drive any models you’re considering before you get deep into the process; cars can feel very different when driven back to back, and less obvious things, such as seat comfort, visibility and dash controls, can make a big difference.
Set up your financing in advance.
Once you know approximately how much your car will cost, you should focus on your financing options. Shop around for the lowest interest rate. You can get a good idea of current rates at bankrate.com.
Ask your lender for preapproval, and get it to issue a bank check that you later fill out at the dealership. Getting approval in advance takes a lot of stress out of the buying process. And you can still choose the dealer’s financing if the terms are better.
Get dealers to compete.
That is one of the most effective ways of getting a good discount on a new car. Call or email several dealers in your area, or request a quote through their websites. Tell them the exact car you want and ask for their lowest price. Let them know that you are shopping around and that you will buy from the dealership with the lowest price.
Get the most for your trade-in.
If you plan on trading in your current car, give it some attention before going to the dealership to close the deal. Find out how much it’s worth by going to Edmunds (Edmunds.com), Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com) or the National Automobile Dealers Association (nada.org), or by buying a Consumer Reports Used Car Price Report.
To maximize your car’s value, it’s worth putting a little effort into its curb appeal. Wash and wax the exterior, and clean the interior. It does pay to do major repairs. A dealer can’t sell a car with a chipped windshield, so it will deduct about $300 to get it fixed, a Seattle-area dealer told Consumer Reports. They will also take off $500 to $600 for worn tires. So replace them if you can do it for less.
Just say no to dealer extras.
You should have the price locked down when you go to the dealership to finalize the sale. But the staff will try to sell you extras to pad the dealer’s bottom line.
Those can include undercoating, fabric and paint sealants, and VIN etching, in which the dealer etches the vehicle identification number (VIN) into the windows to help prevent theft. Don’t bite. All modern cars are factory-treated for rust protection, and additional undercoating can do more harm than good.
You can get a can of fabric sealant or paint protectant or wax at an auto parts or other retail store for a few dollars and apply it yourself. And if you want VIN etching, you can often have it done at an independent shop or do it yourself for a lower price.
Dealers will also try to sell you a service contract or extended warranty. But if you’ve picked a reliable car, in many cases you’ll spend more for the warranty than you’ll save in repairs.