3 car-shopping rules to know

February 18, 2015 09:12 AM

Car buyers today are more informed than ever before. It's a good thing, too, as the process of purchasing a vehicle has changed a lot in recent years. While that shift has made a few practices outdated, many people are still clinging to them, which may hurt their bottom line. Those who are smart enough to evolve with the times and take advantage of modern tools, however, have an opportunity to get a lot of bang for their buck. 

"The millennial generation is already comfortable with identifying and using all the tools at their disposal, but those same tools can be intimidating to those who have a more traditional approach to car shopping," said Edmunds.com Consumer Advice Editor Carroll Lachnit. "By exposing themselves to new car shopping methods and technology, old-school car shoppers will discover a more confident approach to the process."

Below are three tips you should keep in mind as you're shopping for a new or used car. Use these guidelines to stay within your budget and land a vehicle that fits all of your desires. 

Tip 1: Do the math yourself 
For some, the whole point of going to a dealership is having another person do the dirty work. But you shouldn't leave all of the math involved in a purchase up to chance. Take some time to crunch the numbers yourself, ensuring that any loans, estimated cost of ownership, vehicle maintenance costs and similar figures are correct. Edmunds.com noted that there's tons of free Internet resources available to help shoppers determine what the best deal is - without relying on salespeople. As a bonus, crunching the numbers allows you to budget for more specific repairs or maintenance tasks that others may not account for. 

Tip 2: Know how to handle the trade-in process 
You may be ready to trade in your current ride as part of the transaction. Before you head down this road, however, be sure to know what to expect. Conduct some research to determine what the value of the trade-in is and decide on the minimum number you would accept.  

If the dealership consistently rates your trade-in at a low value, it may be time to reassess your options. Start by getting a fresh perspective on the vehicle: Is it possible you were overrating its quality? Would you be better served by investing in some auto repair and continuing to drive it as a second car? Is there a facility that will offer you a better price? These are all ideas you must consider before coming to an agreement. 

Tip 3: Don't restrict yourself
In today's world of endless options, there are many ways to complete each step of the car-buying process. Whether it's researching a vehicle, securing a loan or finalizing a purchase, you have a lot to do, and you should be aware of the different channels you can use along the way. For instance, just because you head to a dealership to test drive a car and check out your options doesn't mean you have to finalize a deal there. You don't even have to stick with the same salesperson. 

Instead, test drive a few cars at the dealership and then head home to sleep on your decision. While you're mulling it over, you can devote some time to looking up possible online negotiations, Edmunds.com suggested. Many facilities have a website that allows people to make deals remotely, and you can use this method to try and achieve a lower price. 

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