Research before you shop!
Don't go near that dealership! Once you know how much Available Cash you have, get the hard facts about the vehicles that fit your Available Cash figure before you go any further.
- What vehicles fit your budget?
- What do these cars cost the dealers?
- What is the vehicle's safety record?
- What about mechanical reliability and maintenance costs?
- What about insurance costs?
- What about operating costs, such as fuel economy?
Resources for Research
The following resources available online can help you find the information you need to choose wisely.
- Consumer Reports generally gives excellent, objective information on safety and reliability. You can research copies at the library, or visit www.consumerreports.org. Consumer Reports charges $6.95 per month (or $30 per year) to access their online articles. It's the best money you can spend.
- The Center For Auto Safety provides free information on reliability, maintenance and safety issues. This is one of the most important sites on the Web, so bookmark it then click on "auto defects" in the top tabs.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a dynamic site to help you research safety and dependability. Research government crash test results and safety recalls at safercar.gov.
- The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety provides results for its offset frontal crash tests, side impact crash tests, and rear crash protection/head restraint tests.
- Find out the fuel economy rating on any vehicle at www.fueleconomy.org, a service of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- How much will insurance cost for that vehicle you are considering. Rates can vary considerably between two similar models as well as between insurance companies for the same model. Check out Consumer Reports' guide to car insurance.
- The manufacturers all offer "consumer" sites which supposedly tell you objective information about their vehicles. Generally, these sites never tell you bad things, of course. So, they are limited in their usefulness, when it comes to objective information. The sites can be fun to visit, however. Most now offer "virtual" tours of individual vehicles. Just use your search engine and any manufacturer's name.
- Commercial websites such as Edmunds.com or Cars.com have good resources that you can use in researching a vehicle, but they also have links to commercial products or provide those (such as buying or selling a vehicle). Quick StraightTalk Tip: When you use these services, always move with caution and follow StraightTalk's general buying tips when using any outside services.
- For used cars, CARFAX provides vehicle history reports. A free records check provides basic information about the vehicle and the number of records that are in the CARFAX databases. A full CARFAX report contains information such as: detailed ownership history, ownership, flood damage, major accident damage, salvaged vehicle, odometer fraud, recalls, lemon check, and number of previous owners. A single report costs $24.99, an unlimited number of reports is available for 30 days for $29.99. Note that CARFAX isn't foolproof. They can only provide information that has been reported and reporting requirements vary from state to state.
Now it's time to shop for the one vehicle you like!
Like a chocoholic's first whiff of a candy factory, your first visit to a dealership or website poses the maximum danger to your pocketbook. Those new cars look so good. And you've waited so long. Whether online or in person, sellers know how to turn up the fires of your enthusiasm and singe your reason.
So put your emotions aside. Be wary. Slow down. Save the emotions for the moment you finally drive away in your shiny new car on budget with an extra thousand or two in your pocket. Now that's something to get excited about!
Quick StraightTalk Tip if you're buying used. Buying used is one of the smartest things you can do. But it's the worst thing many people do, because they don't understand the specific problems used-car buyers face, on the Web or at a dealership.
For instance, did you know some dealers and online lenders charge you thousands more in interest to finance a used car than they would to finance the same amount on a new car? How do you stop that from happening to you? Keep reading. We've got a special Used Car section for you, and the information is priceless. But first, let's deal with new vehicles.
Prepared for Corning Credit Union by Remar Sutton & Associates, April 2003. Reviewed and updated March 2007. All rights reserved.