Advice and Overviews on Car Buying

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Buy a Car the Web Way

When buying or leasing a car, impulse is your enemy. Given the financial commitment required to buy a car, a purchase not shown proper consideration could leave you regretting your decision for a long time. Luckily, the Web's resources are perfect for getting you the information you need and moving that perfect car from the showroom floor to behind your garage door. For a Spanish-language version of the Guide, click here.

Advice and Overviews on Car Buying

Online or off, your success when buying a car depends greatly on your preparation. Good research can impact whether you choose the right car, how effectively you negotiate the car's price, your decision to lease or buy, the interest rate secured on your car loan, and much more. On the Web you'll find consumer car buying guides, with tips and advice from industry experts, that are designed to keep you informed and get you poised for a smart purchase. The following resources are a must for all new car buyers.

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  • Listed in the Picks below are two primary types of resources: there are buyer's guides that take the form of step-by-step walkthroughs (this article from The Motley Fool is a good example), and there are Web sites serving as general portals of car buying advice and information (such as Insider Car Secrets).
  • In addition to using online resources, it can be helpful to speak with friends and family who have recently bought cars. Anyone who has been through the process is a potential source of advice and information about your local car market.

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Buy a New Car

Whether it's luxury, performance, economy, or reliability you crave, new cars bring you the latest advancements in automotive technology. As a new owner you're bringing home a machine that's untouched and distinctly yours. In this section we'll show you the best places to read car reviews, compare makes and models, check prices, and buy the latest models on the market.

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  • Unlike real-world dealerships, very few sites on the Web specialize in only new or used cars. Because of this overlap, you can expect to find used car listings in many of the sites listed below. Those sites with quality information resources for new cars and extensive used car listings will be repeated in this section and the "How do I buy a used car?" section of this guide.
  • Car buying sites generally offer extensive research resources in addition to their car listings.
  • When buying a new car, you'll have to do it through a dealer. And although this means you'll most likely need to make a trip on your own, you can take the first step online by using the following sites to do your homework. Not only do these sites have complete reviews of all new models, including technical specifications, expert opinions, and safety information, you can also use them to get a free price quote from your local dealer. If you're serious about buying, use these sites to put yourself into a position to negotiate a price that works for you.
  • Manufacturers' sites generally have interesting features and information and, although it's all promotional in nature, it's worth visiting before making any purchases. Use Automotive-Links.com (the last of our Picks in this section) to find the official Web pages of the carmakers you're interested in.
  • When you encounter "buyer's guides" online, scrutinize them for author biases. It's not unlikely that a dealership or car company with a buyer's guide has tweaked it to sway readers toward certain products.

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Buy a Used Car

If thoughts of buying a used car conjure up the stereotype of a cheap suit-clad salesman equipped with aviator sunglasses, Hawaiian shirt, greasy hair, and a greasier mustache, the last thing you're itching to do is make a trip down to your local dealership. Relax. Buying a used car has never been easier. With the aid of your trusted friend the Internet, you can exert mastery over the car buying process by conducting vehicle history reports, checking and comparing Blue Book values, and browsing listings until you find the ride that's perfect for you.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • To reiterate a point from the "How do I buy a new car?" section, most quality car Web sites have equally good listings for both new and used cars. For that reason, a number of our Picks from the previous section appear again here.
  • When buying a used car, begin by assessing the car's value by comparing the asking price with the Blue Book price. After you've test-driven your potential car, but before purchasing it, be sure to check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and get a vehicle history report.
  • A vehicle history report is a record of an automobile's service, ownership, and odometer history. Each car's VIN allows such records to be compiled in a central database and to be accessed when a prospective buyer needs them. For more information on why you should order a report and where the information in it comes from, see the sections at the bottom of this page from the Department of Motor Vehicles. Below we recommend two sites that can give you free vehicle history reports.
  • AutoNetUSA has a five-step new and used car buyer's guide you might find useful.

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Lease a Car

Leasing a car is similar in nature to renting an apartment: you inhabit it for a set period of time, make monthly payments, incur penalty fees for breaking the contract, and pay for any damage you cause during your occupancy. Essentially, a car lease is a way of paying for a car where a lessee agrees to make payments to the lessor over a specified period of time. At the end of the lease period, you usually have an option to buy the car or to return it to the dealer. Leases can't be terminated prior to the end date without the lessee incurring large costs. In this section we'll direct you to resources covering everything you need to know about leasing a car.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • Not sure whether to buy or lease? Automotive.com has a side-by-side comparison of buying versus leasing with respect to issues of ownership, monthly payments, up-front costs, mileage, and more.
  • Lease payments are generated based on a complex equation. Two software programs, which we describe below, analyze lease payments to help you get the best deal. For more information on the complex formulas used to calculate lease payments, check out this breakdown from LeaseGuide.com.
  • If you want to end your lease before the contract date but want to avoid the steep fees that typically result, consider trading your lease. A lease trade allows you to transfer your lease to a third party, freeing you of the remainder of your lease obligation. Two prominent Web sites with services that assist you in the lease trade process are Swapalease and LeaseTrader; read more about them below.

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How to Finance a Car

Unless you're sitting on a hefty savings account, buying a new or used car means taking out a loan. Use these sites to learn the ins and outs of auto financing, including how to access your credit score, improve your credit, calculate payments, and find a loan.

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  • Getting your financing through the car dealership can be convenient but it can cost you a lot of money if you're not getting a good rate. Before you head to the dealer, check your bank's Web site (or any bank's Web site) to get an idea of current interest rates so you can better evaluate any offer from the dealer.
  • A good credit score is important for securing the best rate on your loan. Before applying, be sure to check your score on a site like FreeCreditReport.com. If the credit check reveals a low (poor) credit score, improve your credit with help from the resources in the findingDulcinea Credit Guide.

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