published Sunday, June 8th, 2014

Consumer Watch: Tips for making car buying easier

by Ellen Phillips

Q. I know you’ve written in the past on auto-buying, but my car is biting the dust and I need some information to make purchasing a new car easier. Please help.

— Victor Vehicle

Dear Mr. Vehicle: Yes, indeedy, I’ll be glad to help. Personally, I love to collect tidbits myself regarding different types of purchases to save future money, time, and stress. And, if I didn’t enjoy so much having no car payment, I’d go along with you and haggle a new auto for myself.

Most of us think we simply can’t avoid all the rigmarole of the showroom with the babbling salesman who frequently gets up to bring out his boss to “negotiate” further. Nowadays, nothing is further from the truth. So crank up your computer or iPad and keep the phone handy — a new day is at hand.

Six tips

1 Decide upon the make, model, color, and trim whether you’re buying new or used, and then check different dealers’ websites for options and availability. Once you’ve narrowed this list down, visit local lots for a test drive, but be clear you are NOT buying at this time and, if they pressure you, they’ve seen your rear end forever. Understand that Dealer A’s final cost may be much cheaper than Dealer D. (More on this in a minute.)

2 Hurray if you can pay cash. On the other hand, most of us need a loan so shop around for the best rate and terms before visiting the dealer. Don’t forget online lenders, such as

3 Websites usually show up incentives being offered. Cash rebates, low-interest financing (if they can give you a better deal than your pre-approved loan), and auto features can save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

4 As referenced earlier, one dealer’s offer can be substantially different from another so make them all compete for your business. Just be sure to be specific. The last time I bought a car, I sent an email to several dealership managers (check their sites or make a call) in which I specified make, model, color, incentives, and so forth, as well as the highest range amount I would consider paying, including taxes and fees, and the deadline for response. I also explained upfront that I was sending the same email to other dealers and would go with the best price. For online quotes, go to,, Cars Direct, and TrueCar, among others.

5 If you plan to use your current vehicle for a trade-in, check Kelley Blue Book ( or Edmunds ( for its value. Be certain the car is spick and span before you show up at the dealer to trade, and any reasonably small issues, such as a knick in the windshield or a worn tire have been addressed.

6 Turn a deaf ear at pickup since the dealer just doesn’t know when to shut up. No thanks (unless you want to pay a lot extra) to undercoating, sealants, floor mats, VIN etching, extended warranty and other expenditures.

about Ellen Phillips...

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at under Local Business.

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