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Take the pain out of buying your next car

January 3, 1996
Web posted at: 1:30 a.m. EST

From CNN Interactive Writer Kristin Lemmerman

(CNN) -- I believe I speak for a lot of people when I say that buying a car -- any car, but especially a new one -- is a tedious, painful experience.

This is especially true when you are seeking a car in a hurry to replace your rapidly dying one, when you buy your first new car and don't know what you're doing or when you don't have time to research the best deal for the money.

Thus, many buyers walk into showrooms because they see an attractive car they think has a good reputation, they don't know how to negotiate the purchase, and they get taken for a ride.

This does not have to happen.

If you're reading this column, then you have Internet access. Ergo, you have time to do some research. (It's not like you have to schedule a trip to the public library anymore). At the very least, you should find out what the dealer paid for your car. If you know their buying price, you're in a better position to get their lowest selling price?

Learn what the dealer pays for everything


Edmund's Car Buying Guides is an amazing resource that allows you to do just that. Not only can you find out what the dealer paid for the car, you can find out what he or she paid for every option. The guide also lists the manufacturers' recommended charges. There are also road-test reviews of some new cars.

Microsoft Car Point can be another good place to get information. Among its features, it posts full specifications (mileage, available features, manufacturer's warranty) for each car. And, it throws in some history. For example, did you know that the BMW Z3 Roadster, the car featured in the latest James Bond movie "Goldeneye," was the first roadster the company built in relatively large numbers?


For some models, the site estimates repair and maintenance costs. And if $30,000 for the BMW Roadster is more than you want to spend, you can take a look at its competition -- for instance, a Mazda Miata MX-5, a Chevy Camaro and the convertible Toyota Celica GT all have a lower ticket price.

While I like those features, I have to say you probably get more bang for your buck with Edmund's, since everything on Edmund's is free. By comparison, you have to pay for detailed information from Car Point, ranging from the cost of a car's features to the likely cost of insurance. So for $5, you can find out what insurance costs are for someone under 65 years old with a clean driving record. So what? If you're researching any number of cars at all, the price for this special information adds up fast.

Once you've decided on the car you want, you have two choices: You can go to a dealer and haggle until you feel satisfied, or you can go to an online service that sells cars at a fixed (and often, lower than the dealer's) price.

Getting what you want from the dealer

Edmund's offers super advice on how to negotiate with a dealer. It's hard to believe, but lots of people have written the site to say that thanks to Edmund's tips, they actually enjoyed buying their last car. Because Edmund's tells you how much the dealer pays for the car and for each of its features, you can tell dealers up front that you know what everything costs, and that you can't be bled dry to pay for the car you want.

So, if you're using Edmund's for car research anyway, you may as well set aside a few minutes to read the site's "How To Get Your Way at the Auto Dealer." It explains what you should say to put the dealer on the defensive and tells you just what they'll do to try to put you at a disadvantage.

The trade-in


Unless this is your first car ever, or your family really needed an additional car and not just a new one, you're going to have to do something with the car you've been driving. You could sell it yourself, or you could trade it in to the dealer. Either way, you have to find out what it's worth.

Kelley's Blue Book, has long been a resource for people buying or selling their used cars. In the past, you had to stop by the library to do Blue Book research. Today, the Blue Book is as close as your laptop. You select the year and model of your car, the features it has, such as air conditioning and radio, and its condition; the site tells you what the dealer will try to resell it for, and what he'll likely offer you for it.

This site also has some information on new cars that overlaps with Edmund's. It lists a dealer's invoice price and the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP), as well as costs for any options. According to the site, if the invoice price changes, it will be updated. Revised prices are flagged with a "revised on" date.

Skip the dealer, buy online

There are car-buying clubs that charge you for their services; they say that the money you save through them justifies the fee. That may be true, but why pay them when you can get the same discount through another group for free.


I found two different online car buying services, both free, which work roughly the same way. You tell them what car you want and what features it should have, and they get a dealer in your area to call you with a price quote. The theory is that they get a volume discount from the dealers.

One of them, Auto-by-Tel, is available in English or French. You can get price quotes on buying or leasing a car, and information on the dealer and customer rebates available. A dealer rebate is a rebate the manufacturer offers dealers as a sales incentive.

Two still-unavailable Auto-by-Tel features have potential. Starting this month, you can get approved for a car loan through its service, which promises to use "advanced security encryption technology." And later in 1997, the site plans to launch a used-car cyberstore espousing the same one-price, no-haggling credo of the new car buying service.


AutoVantage has some services for which it charges a fee to members. However, the car-buying service is not one of them. You can access AutoVantage information through its own site or through eAuto, another site with lots of information about different cars.

I like the AutoVantage site because when you tell it what car you're interested in, it sends you straight to a page combining an evaluation of the car with its suggested and dealer price.

For a quick read, you can get a list of the pros and cons of any car. If you want more detailed information, you can read a road-test evaluation and get information on performance, accommodations, workmanship and all the information available on option packages and warranties.

If it irks you to have to scroll down the pages several times to read it, you'll hate the layout. Personally, I hate going to a new page where I have to wait for the same graphics to download with new words. The AutoVantage one-page format suits me fine.

Good luck buying on buying your new car! I hope you get a real deal.

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Related story:

Virtual car lots headed for the 'net - March 22, 1996

Related sites:

This site is mostly useful for dealers, but promises to set up an area soon where potential customers can find out what a used car is worth.

National Automobile Dealers Association Web Site
This site is mostly useful for dealers, but promises to set up an area soon where potential customers can find out what a used car is worth.

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