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Auto Advice - Evaluating

Car-Buying Tips
There's so much to remember when you're buying a new car. Looking up invoice prices. Gathering consumer and insurance ratings. Finding a dealer who will treat you right. But in the end, it'll all be worth it when you're driving the car you really want and don't dread the day you'll have to bring it back in for service. Sure, buying a vehicle takes a little effort, but it's not hard getting a good deal when you follow a few simple guidelines.

Think about the next buyer. If you're like most Americans, you won't be holding on to that car longer than three years. Naturally, you need to consider vehicles that will best suit your needs. To maintain resale value, however, consider cars that are not too "exotic", have a limited production, or those that change body style often.

Do the research. Look up consumer and automotive web sites or magazines for consumer information on the specific makes and models you're considering. Such information will often allow you to directly compare one vehicle to another.

Reputation is everything. Look for a reliable, trustworthy dealer or seller, and avoid those you feel are not. If you have any reservations about the integrity of a dealer, shop their competition.

Bring along "friends" Take these items along when you inspect a used car:

  • A flashlight to check dark places for leaks, rust or damage
  • A magnet to detect body filler after an accident
  • Rags to wipe your hands
  • A note pad and pen to make notes

Try to contact the previous owner of a used car to learn about its maintenance history and verify it's current mileage. Take a used car to an independent mechanic and body shop to inspect the car for mechanical, body or structural problems so you'll know of any necessary or expected repairs that will need to be made. Look for any recalls on the vehicle you're interested in.

Put it to the test. During the test drive, drive the car as you'll expect to once you own it -- load it with people or stuff, do some freeway driving, try a tight U-turn in a parking lot -- to see how it works under real world conditions.

Gather the numbers. Find out the invoice price or market value of the new car and the value of your trade-in before you visit the dealer or seller. Watch for any special incentives or dealer holdbacks that aren't necessarily advertised but provide extra profit to the dealer.

Know your trade. If you're trading your car, spiff it up and know what repairs may be necessary before showing it to the dealer. Negotiate the price of the new car first, then tell the dealer you'll be trading and negotiate the trade-in value separately from the new car.

Watch out for last-minute additions. Be wary of expensive dealer installed options like rustproofing, fabric and paint sealants, extended warrantees or extra insurances which tend to have a high mark up.

The relationship shouldn't end with the sale. Before you buy, visit the dealer's service department and ask about the service they will give you once you own the car. Read the contract very carefully, and don't sign it until all your questions are sufficiently answered. Get it in writing that all recall work or agreed on repairs have been or will be made by the seller.

Take your time. Make sure you really want the car and can afford to pay for it, since it can be very difficult to return it after you sign the contract. Finally, don't succumb to pressure by a salesperson, or even friends or family, into buying a car you don't really want.


Your Present Car - Sell it Outright, or Trade it In?
Just because you're tired of your present car, or it's just plain tired, doesn't mean it doesn't still have value. Most people either sell their current car and use the proceeds as a down payment, or turn their car in to the dealer to reduce their cost for a new vehicle. Trading-in tends to be a lot easier than selling it yourself, but you'll most always get a lower return on your vehicle for this convenience. Selling your car outright will usually give you a better overall deal.

Selling Outright

If you choose to sell your car to another private party, it's in your best interest to do make a few presale preparations. Whoever buys your car will appreciate it too. Before you set a price, find out the book value of the car, taking into account the mileage, options, and its overall condition. You can find out how much it's worth by asking your Credit Union Loan Officer, or looking it up yourself in the N.A.D.A. Blue Book or on one of several web sites specializing in the car information. Setting a reasonable price will draw more perspective buyers to your car, and you'll sell it faster.

Before you show your car, spiff it up. Wash and wax it and give the interior a good cleaning. Change the oil to show you maintain it well. Have a mechanic look it over and let you know what it may need to be in tip top shape. Gather up any repair and maintenance records so buyers can see what's been done to the car over the years. A buyer will place greater trust in you if you present a good clean car, repair receipts and recommendations for possible future repairs. That trust can turn into a faster sale for you.

Trading It In
If you decide to trade, you'll want to make many of the same preparations to get the highest trade in value for your car. Look up its value, clean it up, change the oil, find out any necessary repairs, and bring your receipts. The dealer, like any buyer, will appreciate your honesty and make it easier for you to deal. The dealer will likely offer you a standard trade-in value, or even wholesale value, for your car. They'll in turn make their profit by reselling your car for closer to retail value to it's next owner. The sad truth is that most vehicles, even those that are super-clean with low mileage, depreciate over time. So don't be surprised if the dealer's offer isn't as high as you'd hoped.

On the other hand, feel free to negotiate the price on your old vehicle. Make offers and counter offers as you would with your new car. Above all, try not to let the dealer know you'll be trading before you have negotiated a price, in writing, for your new car. First, negotiate the lowest price for your new car. Then, negotiate the highest price on your trade in. A little wheeling and dealing during this critical time of the buying process can save you big bucks in the end.


It's "Me" ...But is it Right for Me?
It's easy to fall in love during the car buying process, even over something as simple as a color. But many people find out, much to their dismay, that the honeymoon is over when their purchase doesn't really meet their needs after all. It's okay to love your car, but true bliss is found only when you've chosen the vehicle that best meets your needs.

Consider these when you're shopping for a new car

Your Lifestyle - Do you take a lot of long trips with your car, or is it mostly short distances to work and back or around town? If you're constantly hauling things and helping others move, for example, cargo space is probably a priority. The same is true if you're a sports-enthusiast and haul bikes, canoes, camping equipment and the like. If your travel is off road, a sure-footed four-wheel drive will better get you through the rough spots.

Where You Live - People who live in the desert rarely see need for a four-wheel drive vehicle, unless of course they travel through snowy areas or primitive roads fairly regularly. Similarly, a powerful rear wheel drive sports car won't do you much good when the snow comes to your town next winter. And if you live in an outstate area, will you have dealer support available for a model that's sold only in the big city?

Your Family - More specifically, your passengers. Will you be carrying children? Older parents? Business associates? Pets? Then a cramped sports or economy car is probably a bad idea. A snazzy two-seater may be just the thing for weekend getaways or the daily commute, but not the overall best choice. Performance enthusiasts take heart -- there are plenty of sedans and wagons out there that provide driving excitement and performance along with the practical aspects you need in a car.

Your Likes and Dislikes - Do you have a favorite models, brands, or some "must have" options? Now's the time to think about what they are and look at those cars that have what you want. Some people require cruise control for frequent long trips. Others favor only domestic sedans. Remember, you may own this car for six or seven years before trading it in. Any minor dislikes you have can become major annoyances over time.

Your Budget - In the end, money is a factor. Most of us have to work within a limited car budget and can easily get in over our heads with car expenses. Just because you can afford the monthly payments doesn't make a car affordable for you. There are insurance rates. Gas mileage. License fees. Maintenance expenses. All of these should be considered when you're looking for a new car.

Narrow Your Search - Once you've determined the type of car you want, you should be down to maybe four or five models that fit the bill. Of this small group, do a little comparison shopping. Check insurance ratings. Read consumer reports. Look at resale values. And of course, test-drive each one and note your likes and dislikes. During this part of your search, an overall "winner" should emerge, and you can start to think about negotiating a deal.


Do your Homework when Pricing that Vehicle
You can always trust a car salesman to quote you fair prices for your trade-in and the car you want to purchase... Or can you? There's no need to take chances when you can readily find out these values on your own. Once you do, you'll get a good idea what your present car is worth if you trade it or sell it outright. You'll also get a good idea what a fair price is for your new car. It's easy to do, either by asking your credit union loan officer or looking them up on the internet.

Ask Your Loan Officer
Under normal circumstances, your credit union will be more than happy to help you look up values on the new or used car you want to buy. In fact, they'll probably do it on their own anyway. After all, the lending institution typically doesn't want to lend more money than the vehicle is worth.

Guides vary slightly between credit unions, but the most common are the NADA Used Car Guide, Kelly Blue Book, and the computer program PC Carbook. NADA and Kelly will give you information on the trade-in value, loan value, and retail value of your present vehicle, or on a used car you are looking to buy. (PC Carbook tends to focus more on new vehicles) Most guides include values of specific options on the car. NADA and Kelly feature a mileage table that can either add value to your car (for lower than average miles) or deduct for higher miles.

The numbers you get out of these guides become a starting point to negotiation. Remember, every car has it's own unique features, and probably some flaws, that may affect it's ultimate value.

Internet Pricing Guides
As one would certainly expect, there is plenty of vehicle pricing information on-line. (Obviously, if you're reading this, you are well aware that such consumer education abounds on the internet.) Fortunately, you've discovered a fantastic starting point - CU Auto Online, provided by your credit union, is a first step in your quest, and one that is provided by your friends at the credit union. In all fairness, we also won't deny that there are many, many alternatives. If specific information is what you're after, and it can't be found on CU Auto Online, your favorite search engine will likely yield dozens of web sites that may offer solutions.

A word to the wise, however, that is true of any on-line investigation - Know your source. If it is unclear who sponsors, hosts, or offers the information you are gathering, the numbers you collect may not be accurate. If you have any doubts of the integrity of your source, gather comparative data. Or, visit with your credit union loan officer. Odds are, they have favorite web-based tools that will aid in your quest.

New Car Pricing
New car manufacturers often love to brag about their vehicles. Use this to your advantage. Visit manufacturers websites and "build your own" new car. Here you can price different makes and models, add or subtract options, and even look at different colors on the car you'd like to buy. Remember, prices quoted on these sites are most likely retail values. So if you suffer "sticker shock" when you price out the car don't worry, there is probably some room to negotiate when you get to the showroom.