You're in the market for a new car, but it's been a while? It's time for a refresher course. Car shopping and buying have changed in dramatic ways, and you need to know the new rules.
Your budget and your needs are still the most important factors when it comes to buying a new car--but these days, you also need to be your own financial adviser, loan underwriter, concierge, and tech geek.
Buying a new car doesn't have to be difficult. You'll get the best price in the shortest time as long as you keep the 10 new rules of car buying in mind:
Research and get connected. Dream in a fanboy magazine if you want, but to begin the new-car buying process, you need to get connected. Narrow down your shopping list by reading reviews of new vehicles, getting prices with the options you want, and figuring out what you can afford first.
Compare, compare, compare. Even if you're set on one vehicle, take a look at sources like The Car Connection's reviews to discover other vehicles that may be a better fit. Maybe you didn't know there's a more economical crossover vehicle, or a compact sedan with a stronger crash-test score.
Ignore the EPA fuel economy ratings. Avoid the unpleasant surprise of low gas mileage. Check online resources for driver-submitted fuel economy figures for vehicles that interest you--or just subtract 10-20 percent from the combined EPA fuel economy rating for a real-world equivalent.
Narrow down your shopping list to five specific cars, and test drive all of them. You can use shopping tools to find a specific vehicle anywhere in the country--by mileage, price, body style, even color. Use those tools to give yourself five valid choices to begin the buying process.
Drive the exact same version that you'd buy. More than ever before, two versions of the same model that look the same can end up with different ride and handling characteristics—just from wheel-and-tire choices, suspension options, or subtle differences in tuning.
Get to a credit union before you buy. Low-cost financing should be standard equipment, if you need to finance your next car. A credit union is usually the best bet, though many automakers now compete with rock-bottom rates. No matter what, bring a pre-approved financing option to the table; never settle for the dealer financing simply because you failed to do your homework. And never, ever, finance a car for more than 60 months--depreciation can be a car's worst enemy.
Make sure you fit. It's astonishing how many drivers complain after a few months about seating comfort, entry and exit, and cargo capacity. Try on a new car like you'd try on a very expensive pair of new shoes. If you're bothered by the seats or space, try a different trim level--maybe one without the sunroof or ventilated seats, which can chew up headroom and seat cushioning, respectively.
Fiddle with the infotainment. No one wants to learn yet another operating system, or get into a car and have to seek out basic functions. Make sure you're up for the task at hand. Also, pair your smartphone--or don't, at your peril. Your current phone may not connect adequately with your new car--which will add upgrade charges on top of the new car purchase. Learn to love redundancy; if there aren't several ways of doing things, there's less of a chance you'll multitask smoothly when it's most critical.
Don't get emotional over price--and don't tell the dealer how you're planning to finance while you're negotiating. Unscrupulous dealers may give you a better price if they think you will finance the car through them, since they will get a "participation fee"--a cut of your loan. If a salesperson asks you how you're planning to pay before you've shaken hands on a price, tell him or her you haven't decided--but are looking for "a good price".
Check the VIN against the paperwork. Make sure the VIN you're buying matches the one you wanted on the lot, before you sign. You could end up with a car that doesn't have the equipment you expected--or has a few hundred "demonstrator" miles.