We are approaching the busiest time of the year for car sales. If you are considering buying a car in the next couple of months, here is a checklist of things to do BEFORE your first visit a car dealership.
1. Check your credit report for errors: About half of credit reports have inaccurate information, and many of those errors can impact your credit score. The best time to check your report for errors is at least two months before shopping for a car. That way, you will have time to dispute any inaccurate information. The best place to get your report is www.annualcreditreport.com. Commercial sites usually have strings attached, but this site is the real deal: one free copy of your report from the three major reporting agencies per year.
2. Research the type of car you want: We like Consumer Reports as a source for car reviews, ratings, and information on which cars are more reliable. Their annual April auto issue has a wealth of information. Although their content is for subscribers only, most public libraries and newsstands carry their publications.
3. Find out what your trade-in is worth: If you are trading in a car, you need to find out its fair value before shopping at a dealership. Some dealerships will offer free estimates and will offer to buy your car, whether you are considering buying a car from them or not. Check out Craig's List to see what other people are asking for comparable cars. Check out book values on sources such as Edmunds, the NADA Manual, or Kelley Blue Book. These books are available at public libraries.
4. Research the Market: The Internet is your friend. Find out what vehicles are being offered by dealerships and by private sellers. Find out what the fair price of the cars might be. If purchasing a new car, consider sources such as Edmunds or Consumer Reports. Decide what options you want and what you need, and what you can afford. TrueCar is an increasingly popular service that can help consumers purchase new cars at competitive prices.
5. Apply for financing: If you belong to a credit union or have a relationship with a bank, apply for a car loan from them before going to the dealership. That way, you can shop at the dealership as a cash buyer, which can put you at a tremendous advantage. Even if you do decide to finance at the dealership, you will have an idea of what interest rate you can get elsewhere.
6. Research the dealership: If you have found a car in the inventory at a specific dealership that you want to consider, research that dealership before making contact. There are many websites that provide valuable information regarding car dealerships' business practices. Sites like The Better Business Bureau, Dealerrater.com, and other social media sites can provide helpful information. Be careful, though, because some dealerships "game" their ratings by posting fraudulent reviews to balance out negative reviews.
7. Planning your visit: Finally, before visiting the dealership, make a specific plan. Some people find that it is a good idea to bring along a friend. Arrangements should be made for small children to be left with a relative or a friend. Pack something to eat and set a deadline on how long you are going to stay. Making a plan in advance can help a consumer to withstand the high pressure tactics that some dealerships employ.