Know your budget
Anyone looking for a new vehicle can easily spend beyond his or her means, but it's important to really stick to a number, advises female spokesperson for the AAA Ginnie Pritchet.
"Before considering any specific makes or models, sit down with your household budget and determine what's affordable," she says.
Then visit the car lot — and don't let your emotions get the best of you.
Do your homework
As with any major purchase, it's critical to do your research first.
"Make sure you know the facts and figures in and out, including what you should pay for the car, what financing rates you qualify for and how much your trade is really worth prior to ever setting foot in the dealership," warns LeeAnn Shattuck, co-owner and chief car chick of Women's Automotive Solutions.
Make a list
Before you seriously begin your search, Pritchet suggests sitting down and making a list of all the must-have items or features you're looking for in a car. Then use that list to narrow down your options.
"You don't want to limit yourself to just one vehicle. Pick two or three cars that meet your criteria," she says, "and then take the next steps. By having flexibility in your choices, you have more negotiating room and a better chance at finding the best possible price."
Don't negotiate for or buy the vehicle the same day you test-drive it, cautions Shattuck.
"Most people get really excited after driving a car that they like," she notes. "It's fun, it's shiny, it's something new and different and, of course, you want it! However, it's hard to keep a cool head and negotiate effectively when your emotions are running high, and the car salesperson knows it. Why else do you think he or she wants you to come back inside the dealership to 'talk numbers' right after your little joy ride?"
Exercise some patience, separate your money from your emotions and remember that buying a car is a process, not an event, advises Shattuck.
To ensure you get a great deal, you should negotiate with at least three or four different dealers before making your decision.
"Play them off of each other and let them know they're competing for your business, both on price and on customer service," says Shattuck. "You deserve to be treated with respect, and the process should be as simple and painless as possible."
Negotiate each part of the deal separately
According to Shattuck, the dealer can make money in about seven or eight areas in a car deal. These areas include the car you are buying, your trade, financing and so forth.
"You need to negotiate each of these areas separately," she recommends, "so the dealer can't play the 'shell game' and just move money around within the deal."
Never be afraid to walk away (or ask for more)
Last but not least, never be afraid to walk away from a deal, advises Pritchet.
"In my own personal car-buying experience, if I ever felt pressured, stressed or uneasy about the offer or terms, I stepped back and took a night or two to think about it, which typically resulted in a lower offer price or better incentives."
Secondly, never be afraid to ask for more!
"It's the seller's job to make you and your money feel valued," Pritchet says. "They'll do anything in their power to earn your business and keep you as a long-term customer. Knowing I had the power in the situation gave me the confidence I needed to negotiate and get exactly what I wanted out of the deal."
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