8 Tips for Buying Your Next Car for Less

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Beginner's Guide to Buying Your First Car

By Maryalene LaPonsie

It's a well-known fact that after a house, a vehicle is probably the biggest purchase you will ever make.

Unfortunately, while your house might gain value over time, your car eventually will turn into a nearly worthless hunk of metal, plastic and upholstery.

1. Buy used ... usually. You knew this would be the first bit of advice, right? Of course it is. How could it not be when Edmunds reports that the average new car loses 11 percent of its value as soon as it's driven off the lot? That means your $20,000 car is suddenly worth less than $18,000.

So it almost always makes sense to buy used. Wait two or three years, and you can often get a much cheaper car that is almost as good as one fresh off the assembly line.

However, if you're planning to get a car that's only 1 year old, a new car may be cheaper in some cases after dealer and manufacturer incentives are factored in.

2. Do your homework. Regardless of whether you're buying new or used, do your homework first. Research the going price and available options for the cars you're eyeing. Of course, Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds are good places to start, but don't stop there. Those sites approximate a car's market value. But in the end, capitalism rules. Supply and demand dictate actual prices.

Cruise Craigslist and browse the online ads to get a feel for prices in your area. You want to have a good grasp of local prices before you set foot on a dealership lot and get talked into a "good deal" that really isn't a deal at all.

Speaking of homework, make sure you're doing an apples-to-apples comparison when shopping around.

I'll go ahead, risk looking the fool and confess to this mistake: I recently bought a Toyota Sienna with an LE trim but had been comparing it with vehicles with an XLE trim when doing online research. It wasn't until after I got the vehicle home that I realized my mistake.

Although I still got a good price, it wasn't the totally awesome deal I thought I had negotiated.

3. Embrace high miles. It used to be that a car with 100,000 miles was living on borrowed time.

How times have changed. Today's cars are built to last 200,000 miles or more. So why are you freaking out about buying a used car with 110,000 miles on it?

For many models, the price starts dropping through the floor once the mileage goes north of 100,000. By saying no to these high-mileage cars, you're rejecting a lot of good deals.

Not every high-mileage car is a good buy, but if you find a reliable make and model, you can get good quality at a low price.

4. Time your purchase right. There are two facets to this piece of advice.

The first is to buy on the right day. As you might guess, the end of the month is often a good time to buy a car, particularly if salespeople are trying to meet their quotas or qualify for a monthly bonus.

However, the very best day to shop could be Dec. 31. The salesperson wants to make a deal before the end of the year. Plus, there may be fewer car shoppers, meaning more incentive for sales reps to close a deal.

Be aware of seasonal trends in your area, especially if you're buying from a private party. Four-wheel-drive trucks may be in demand in the winter but cost less in the summer. Meanwhile, convertibles and some jeeps might be cheaper in the fall.

And you might want to avoid shopping in the spring if possible. When tax refunds start hitting bank accounts, there could be a lot more shoppers in the market, and that could drive prices up.

5. Forget the monthly payment. Sales reps want to talk monthly payments as soon as you walk in the door. If they can get you thinking in terms of a monthly cost rather than a total cost, they've increased their odds of selling you more car than you intended to buy.

Remember, the dealer can work some mathematical magic — such as extending the repayment term to six or seven years — to make an overpriced vehicle fit into a meager budget.

Avoid the trap of ending up with reasonable payments for an unreasonable length of time by negotiating the total price rather than a monthly amount.

To make sure you are negotiating in the right price range, ask a local bank or credit union whether it offers a preapproval process so you can find out in advance what you can afford.

6. Think twice about trade-ins. Don't mention your trade-in unless it absolutely has to be part of the transaction. Instead, tell the dealer you haven't decided what to do with your current vehicle.

Once you have haggled over the cost of your new purchase, negotiate the value of your trade-in. This method helps ensure you not only get the best price on your new car, but also that you maximize what you receive for the trade-in.

Another trick dealers use is luring in shoppers with promises of huge trade-in values. If you can push, pull or drag in your old vehicle, you'll be guaranteed thousands of dollars for your trade-in.

That sounds good until you realize that the offer applies only to certain vehicles on the lot. The sales representative will steer you toward the $15,000 vehicle and enthusiastically share that it will be only $12,000 with your $3,000 trade-in.

It sounds like a deal too good to pass up, except you had planned to spend just $10,000.

Or another tactic used by dealers is to bump up their car prices before running a trade-in promotion.

7. Offer to pay with green. Buying with cash is a strategy that may or may not get you a discount.

New-car dealers make a lot of their income on financing and insurance sales, which means they have little incentive to accept cash.

On the used lot, you might get a little more negotiating power. That is especially likely if there is a smaller financial incentive for the dealer and the salesperson is eager to avoid the hassle of completing financing paperwork.

However, private sales are where you'll probably see the biggest discount for a cash payment. Sellers may be eager to unload their vehicle and if you can offer cash, that's often all they need to come down on price.

8. Buy from private sellers. Speaking of private sellers, you're likely to get a better deal from them even if you don't do any wheeling and dealing. That's one way Money Talks News finance expert Stacy Johnson found a near mint condition $5,000 car.

Dealerships have huge overhead expenses, which means they have prices higher than what you find on the private market. Of course, established dealers have a reputation to uphold so they may be more likely to stand behind the cars they sell.

If you're buying from a private seller, be sure to get a full inspection from a mechanic of your choice before forking over any money.

Do you have your own advice on the subject? Share what you know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.
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