Car Buying 101

Car Buying 101

All too often, many of us go to the dealer with the idea that we’ll get the best deal for our money, only to be tricked and manipulated into paying more or buying a model that we don’t want. In fact, African Americans consistently overpay — an average of $315 more than other car purchasers — according to a study done of 750,000 actual purchases in 1999 and early 2000 by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“When you walk into a dealer’s showroom, they hold so many more cards than you do. It’s been reported that some dealers may run a credit check on you without you knowing it [which is illegal], just based on your current vehicle tag number,” says Robert Ellis, director of operations and online development for Consumers’ Checkbook CarBargains (, an online car shopping service. “They have the emotional advantage in their favor, because in our [society], it’s difficult to just get up and walk away. But in reality, if you are not getting [a fair deal], that’s exactly what you should do.” Whether you’re faced with a tight deadline or feeling a bit unsure with your car-buying prowess, a few insider’s tips and the right research can help you get the best deal on your next vehicle.

Turn to free data services like (, Kelley Blue Book (, or IntelliChoice Car Center (www.intelli; 408-866-1400) for specifications. You can get information on new, used, and certified preowned models. Also, access the sites’ calculators to figure out monthly payments, dealer incentives, and rebates.
If you purchase a car that gets less than 22.5 miles per gallon in the city and on the highway, you could pay a gas-guzzler tax of as much as $7,700. To compare the fuel consumption of various models, order a free copy of Passenger Car Fuel Economy: EPA and Road (publication #460380010) from the Government Printing Office (202-512-1803) or go to

“The secret to buying a new car is knowing what you should pay before you come into the store,” says Jerry Cromwell, general manager for Koons Automotive in Marlow Heights, Maryland. Log on to Fighting Chance (; 800-288-1134) for complete pricing data, for a fee of $29.95. You can also ask the dealer for the invoice.

Whatever you do, don’t go through the whole process with negotiating and financing just to get factory invoice information. It’s better to ask for it up front to save yourself and the dealer a lot of frustration. Companies like Autobytel ( will also provide tips on how to negotiate by fax. Also, try publications like Car and Driver and Consumer Reports for up-to-date information.

Initial visits to dealerships are for research. Take this time to test drive vehicles, get brochures, and get quotes in writing. Buying a Car for Dummies (IDG; $16.99) by Deanna Sclar offers a price-comparison worksheet, a features and options checklist, and a test-drive checklist. Feel free to tell the dealer