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It’s one of the largest purchases you’ll ever make. But saving significant dollars isn’t hard.

4 minute read

Sometimes you just really want that car. For me, I’m sorry to say, that moment struck when I desperately wanted a minivan.

Not that I don’t love minivans, but I ignored the advice of many experts and did all the things you should not do, because I had a new baby, a puppy, a part-time job — and an aching back. The aching back came from trying to cram that not-so-light baby carrier into the low-riding confines of a four-door compact sedan. Like I said, I was desperate.

My massage therapist hooked me up with his car broker who offered to sell me his wife’s used minivan. I bought it — and paid for years to come.

I learned from my mistake, and you can too.

Do you need to buy a car but you’re unsure if you can afford it? Maybe it’s time to get on a budget? Tiller spreadsheets make it SO easy!

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1. Research what you want online

I knew “minivan” and stopped there. A smart buyer would research various models of minivans — or medium-size sedans, or SUVs or trucks. Compare a couple of models that have the features you want and get an idea of how much that’s going to cost. This goes for used cars as well as new ones. Auto Trader, [1] Consumer Reports, [2] Kelley Blue Book [3] are all just one click away.

Research from RepairPal, which has a handy compare tool on its site, shows 86 percent of people who compare before buying are happy with their purchase compared with 80 percent of those who didn’t compare first. [4]

2. Shop online or at least start there

This is not the same as research. Do this only after you know what kind of car you want — and how the inventory in your area stacks up. Those research sites, particularly Blue Book and Auto Trader, can tell you if everyone has the minivan of your dreams or no one does. The more inventory in your area, the more leverage you have as a buyer.

Sometimes you’ll find the same car listed in multiple places — by the dealer and by one or more third parties. Check vehicle identification numbers (VIN) and photos to be sure and then use the lowest offer as your starting point.

I made this a priority for van number two, which was a used minivan I found online and then negotiated to test drive through the dealership’s online sales department. Turns out the price offered on the dealership’s website beat the floor price by a couple thousand dollars.

Years later, I shopped for the family’s second car — not a minivan — online as well. This time, I went through my bank which also holds my car insurance. Via the bank’s website, I checked the boxes for what I wanted and it spit out three options from three dealerships in my area and the pre-negotiated price for each.

3. Finance before you get there

Don’t just apply to your bank for financing, apply at several. Make sure you do this in a two-week window so the inquiries count as only one knock on your credit. Take the best pre-approved rate when shopping.

Once you and the sales staff are getting down to paperwork, feel free to ask them if they can beat your approved financing. The key is not to start with their financing.

4. Shop your trade-in

There’s no rule that says you have to trade in your car at the same place that you buy its replacement. They may not give you the best deal.

If you aren’t in a pinch, take the soon-to-be ex-vehicle to a number of dealerships and get estimates on a straight sale of your old car. Keep those in your pocket when you go to buy the new car and don’t mention the trade-in until after you’ve agreed on the price for the car you’re buying. After you’ve agreed on a purchase price, then ask what they’ll offer for your used car. If the deals in your pocket are better negotiate from there.

5. Buy at the end of the model year

You’ll save on a new car by buying in the fall — August through October, when the next year models have arrived and the ‘old’ ones are still current but taking up room on the lot. Can’t wait until the end of the year? At least wait until the end of the month when dealerships are trying to make their numbers.

6. Consider buying Certified Pre-Owned

These used cars have been inspected for any damaged or worn parts, then repaired and certified by the manufacturer. This is a particularly good plan if the model you want isn’t significantly different than last year’s model. If it has low miles and a good warranty, you’ll save thousands.

7. Don’t pay fees

Take a close look at the itemized bill. More than one expert has cried foul on the fees that dealerships include and most agree you can negotiate them down.

Lookout for the doc fee or conveyance charge also known as the cost of doing paperwork. Eleven states cap this fee — some as low as $75. In other states, Florida for example, this fee can run up to $800. The sales people will say this isn’t negotiable, but advice here is insist or walk.

Also on the list of negotiable fees, the advertising fee and the dealer prep fee, aka the cost of making your car pretty and freshly scented before you take it home.

About the Author

Michelle Bryan

Michelle Bryan

Before Michelle began writing about how to save money, she made money as a successful real estate investor and also worked as an Organic Foods reporter and opinion columnist. She is an expert in corporate brand management, so she understands how advertisers try to separate you from your money. Her work has appeared on sites as diverse as Forbes, NBC News, Huffington Post, Yahoo, GoBankingRates, U.S. News and World Report, City Pulse, Newsday, On Call and more… When she isn’t trying to get people out of debt, she’s trying to get them to travel frugal and eat organic and cheap – the Arizona State University journalism major writes passionately on the topic. She attended the prestigious Walter Cronkite School of Communication and Journalism with a major in Mass Communication and Media.

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