Melanie Duquesnel: Need a car? Do the legwork before you hit the showroom

A new vehicle is one of the most important big-ticket items on a consumer’s shopping list. The Better Business Bureau believes preparation can reduce the stress associated with financing and searching for the perfect car, truck or motorcycle.
July 18, 2014

There are many available choices and factors to take into account, and much of the legwork can be done before heading out to the showroom. Here are some things you’ll want to take into consideration if you’re in the market for a new vehicle:

Determine your budget: This sounds straightforward, but there’s more to budgeting a new car purchase than just the monthly payment itself. How good is the vehicle’s fuel efficiency? Remember that your results may vary from EPA mileage estimates. The website is a good resource for “real-world” mileage data car owners report.

How much will insurance cost on the vehicle? Contact your insurance agent for quotes on various models you may be considering. How much will maintenance and repairs cost? Online business reviews can give you a sense of which models are more expensive to repair. When considering monthly payments, use online calculators to see how different rates, down payments and loan terms can impact your payment.

Look at the big picture: Don’t become so focused on the monthly payment that you lose sight of the purchase price or total cost over the term of the loan. Extending a loan from 60 months to 72 months for lower payments can translate into thousands of dollars more through the life of the loan.

Explore financing options: Visit your local credit union or bank to see what interest rate it can offer, and consider getting pre-approved for a loan. Having this information (or an offer) in hand will allow you to decide whether dealer financing is the best option for you, and gives the dealer a “target” to match or beat.

Comparison shop online: You can get a price quote on a vehicle from most dealerships in a matter of hours, and then compare competing offers. Websites such as provide free information on what you can expect to pay for a particular model in your region, and can help you determine the value of your trade-in.

Look for rebates: Many rebates are available, but some carry eligibility requirements that should be disclosed in advertising — such as loyalty bonuses, active duty military, trade-in bonuses, etc. Make sure you understand these qualifications to avoid disappointment.

Understand leasing options: If you decide to lease a vehicle, make sure you’re clear on the terms of the lease and its pros and cons as opposed to purchasing. Leasing can mean driving a nicer car at a lower monthly payment than might be possible with a purchase. But if you drive more than about 12,000 miles a year or are concerned about “excess wear and tear” charges, leasing may not be the best option.

What’s the bottom line? When looking at the price of a vehicle, remember that you also will pay fees for documentation, title and registration, along with applicable sales tax.

Remember to visit to obtain reports on individual dealerships to look for any pattern of complaints and how they responded to them.