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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): Before You Buy Your Next Car

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Before You Buy Your Next Car


How many times have you gone car shopping and gotten totally intimidated by the salesman? Or have you ever bought a car and felt a twinge of regret, somehow knowing you did not get it at the right price? Sooner or later, most of us need to go through the wringer of purchasing a vehicle. Follow these tips to get the best deal and walk out of there knowing you got the best deal around.

  • Narrow it down to what type and kind of vehicle you want. Have a few choices in mind. Be realistic and think about what you will use the car for. It makes no sense to get a four wheel drive SUV if you live in Florida, travel mostly by highway and park in tight parking spots at your job.
  • Once you have a few choices (don't get dead set on just one model), you are going to research price online. When I say price, I mean you are going to write down what the dealer pays the manufacturer for that vehicle. With the internet, this amount can easily be found . Check a site such as Edmunds or Kelly Blue Book. You are going to note the invoice price and not the MSRP. Again, the invoice is what the dealer pays the manufacturer. They all pay the same thing.
  • Stop by your credit union or bank and get car loan pre-approval. Be sure to check Bankrate to see what the best rates are. If you find a bank, with good ratings on Bankrate, you can also go through them.
  • Once your loan is approved, you can finally negotiate from a position of strength, because you are absolutely not going to walk into that car dealership and let the salesman bully you into buying something at HIS price. Wait a minute....you are still not ready to visit the car lot at this point! If you have a vehicle you will be replacing, you will need to find its value. Again, check Kelly Blue Book.
  • Most times, you can get a better deal actually selling your vehicle rather than trading it in. Realistically, not everyone can do this, unless you are able to use a spouse's car or didn't need your car on a daily basis. If you do decide to sell it yourself, be sure to use Kelly Blue Book again to find the best sale price. Make sure your vehicle gets good exposure by advertising it and parking it in a prominent LEGAL spot. Most military installations have a used car lot. You'll most likely need a permit which costs only a few dollars. Check with your installation's Auto Crafts Shop for more information. They'll lead you in the right direction.
  • Keep in mind, if you're going to use your vehicle as a trade-in, negotiate the price for that AFTER you negotiate the price for your new vehicle.
  • Now you are ready to go the car dealership. Double check the Better Business Bureau to find out the level of complaints against that dealer before you go. Many complaints = possible trouble.
  • If you are looking at used vehicles, you will obviously get a better deal. A new car loses a significant amount of value as soon as you drive it off the lot. Its value continues to drop the longer you have it. It's best to buy a used car with low miles AND one with a service record you can look at. It's worth it to use Carfax to check the VIN number on the used vehicle. Salvagers actually do a pretty good job of making that piece of junk look like new, even if the car has been previously damaged...even submerged! Find out your car's history before buying it!
  • Another thing to keep in mind when looking at used cars, don't discount vehicles of a different make than what the dealership sells. These are typically trade-ins, and the dealer doesn't want them hanging around for the most part.
  • When looking at used cars, bring a magnet and a flashlight with you and don't wear your Sunday best. Cars.com has a good article on how to evaluate a used car.
  • I know someone here will ask about eBay Motors. This can be an option IF you have someone who can help you who knows everything about cars. You're going to want to do all the checks, test drive it and possibly even get it checked out by a mechanic if you can. A car with no service records, I would immediately pass on. I had a relative last month who barely survived his boat sinking! It cracked down the middle and went down in the Gulf of Mexico. He had bought it on Ebay Motors. You can read about the ordeal here.
  • If you live near a large population of retirees, it pays off to investigate what is being sold privately, without the help of a dealer. It's amazing the number of retirees who trade up to a new model of the same thing. You can get a luxury vehicle with low miles at a very low price. Some places that come to mind are Ft Lauderdale and Sarasota, but any retiree population will do.
  • If you insist it must be new, be sure to go car shopping at the end of the month or year and don't insist on getting this year's latest model sitting on the showroom floor. Dealers have to move inventory, and they will care less on the price if the vehicle is overdue to be moved out!
  • If you absolutely don't have the time but would still like to take part in the savings, try Carmax. This is a way to buy used and new vehicles online. Someone else does all the work for you. The other sites mentioned above can also match you up with a dealer or seller. As long as you have your loan pre-approval, you are the lead negotiater and not them.
  • Your dealer is going to try to make a buck on the back end so to speak by trying to sell you rust-proofing and other unnecessary options. You'll also get offered upgraded radios, electronic devices, GPS units and high speed carmats. All these items can be added after market, meaning you can take your time, shopping around at the many locations that add on these add-ons. Just check your local Yellow Pages and again, check the Better Business Bureau. I ended up buying heavy duty rubber floormats for my van on eBay that were 40% cheaper than what my dealership offered me. The seller was a high volume dealer in another state but had some of his stuff up there on eBay. Just be sure to check brands and quality before buying.
Follow these tips, and you can't go wrong. I've heard a woman should never go car shopping alone and to always bring a guy along for the ride...preferably a big burly one. What a sexist thing to say, and I don't like that advice. If you do the research, which will make you more confident, you can get a good deal if you approach the deal as something you'd be willing to walk away from. Most salesman will bend over backwards to accomodate you, knowing that you already have financing in hand and would rather give you some concessions than lose the deal completely. Sometimes, the dealer will even throw in incentives and other discounts if you use their financing company instead. That's fine, just be sure to compare apples to apples and look at the bottom line price, rather than what you will pay each month. So many people focus on the individual monthly payments and miss out what the final cost will be to them in the end. Don't not see the forest for the trees as they say. Stand your ground! Happy hunting and let me know how it goes.

Please share your stories.

View this article and other frugal tips at Festival of Frugality #92.

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