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3. Research Before Buying

Do your research before buying a car.Don’t go near that dealership! Once you know how much Available Cash you have, get the hard facts about the vehicles that fit your Available Cash figure before you go any further.

For instance:

  • What vehicles fit your budget?
  • What do these cars cost the dealers?
  • What is the vehicle’s safety record?
  • What about mechanical reliability and maintenance costs?
  • What about insurance costs?
  • What about operating costs, such as fuel economy?

Resources for Research

The following resources available online can help you find the information you need to choose wisely. Please remember that these are third-party sites that have no relationship to the credit union and contain information the credit union has no control over. These are sites, however, that I have found provide generally sound, helpful information.

  • Consumer Reports generally gives excellent, objective information on safety and reliability. You can research copies at the library, or visit Consumer Reports charges $6.95 per month (or $30 per year) to access their online articles, but it’s worth every penny.
  • The Center For Auto Safety, provides free information on reliability, maintenance and safety issues. This is one of the most important sites on the Web, so bookmark it, then click on “auto defects” in the top tabs.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a dynamic site to help you research safety and dependability. Research government crash test results and safety recalls
  • The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety provides results for its offset frontal crash tests.
  • Find out the fuel economy rating on any vehicle at, a service of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • How much will insurance cost for that vehicle you are considering? Rates can vary considerably between two similar models as well as between insurance companies for the same model.  Check out Consumer Reports' guide to car insurance.
  • The manufacturers all offer “consumer” sites which supposedly tell you objective information about their vehicles. Generally, these sites never tell you bad things, of course. So, they are limited in their usefulness, when it comes to objective information. The sites can be fun to visit, however. Most now offer “virtual” tours of individual vehicles. Just use your search engine and any manufacturer’s name.

Now it’s time to shop for the one vehicle you like!

Like a chocoholic's first whiff of a candy factory, your first visit to a dealership or website poses the maximum danger to your pocketbook. Those new or newer cars look so good. And you've waited so long. Whether online or in person, sellers know how to turn up the fires of your enthusiasm and singe your reason.

So put your emotions aside. Be wary. Slow down. Save the emotions for the moment you finally drive away on budget in your shiny car with an extra thousand or two in your pocket. Now that's something to get excited about!

Big Money Matters tip: For 25 years, I’ve told people that buying the right used car is one of the smartest things you can do. New cars are the worst investment in the world. They depreciate in seconds, thousands of dollars, the minute you drive off the lot.

But buying used can be the worst thing many people do, because they don't understand the specifc problems used-car buyers face, on the Web or at a dealership. For instance, did you know some dealers and online lenders charge you thousands more in interest to finance a used car than they would to finance the same amount on a new car? How do you stop that from happening to you? Keep reading. We've got a special Used Car section for you, and the information is priceless. But first, let's deal with new vehicles.

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