Car-Buying Help: 5 Smart Resources to Get the Right Car at the Right Price

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Besides a home, an automobile is often the most expensive purchase a consumer ever makes—so, for obvious reasons, you don’t want to screw it up. To ensure you wind up with the right car at the best possible price, here’s a list of helpful and informative resources of use to first-time buyers and experienced negotiators alike.
1. Edmunds First-Time New-Car Buyer Guide. There’s probably no place better for first-time buyers to start the search than here. The experts at Edmunds break down the car-buying purchase into nine different sections, starting with “Choose Your Car,” on through “Get Pricing Information,” and eventually ending with “Close the Deal.” Each section is divided into three or more detailed mini-guides, rife with nitty-gritty on everything from custom-ordering a new vehicle to making the most of a test drive. The info and advice is comprehensive, bordering on overwhelming—in which case it’s worthwhile checking out a boiled-down list of car-buying tips, such as …

2. KBB’s 10 Tips for First-Time Car Buyers. This guide to making smart car-buying decisions can be read in minutes, and it’s filled with practical advice and handy rule-of-thumbs such as:

If you’re financing, figure $25/month for every thousand dollars that you borrow for 48 months, and $20/month on 60-month financing. It follows that every $10K borrowed is $250/month for four years, and $200/month for five. Again, this is the base obligation; insurance, fuel and periodic maintenance are above and beyond this.

(MORE: The Worse the Economy, the Better Business Is at Auto Repair Shops)

3. WSJ’s Review of Car Matchmaking Services. Both Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book, as well as Consumer Reports and AutoWeek, now host “matchmaking” tools on their websites, in which consumers enter pertinent info (budget, mpg requirements, category of car, etc.), and one or more vehicle model matches. As with dating services, the goal here is to pair up compatible drivers and cars. In the Journal’s review, Edmunds’ tool proved to be the best matchmaker:

The My Car Match tool was by far the most engaging and open-ended. Through a series of indirect questions, the site aims to deduce your true preferences.

4. Reddit Thread Following Car Salesman’s Buying Advice. An anonymous car salesman (username: “NinjaHighfive”) recently posted a top 10 list of advice for car buyers. Along with strong recommendations that it’s in the best interest of the car buyer to be nice to salesmen—you’re likely to need their assistance at some point—the post also has suggestions such as:

Try to bargain for fill ups and oil changes/service contracts. They do not take too much from the salesmen’s pockets so they are more apt to giving them out.

More interesting than the initial post itself are the comments that follow—and that question much of the salesman’s advice. For example, in response to the salesman’s suggestion that it’s best to trade in old vehicles at the dealership:

I’m not calling you out, but to suggest that trading in your car to a dealership is considered frugal is a little beyond me. Selling your car on your own isn’t as easy as walking into a dealership, but I would certainly prefer the extra one to two thousand in my pocket for listing it and going through a week’s worth of trouble.

(MORE: 5 Things to Keep in Mind If Buying or Selling a Used Car)

5. Popular Mechanics’ “How to Buy a Used Car Without Getting Burned.” One reason buying a new car is so stressful is because of the large sum of money at stake. Used cars, while cheaper, are worrisome because of the unknown—all the things that could be wrong with any “previously loved” vehicle. To evaluate a used car, kicking the tires and taking a quick test drive doesn’t cut it. That’s why Popular Mechanics cooked up a 101-point checklist for used car buyers. Bear in mind that it’s not necessary to walk away from the deal if a vehicle doesn’t pass every point on the list with flying colors:

A few warts don’t mean that a used car is a bad buy. Take a survey of the numerous online price guides and use that book value as a starting point. Employ the demerits you’ve compiled to negotiate.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.