As we’ve shown you throughout the week, there are plenty of great car deals this Memorial Day weekend. And you may want to check out these offers if you’re looking specifically for a small SUV, or these if you’re after a larger SUV. With all the deals floating around, there are still a number of pitfalls to watch out for at the dealership. Read on for car buying advice from the experts at MotorTrend; we’ll tell you how to avoid getting a bad deal on a new vehicle this weekend.
Do the research (which you’re doing now, congrats!) There has never been more great information freely available for car shoppers right now, and while it might all be quite overwhelming, you owe it to yourself to put in the work before you set foot on the dealer lot. The automobile is, after all, the second largest purchase for most Americans after their house. Just reading the tips we have here and cross-referencing other trusted sites will put you so far ahead of other car shoppers.
Spend an hour googling and read four to five articles on car shopping tips. You’ll find a lot of overlap and a few odd/outdated outliers. Discard the outliers, print out the best advice (or have them cued up on your phone), and be ready to show in case you encounter any funny business. -Ed Loh
KNOW WHICH TRIM AND OPTIONS YOU WANT
Before you even contact a dealer, it’s a good idea to know the features you want in your car. Go to automakers’ consumer sites and use their configuration tools (build your own) to determine which trim is right for you and which one has the features you want. Knowing the right trim level, package, and options will give you a good sense of how much your vehicle is going to cost. That way, a dealer can’t force you to buy something you don’t want. -Stefan Ogbac
KNOW THE VALUE OF YOUR TRADE-IN BEFOREHAND
You may think you have an idea what your current car is worth, but a little research will help you know a fair price from a low-ball offer. There are numerous sites online that can estimate trade-in value for your vehicle based on mileage, condition, and other factors. Knowing how much your trade-in is worth also helps keep the salesperson honest, as it’s now harder to mask the price of the new car by lumping both numbers together. -Alex Nishimoto
It’s crucial to take test drives in the first place. A considerable percentage of people don’t bother with a test drive at all. This might not be a huge surprise, given how unpleasant the dealership experience can be–some people just want to get in and get out. Or, like a family member did, committing to a new model from a brand they’d owned and enjoyed before, despite it having a completely different drivetrain and body style. Or, deciding simply because they hear it’s good, like many Tesla buyers do when they buy their cars online. For something this important, spending some time behind the wheel is key.
While you’re in the driver’s seat, touch everything. Every surface, every knob, every button or screen you see. Push it. Poke it. See what it does. That way, the salesperson can answer questions on how to use one feature or another, instead of you having to dig through the owner’s manual later. The touch test gives a sense for quality, too: if the interior feels chintzy, it might not be a great sign for overall build quality. -Alex Leanse
AND DON’T JUST TEST DRIVE ONE
My tip would be to drive more than one car. No matter how many comparison tests and First Drives you read, the best way to find out whether or not you’ll enjoy living with and driving a car is to drive it! To drive only one of the many cars in any competitive segment is to limit your chances of picking the best one for your needs. Know your options, and drive them. -Duncan Brady
PLAN SOME OF YOUR TEST DRIVE
Make sure to catch as much air as possible during your test drives. Wait, no, that’s not right—don’t do that. It’s not only dangerous for you and everyone around you, it’s a reckless and pointless strategy that won’t get you any closer to a smart, new-car decision. Instead, make sure to subject every car you test drive to the same handful of maneuvers that come closer to simulating the types of driving situations you encounter on a regular basis. Maybe for you that’s driving each new car over the speed bumps on Main Street, seeing if it will fit into your tight parking space, and determining how smoothly the transmission reacts in a residential area full of stop signs. -Zach Gale
DON’T NEGOTIATE BY MONTHLY PAYMENT
An unscrupulous salesman can structure financing terms to extend your desired monthly payment by months if not years, resulting in thousands of dollars of unnecessary interest payments. Sure, you might have a number in your head, but don’t tell it to the salesman. Negotiate the purchase price of the vehicle first, then ask about financing options. Consider every step of the purchase—purchase price, your trade-in, added options, interest rate—as separate transactions. If a salesman breaks out a “four square” as part of negotiations (you’ll know it when you see it), run for the hills. Each of those squares is a lever to separate you from more of your hard-earned cash. -Mark Rechtin
KNOW THE RESIDUAL VALUE OF YOUR POTENTIAL NEW CAR
Negotiate the final price as if you were buying it outright—don’t get lured in with a low monthly price. Make sure you also learn what the residual value will be in a few years. After a final price has been determined, then ask what it costs monthly to buy or lease. -Alisa Priddle
YOU HAVE THE POWER
If you’ve done your product research, crunched the numbers, and you’re not absolutely, 100-percent happy with the deal on offer, be prepared to simply walk away. The dealer needs to sell you the car/truck/SUV more than you need to buy it from him/her. -Angus MacKenzie
MORE GREAT TIPS TO TAKE WITH YOU
Use these words: “I’m ready to buy now, if…”—filling in the blank with what you want, such as a certain price. Car salesmen want to close a deal today, not tomorrow.
Never take the first offer. Always ask for a better deal.
Strive for a good deal, but not a perfect one. If you achieve 70-80 percent of the goals you had before you walked into the dealership, you should feel confident about purchasing the car.
Did the salesperson say they’d throw in free floor mats to sweeten the pot? Make sure to get all promises in writing before signing the paperwork.
Watch out for confusing terminology. If a dealer is offering you a “residual based financing option,” make sure you know he/she is really getting you to lease, not buy, the car.
That said, consider leasing. You can have a brand new car with the latest features every two or three years, and it’ll cost much less than purchasing. You’ll pay practically zero interest, and you won’t have to worry about the 45-60 percent depreciation you would typically see after three years if you bought it.