Advice on buying a car?

Thumbnail image for used car windshieldWhen is that low, low price not the price that you can actually get?

That question was at the center of a state attorney general's office announcement today that it's reached settlements with six Albany-area car dealerships on what the AG's office say were deceptive advertising practices. From the press release: "The dealerships widely promoted sale and lease prices that were illusory because they reflected discounts or rebates that were not available to most consumers, and thus, were not the actual sale or lease price."

The link above includes the dealerships named and some of the promoted discounts the AG's office took issue with. The short story: It pays to read the fine print -- twice -- and to be skeptical.

The AG's office says the dealerships have agreed to pay fines and reform their practices. A seventh dealership is getting a notice about the AG's office intent to sue over the issue.

This situation got us thinking about the car buying process, which -- in our experience at least -- always seems a bit... opaque. Maybe that's not exactly the right word, but the process often seems less than straightforward. And there's always that sense some sort of some smoke and mirrors are involved. (You're really going to talk to your manager?)

So, given the savvy of the AOA crowd, we're curious: What's your advice for the car buying process? Tips for trying to get the best price (or, at least, not being taken advantage of)? Local dealerships you can recommend after having solid experiences there?

Please share!

Earlier on AOA: A good place to buy a used car?


This American Life had a recent episode where they spent a month at a car dealership on Long Island. I found it really interesting - shed some light on the process, at least:

Best advice: Be prepared to walk away. A good dealership will stop you from walking out the door. Or at the very least be in quick contact to keep negotiating.

Know what you can afford. Don't mention your monthly payment. They can do some tricky math to 'lower' your monthly payment but still sell you more car than you can afford. Or the dealership will drop services/warranties to drop the price of the car.

I spent a lot of time on Edmunds and similar websites to get a feel for pricing, etc on the used cars I was looking at.

I had a great experience at Keeler Honda. They use data from a select group of willing car dealers to determine the actual prices of every model of car are being sold. You plug in a model, and get the prices it has been sold for over the last year. In turn, TrueCar directs its users (you) to those car dealerships with a certified “TrueCar price.” And that certified "TrueCar price" is EXACTLY what you will pay. My wife used this with great results. She got a new Corolla for over $1,000 less than the quotes she was getting by emailing around locally, waay below MSRP. Sure, the dealership was in eastern Massachusetts, but it was worth the drive. Just visiting we could tell it was a dealership that was “stacking them deep and selling them cheap.” TrueCar brings a straightforwardness to the whole car-buying process that is usually very lacking. Car-buying should be competitive in this way just like anything else.

BTW, New York auto dealers hate this site and would love nothing more than to see it shut down.

1. Research the make and model of the car you're interested in and find out the accurate and fair price ranges to expect for that type of car. can help give you a range of what to expect.

2. Run a credit report on yourself. This will give you an idea of what type of financing you will qualify for and where. Some dealerships say they can finance almost anyone, but you DO NOT want to end up paying 15% interest. The current interest rates for people with good credit run between 4.18% - 4.85%.
Online loan calculators will give you an idea of your monthly payment.

3. Find a reputable dealer that sells the type of car you're interested in. Try to get referrals from friends, colleagues, neighbors, etc. Most people are happy to share their car buying experiences.

4. Never ever feel pressured. I went looking for a car last fall and they were my best friends until I politely refused their offer to take the car home for the night to “try it out.” Sadly a lot of the sales people are very crafty and can be very persuasive, don’t feel obligated in any way. After all it’s your hard earned money. :)

Advice my honest dad/former car salesman gives me:
-Don't buy a factory new car. Remember, even a car driven for a month is considered used (er..."pre-owned") Cars are well made today--buying something with a few miles on it is not a big deal and you benefit greatly from someone else's depreciation.
-buy towards the end of the month (sales people have quotas)
-buy towards the end of year--dealers want to get rid of "old" model years to make way for new (ie in October of 2014 you could get a good deal on a 2014 car)
-know what your financing options are (and credit score) BEFORE you shop so you know if the terms they offer are a better deal/utterly ridiculous

Northway Toyota Latham . Best honest salesman we have ever dealt with. Thankyou Anthony !

best purchase yet.....

Giotano & Enzo Autosports inc

family business in Rotterdam, great company.

My father was adamant in having both his girls be able to buy a car at a fair price, so he often took us with him when buying the family car, and let is deal on our first cars with him to step in and help. Some of the best things I learned are from him.

1. Just buy the invoice of the car you want from Consumer Reports and go in knowing what they paid for the car and what a fair profit on it is. Suggest that price right off the bat.

2. Know what your trade in is worth. Dealers will try to give you wholesale and charge retail. Point this out to them as many times as needed to get what your old car is worth.

3. None of this talking to a manager. If you can't help me, get someone who can. No offense, but my time is money and if you are wasting my time, I am going to start deducting that from the final price.

4. Be prepared to walk away. Be patient. Most dealerships will accommodate your offer or get really close to it, so you may not need to leave, but be prepared to do it.

5. Know your credit score. Know the co signers credit score. A dealer in Kingston tried to deny me 0% interest because I was a recent college graduate. I knew I qualified and let him know. Yes, it took an hour, but that was a couple grand I saved in interest right there.

6. Research your dealer. Lots of dealerships may have pending lawsuits for fraud. Some of these cases may be legitimate. You will want to know this.

7. Trust your gut. If it seems too high pressure to buy, it is. Step away from the situation or ask to speak to someone else.

8. Make sure your make model trim package and VIN are on the invoice when you pick the car up. I have dealt with an Audi dealership that tried to sell me the wrong car by omitting info on the bill of sale. Demand that all info is there.

This thread is convenient, as my car literally died a couple of hours ago.

I'm just finishing grad school and working full-time, but I've had a lot of people suggest leasing, mainly because it's less of a commitment, and because my interest rate on a loan may be high.

I'm kind of nervous to lease a car in Albany, as I have on-street parking and it's pretty common to come out and find a ding on your car. Does anyone have any thoughts on that? It just seems bad to lease when you're dealing with that parking situation.

@ I've never leased and have never understood the point. Is it for people who want to drive new-ish cars without a lot of maintenance costs? My car is 14 yr. old. I sort of want a new car, but the darn thing just keeps going although it does look like hell.

I imagine I will have to get a new car within a year. I happen to be in the position to be able to pay cash. At least that will cut out any discussion of financing.

My husband and i bought both of our Toyotas at Carbone in Bennington. They had what we wanted and were much better about negotiating the price than the more local Toyota dealerships. A bit of a drive, but worth it in my opinion.

Leasing is great if you want to drive a new car every three years, want a lower down payment and lower monthly payment, drive under 10-15k per year (depending on lease terms) and don't have pets. They forgive normal wear and tear, but excessive bumper damage from parking on the street may not be what they consider normal.

If you go over the mileage, you'll end up paying .20 per mile, which adds up quick.

If you buy a car in Mass. or Vermont, do you have to pay to register it in that state and then again to register it in New York?

Chris K, I'm not sure about registration, but if you buy a car out of state there is a good chance you will be paying sales tax on it twice, once in the state of purchase and then in New York when you register it. Though there are a few states that will allow you a refund on the original sales tax if you can show them you paid sales tax when you registered it in NY.

We've bought two cars in the past year, and had good experiences where we ended up buying them (Carbone Subaru, Rensselaer Honda). We tried other brands and dealerships, but were completely turned off by dealers who didn't want to sell us the car we wanted, insulted our women, and tried to steer us toward the deal that was best for them.

I'll question the conventional wisdom, repeated above, that it's best to buy used. I found the prices of used cars in the current market with anything less than 40-50,000 miles on them to be insanely inflated, at least for the cars I wanted, and it would have been ridiculous to pay for them when new cars were a few thousand dollars more and financed at much lower rates.

@Chris, if you buy a vehicle out of state and live in New York, you will need to register it here.

You will not pay sales tax twice, but you will need to prove you paid it:

Wow, great advice everyone! I will be looking for a new car soon. We bought our first new car about 12 years ago when we discovered that low mileage used cars actually ended up being MORE expensive than a new car because they tended to have way more bells and whistles than what we wanted. Probably mostly leases whose term had ended. However, now I am gun shy about buying a new car because the model we bought - Subaru Legacy - generally got good ratings, but, we discovered later, our year's model was a dud, and it took a few years of people having it on the road for that to be reported. Not sure what to - new or used - this time.

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