6 Things You Must Know Before Buying A Car

A little bit of homework could save you a bundle of cash—not to mention spare you a load of stress.
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You arrive at the dealership well caffeinated and armed with printouts from your exhaustive Internet research—you've got the car picked out and have even decided to splurge on satellite radio. But sometimes, when you're sitting in the hot seat across from the salesperson, you're thrown for a loop when she brings up something you didn't anticipate. We reached out to AAA's manager of automotive programs, David Bennett, to learn how to navigate the always stressful, sometimes regretful process of buying a car.

1. Know the type and price of the vehicle—plus, how much your car insurance and maintenance costs will be.

Try Edmunds.com or visit AAA.com, and then make a call to your insurance agent. "You may find that you can afford the car, but maybe you can't afford to insure it. You would rather know that before you go in and buy the car," Bennett says.

2. Get a financing offer from another institution.

This gives you leverage in your negotiation with the dealer. "You should pretty much know what that monthly payment is going to be, within a few dollars, before you walk into that dealer," Bennett says.

3. Figure out the value of your trade-in vehicle.

We mean the real value. You'll probably get more if you sell the car to someone directly, but there's the convenience factor of trading it in at the dealership; and in some states, there's also a sales-tax advantage. "Here, you need to be realistic about the condition of your vehicle. Most people probably put that their vehicle is in excellent condition, whereas the majority of vehicles are actually in just okay condition," Bennett says.

4. Ask yourself, "Can I afford an extra $20 a month?"

Know what features you want going in, and exactly how much each costs. A salesperson will give you the monthly rate, but that extra $20 a month comes out to $1,200, plus interest and sales tax, over a 60-month loan. Is it worth it for, say, a sunroof you'll only use a couple times a year, or for wheel rims that look cool but you don't really need?

5. Research warranties.

Before you go, find out what kind of warranty the dealership offers and what it covers—along with what it doesn't. Don't buy anything that's duplicating what already comes with the deal. "Typically, if you buy an extended warranty before your manufacturer warranty goes up, it is still considered a new vehicle in the eyes of the extended-warranty company," Bennett says. So, if your original warranty expires at 36,000 miles, opt for the extended one when you get to about 34,000 miles.

6. Practice what you'll say to: "This offer is only good for the next two hours."

Tell yourself it's OK to walk. "You should never feel pressured to make a decision. If you do feel that way, it's probably not the right decision for you," Bennett says.

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