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Buying a Car Without Driving Yourself Crazy


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Buying a car is a very personal decision. Many people think of their cars as reflections of themselves or maybe extensions of their homes. They may in fact spend more time in their cars than at home.

"We know people have a relationship with cars -- they are the only inanimate object with which people have relationships," noted Courtney Caldwell, editor-in-chief of Road and Travel Magazine, an automotive Web site for women. "They represent how people are seen to the outside world. They are an extension of people's personalities. People name them, get divorced over them, and have children in them."

Choosing a car is an art in itself, added Philip Reed of He suggested that people start the car-buying process by making one list of their needs and another list of what would satisfy those needs.

Then they should invest time researching what to buy and digging up more information about the car they want. (Also see More Car-Buying Resources.)

The good news for consumers, Reed said, is that cars are more reliable and the warranties stronger than they used to be. "A 2- to 3-year-old car is better than it was ten years ago."

Still, "do your homework," advised Patrick Olsen, managing editor of, which offers resources for researching, buying, selling, and financing cars. "Get an idea of your real budget and the real costs [of buying and maintaining a car]. And always shop around. You'll save time in the long run."

As is the case with almost every consumer product over the past decade, the Internet has drastically changed how people buy cars, largely by putting reams of data literally at consumers' fingertips. Shoppers can arm themselves with piles of information before they even set foot on a car lot, so they don't have to rely just on the seller for information.

"More people are doing research online -- they are checking out pricing and the true market values of cars," Reed said. "If you prepare correctly, you don't have to worry about the outcomes. It's like preparing for a test."

Consumers can use the Internet to search for particular cars, research a model's reliability, selling price, and compare selling prices.

"More people are doing research online -- they are checking out pricing and the true market values of cars. If you prepare correctly, you don't have to worry about the outcomes. It's like preparing for a test."

"More people are doing more research on their own and doing their homework," added Stacy Benoit, branch manager of Members Advantage Community Credit Union in Barre, Vermont. "Those who don't are paying way too much for a vehicle."

Buyers also can check online for a car's manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) and the invoice price, Reed said. The MSRP is the sticker price -- what the dealer wants you to pay -- and the invoice price is what the dealer paid. Usually there is a difference of about $2.000, depending on the type of car. Consumers can also check for the true market value -- a metric Edmunds developed -- which is the average selling price of a given car.

Sometimes staff members at teacher credit unions, where many teachers go for financing, will help with research as well. "We will look at a purchase price and then look up the retail value to see if the person is getting a good deal," Benoit said.

Teacher Federal Credit Union -- Education Minnesota offers an automobile purchase assistance program that helps members research cars. "We have a representative who will go on the Internet and call dealers," said vice president of marketing Thomas Rifkin. "We have a dealer network."

Consumers can even buy cars online, using eBay and other sites, although Reed noted it is not as simple as clicking a button and seeing a car appear in the driveway. Still, if a buyer is interested in a car in another town or state, he or she can hire someone in the area to inspect the car and arrange to have it delivered to his or her home.

"Over the last seven to eight years, Internet car-buying has grown," Reed told Education World. "Anyone shopping for a car should learn about it. Most car-buying trends from the Internet benefit the consumer."


Click the links below to read more on this topic.

What's Hot?
Smaller, more environmentally-friendly cars are increasingly popular. Certified pre-owned cars also are drawing more buyers.

What Teachers Are Buying -- And Ways to Pay
More teachers are opting for new cars, and many turn to credit unions for financing.

Gender Gaps
Men and women have different priorities for cars -- go figure -- and women now buy the majority of new cars in the U.S.

More Car-Buying Resources
Here's some information to help in buying and financing a car.

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2007 Education World