Car-Buying Tips for Women

There's nothing gender specific about the act of buying a car, nor should any factor preclude a woman from successfully negotiating the best car deal. Simply do your homework before you go shopping. Remember: Knowledge is power.

1. Make Decisions Before Visiting the Showroom

Decide what you want in a vehicle — the features, body style, pricing, etc. — before you visit a dealer's showroom. Stereotypical dealers will try to sell you a vehicle they want you to buy rather than what you want or need. It's a good idea to have two or three vehicles on your wish list, as that flexibility goes a long way toward getting the most car for your money.

2. Be Informed

Use the internet to research cars before you visit retailers. Check out dealer invoice pricing and the prices people are asking for specific models in Cars.com's Research section. In addition, Cars.com lists a vehicle's standard and optional features and available rebate programs. To find comparisons on a car you currently own and want to trade for a new one, consult Kelley Blue Book used-car values.

3. The Salesperson Is Not Your Friend

Remember: The salesperson is there to make money; he's not there to be your friend. Even if he's your uncle, your cousin or the guy next door, never lose sight that, first and foremost, he's looking out for his commission. You need to be aware of your own financial interest, because he won't.

4. Get Preapproved

Get preapproved by your local bank or credit union before you go to the showroom. By doing so, you'll know how much car you can buy for your money, and there's an excellent chance you'll secure a better interest rate at your personal financial institution than through the manufacturer's credit arm. If you don't belong to a credit union, see if you qualify to join one, because they typically offer the best car loan rates.

5. Buying Versus Leasing

Before you start car shopping, firmly decide whether you're going to buy or lease. Many people believe that leasing is little more than renting a car with a mileage cap. It's also misleading to think leasing does nothing more than allow a driver to use an expensive car rather than one for which they qualify. Unique factors and specific circumstances actually support reasons to lease.

On the other hand, if you decide to buy a car, then the day will come when you no longer have payments. Buying a car also builds equity, which goes a long way when it's time to purchase your next vehicle.

6. Don't Forget About Maintenance Costs

Consider the cost of ownership when selecting a vehicle. How much are annual maintenance costs? Those killer wheels and tires look great now, but will you have to get a second mortgage to replace the original tires a few years down the road? In most cases, a lower-quality tire drastically changes the performance of the vehicle. Do you really want to pay $1,000 or more for a set of replacement tires?

7. Touch Base With Your Insurance Agent

Before signing any sales contract, always check with your agent regarding insurance costs. You may find that while you can afford the vehicle payment, the additional cost of insurance pushes you way over budget. Keep in mind that a large portion of the total insurance premium involves replacement cost. If the vehicle you want has a hefty price tag, then it's a given that insurance will also be costly.

8. Filling Up Can Add Up
Some cars, such as the Volkswagen Golf, are available with a diesel engine.

Some cars, such as the Volkswagen Golf, are available with a diesel engine.

Today's fuel prices should make you think long and hard about purchasing a vehicle that runs on premium fuel. The window sticker often lists an annual fuel cost estimate, but it's better if you calculate these costs on your own. Keep track of the miles you drive for one full week of average driving. Multiply that number by 52 (weeks in a year) and then divide that by the estimated fuel economy of the vehicle you're considering. If the sticker says 18 mpg city and 25 mpg hwy, odds are the actual average mileage will fall somewhere in the middle — and probably closer to 20 to 21 mpg.

After determining the number of gallons of gasoline you'll burn while driving, multiply that by your estimated gas price; then increase that number by 5 percent as a fudge factor. This number reflects the most accurate estimate of what you'll spend on fuel.

Lastly, don't discount a diesel-powered vehicle. Even though diesel fuel is more expensive, diesel-powered cars are far more fuel-efficient than their comparable gasoline counterparts.

9. Avoid Impulse Buying

At all costs, avoid impulse buying when purchasing a vehicle. Never let the salesperson know just how much you desire a specific vehicle. That knowledge puts the entire sales process in his court.

10. Take Your Time

Don't let the salesperson convince you to take the vehicle home while he's getting you approved. First, it's a risky liability. Second, it largely eliminates your negotiating power. The best thing to do when considering a vehicle purchase is go home and think about it for at least 24 hours. Bounce the idea off your friends and relatives, recheck all your source materials, and chill.

If you're still in love with the vehicle the next day, then go for it!

Posted on 8/8/05