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Before You Buy Your Next Car

Before You Buy Your Next Car
View from Grant Park, Ventura (Stephen Schaefer)

Auto malls — those sprawling clusters of car dealerships that speckle suburban America — offer super-convenient, time-efficient comparison car shopping. But browsing numerous neighboring showrooms on a single visit can also result in information-overload and confusion.

So, with input from Larry Hibbler, president of Simi Valley Ford, we explored the fine art of navigating and negotiating an auto mall car purchase. Some tips:


Come prepared

Before you even head out to buy a car, arm yourself with some facts and figures. First, know your credit score. You can request a free copy of your credit report from each of three major credit reporting agencies (EquifaxExperian and TransUnion) once each year at, or call toll-free (877) 322-8228. Reviewing your report from all three agencies is recommended.

Research auto loan rates using a website like Then review automaker and dealership sites as well as automotive sales sites such as to get an idea of the models that interest you, where these are available and what you should expect to pay. You might also consider getting pre-approved for a loan before you start shopping.

Take notes

However much you trust your memory, the array of numbers and quotes you'll be given at each auto mall dealership — not just sticker prices and interest rates but also discounts; down payments, trade-in and warranty details; trim-level and equipment options — can soon blur into a soup of stats.

"It is recommended that buyers get quotes in writing," Hibbler said. "However, buyers can also get information online — everything from pricing to payment structure to trade-in value quotes."

Take notes and even photos of models that interest you. Ask for the sales manager as soon as you walk into each dealership and hold onto to business cards for each of those you deal with.

Inspect and test

These days, any reputable dealership will provide a Carfax vehicle history report free of charge with all used cars. As well as examining a vehicle's mileage, maintenance, and accident and repair history, read between the Carfax lines. For example, if a car has changed hands rapidly and regularly in its lifetime, ask yourself (and the sales manager) why.

"[We] recommend that buyers, if possible, take any vehicle to their own personal mechanic for a complete inspection," Hibbler said.

Before you take a test drive, prepare a list of questions to ask the salesperson accompanying you. And respect the vehicle during the test drive — it could be yours by day's end! 

Negotiate everything

You can haggle over more than just price when buying a vehicle. Interest rate, down payment, extended warranty and trade-in prices are all up for discussion, and consumers can save thousands with just a few minutes of savvy bargaining.

"Everything is negotiable when it comes to buying a car," Hibbler said. "However, both sides need to compromise."

— Paul Rogers, Brand Publishing Writer


For more ideas for local deals and saving tips, go back to Money Smart.