Avoid Run-Over Feeling in Showroom

Times Staff Writer

Question: I'm planning to buy a new car soon, and I'm trying to do some research about the reliability of different cars and how to get the best price. I want a car that is going to last. Where should I look?--E.P.

Answer: Motorists often base their decisions on buying a car only when they see a car in a dealership showroom. It's about the worst way to buy a car. If you want to maximize the value of your purchase and ensure that the car you select will best fill your needs, what you do in the showroom should be the very last step in the process.

Automobile salesmen love the uninformed buyer, because they will not have the resources to strike the best bargain. It's often said in the car trade that salesmen make 80% of their profits on 20% of their customers. Your objective should be to become as well informed as possible.

A car buyer today can chose among more than a dozen manufacturers and more than 100 car models. It's a tough job merely to narrow the decision down to some small group for a thorough evaluation. I suggest that you consider no more than four to six cars closely. Collect brochures. Test drive the cars. Read a few good car magazines for their reviews. And look at Consumer Reports magazine for their annual review of the mechanical reliability of cars.

One book that I recommend is "The Car Book," 1987 edition, by Jack Gillis. It is one of the most thoroughly researched books that I have seen on selecting and negotiating for the purchase of a car. The book reviews such important factors as the crash-test results of most popular car models, fuel economy, maintenance costs and warranties.

It also contains advice that would be of use to almost any automobile owner, such as the section on 10 tips for dealing with a mechanic and an entire chapter on tires. If you have been had by a mechanic or dealer, it offers advice on where to file complaints and how to arbitrate against an automobile manufacturer.

But homework alone will not ensure you a good deal on a car. When dealing with a salesman, you have to use your own good sense to avoid falling in a trap.

Here are just a few of my own suggestions:

--You should know exactly what model and what options you want before you set foot into final negotiation on a car.

--Purchase one of the books available that will tell you what the dealers own cost of the car is. The books are sold at many bookstores.

--Call around to find a dealer who has the car you want or who can get it for you.

When dealing with salesmen, ignore the following hackneyed comments he may make: "This is my day off and I came in specially to close this deal"; "I'm trying to get the best deal for you, but I'm embarrassed to show this offer to my sales manager"; "This is a fine car. I own one myself," and "What will it take for you to buy the car right now?"

Q: Should I inflate my tires based on the rating on the tire or in the owner's manual?--C.G.

A: The inflation rating on the tire sidewall tells you the maximum permissible air pressure for that tire. You can usually find a sticker, either on the door jamb on the driver's side or inside the glove compartment, that will give you the recommended inflation for your specific car. That is the correct inflation for the car.

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