Where and When To Shop
NOTE: "Shopping" for a vehicle is not the same as "buying." "Shopping" means checking out the various brands and models, test driving the vehicles that interest you and getting the info you need so that you can decide which vehicle you want to buy. Buying that vehicle will be discussed later in "Step 5: Buying Like An Expert."
WHERE TO SHOP
The nature of your shopping experience will be determined to some extent by the type of dealership or venue you choose to visit. Here are some things to consider in deciding where to shop:
"Auto Rows" and "Auto Plazas"
Almost every municipality has an "auto row" boulevard or an "auto plaza" complex where the largest car dealerships are congregated. The advantage to shopping at these "auto rows" and "auto plazas" is that they usually have the best selections in town for both new and used cars. In addition, you can park your car and walk from dealership to dealership with a minimum of hassle. The disadvantage to these large dealerships is that they tend to be very competitive and, therefore, can be a haven for aggressive salesmen.
Shopping at your local smaller neighborhood dealership will probably be a friendlier experience with the salesman giving you more of his time. However, his inventory may be limited so you may not be able to see all of the models and colors that are available.
Automobile and Truck Shows
These shows are a great way to check out all of the new cars and trucks. You won't be able to test drive any of them, but you will be able to see all of the latest models under one roof. Call your nearest Convention Center and ask when the next Automobile Show is coming to your town.
Used Car Auto Marts
These large exclusively-used-car dealerships are now commonplace across the nation. They feature hundreds of used cars with low non-negotiable prices sold in a no-pressure atmosphere. Shopping at these Auto Marts is a great way to see a big selection of used cars and to get a feel for the current market. Be aware, however, that their non-negotiable sticker prices are sometimes slightly higher than the prices in the general used car marketplace.
Neighborhood Used Car Lots
Here you have to be careful because these small businesses sometimes come and go quickly. If you do decide to visit a neighborhood car lot, ask the salesman how long they've been at their current location. Look around the place and see if they appear to be doing business in a professional manner. And be sure to ask if they offer any warranties for their cars.
Shopping for a used car from a private party can be very trying and, occasionally, dangerous. You may have to travel many miles just to see one particular vehicle. And you'll probably end up test-driving the car with the seller - a total stranger - sitting at your side. If you do plan on looking at vehicles sold by private parties, try to arrange a meeting in a neutral, well-traveled place such as a shopping center or fast food parking lot. Never ever go by yourself. Never go at night. And be sure to use your intuition: if something doesn't seem quite right, then promptly leave.
Public and Police Auctions
These exciting events are growing in popularity as venues for buying Used Cars. Be aware, however, that buying at one of these auctions can be a big gamble. That's because you probably won't have a chance to thoroughly inspect the vehicle before you bid. You may not even an opportunity to test drive the vehicle. And surveys have shown that, because of the fever pitch of the bidding, selling prices are usually about the same - or even higher - than those in the general used car marketplace.
WHEN TO SHOP
Auto dealerships tend to go into "high gear" on weekends, trying to sell as many cars as possible in a two or three day period. The car salesman is put under a lot of pressure to meet the weekend quotas and achieve his bonuses. Therefore, on weekends, the salesman may lose interest in any customer that he determines is not going to buy today. By the same token, he may be annoyingly aggressive and pushy.
To avoid this craziness, try to shop on a weekday or weekday evening when the salesman is relaxed, friendly and maybe even a bit bored.
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