You've got the fever. Dealers will try to pitch you. Private sellers want you to take the automobile off their hands. It's a lot to absorb, but you want to keep your wits about you.
Here are five keys to making the right decisions when car shopping:
1. Don’t go into it blindly.
Do the research and figure out which cars you want to look at and test-drive. Find out about how much you can expect to pay for a car. Take mileage, condition and age into account. When you talk to the seller, ask factual questions about the car (don't ask if it gets good gas mileage—ask how many miles to the gallon it gets). When you know exactly what you are buying, you can make a more informed choice.
2. Write your questions down.
As you do your research, write down a question as soon as you have it. If it turns out to be a dumb question, you can ignore it later. If you think of something good to ask and then forget it, you could be in trouble.
3. Have walk-away power.
When you’re desperate to buy a car, the seller knows it. They may try to pressure you into buying and probably won’t try to cut you any deals. If you know that you can walk away and find a bargain somewhere else, you won't get into a bad deal. It puts you in a position of power, because most often the seller needs to sell the car. You don't need to buy it. Don't get emotionally attached to a vehicle.
4. Pay with cash.
Using cash has finality to it. You don't have to worry about being approved for a loan or telling the seller to hold the car for you until Monday. Besides, people get weak in the knees when you flash cash. When you are ready to buy, pull out those hundreds and start counting. Cash is a powerful tool in getting a bargain for just that reason.
5. Don’t go alone.
Take someone you trust (preferably someone who is knowledgeable about autos) with you to look at a car. Inspect the vehicle inside and out and under the hood. It's a second pair of eyes and ears to get information so you don't misunderstand what the seller is saying. Since your friend is not emotionally involved and doesn’t have car fever, they can help you keep a cool head so you don't make a dumb mistake, like paying too much.
Remember, the more information and discipline you have, the more the purchase will work in your favor.