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Behind The Wheel: When it comes to buying a car, it pays to do your research

Buying a car is the second biggest single purchase most individuals make, right after buying a house.

So it deserves a little thought. Actually, it deserves a lot of thought, as in:

• What can I afford? Don’t forget to consider add-ons like supplemental warranties and insurance [there’s even insurance on those expensive key fobs these days]. The list can get a little lengthy and a bit overwhelming if you’re not prepared. The internet can be your best friend in researching many of the upfront costs associated with a new car purchase. So is talking with your financial institution. Getting pre-approved for a car loan will not hurt your credit rating and can put you in a better negotiating position on the car lot. Plus, it will help you exercise restraint when faced with “bells and whistles” you might not be able to reasonably afford.

• What features do I want? Remember, you want to buy a car that fits your lifestyle today and will continue to fit your lifestyle five years from now. Yes, five years. In other words, if your 12-month goal is to have a baby, buying a sleek little coupé probably isn’t the right choice, but a fun-loving SUV might be. In regard to accessories and upgrades, do a little soul-searching. A little luxury is fun, but if you’re rarely going to use a feature [after showing it off to your friends, of course] don’t invest in it. It’s far better to spend your money under the hood.

• What do I know about what’s under the hood? Got a trusted mechanic you can ask about the best and worst cars on the road? If so, ask them what they would choose if selecting a new car. If you don’t have a trusted mechanic, get one. In the absence of a trusted advisor, you can turn to the internet for guidance. Kelley Blue Book, found online at kbb.com, long has been a trusted source for car reviews and comparisons. One caveat, the website will ask for your ZIP code so they can serve you “local deals.” Consumer Reports [consumerreports.org], another long-trusted name, does not.

• Do I want to buy or lease? Both options have merit and at a glance those options seem simple enough. Leasing allows you to get more car for the money. Lease customers typically have lower monthly costs since they’re paying only for the depreciation that occurs over the term of the lease agreement and not the total cost of the car. But at the end of the lease, the car isn’t yours. You’ll have no equity to show for your months or years of payments, and you’ll have nothing to use as a trade-in on your next vehicle. In fact, excess mileage [leases have mileage limits] and vehicle damage could leave you in a financial hole. Car dealerships have experts that can sit down and explain the pros and cons of both options. Checking out a trusted source, such as Consumer Reports, also can be helpful.

Bottom line: Do your research. Ask questions. Talk to the people who sell and service the model of car or cars you are considering. Then, enjoy the ride.

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