More than 6.3 million autos were purchased in the U.S. in 2017, according to Statista, and with the national economy on an upward trend and consumer sentiment up, that figure should rise in 2018.
If you're on the hunt for a new set of wheels this year, chances are you'll be buying your vehicle from an automotive dealership, which brings some notable issues to the table designed specifically to separate you from more of your money.
"Buying a new car is an experience like no other," says Christopher Burdick, founder of Automoblog.com, in Sanford, N.C. "Things can quickly get out hand if you're not prepared to ask the right questions at the dealership."
Burdick and other auto experts advise being cautious when dealing with an automotive dealer. Specifically, don't sign off on any purchase before getting the answer to these seven key questions:
Is the car I want (with all the specified options) available on the lot? "This is the most important question to ask before talking about pricing and financing options," says Burdick. "If the car you like isn't available, what's the point of negotiating in the first place?"
What are the loan terms and interest rate? Dealership or in-house financing will usually come with slightly higher interest rates, which will vary on the loan term. "Get your own financing terms at the bank before heading to the dealership so you can compare the best deals," says Burdick.
Is this your best rate? When the dealer offers to finance the vehicle purchase, ask if the dealer is offering you the best rate that the banks offered them, says lawyer Don Peterson, owner of a law office in Orlando, Fla. "When the dealer replies 'yes', you know the dealer will lie to you about anything. Auto dealers engage in interest rate spread kickbacks and, on average, make over half their money on financing and insuring the vehicles that they sell."
Can I take the vehicle to my mechanic? If the vehicle is used, ask whether you can take the vehicle to a mechanic of your choice for a pre-purchase inspection, says Peterson. "If the dealer refuses, run - don't walk - away," he advises. "Also, don't rely on CarFax or similar public records aggregates. Approximately half of all serious wrecks never make it into the central databases that vehicle history services repackage for public consumption."
Is the vehicle certified? If you're buying a used car you should always ask if the car is certified, and ask if you can see a printout of what has been fixed. "A 'certified' vehicle is one that meets or exceeds industry-set standards for being in a sellable condition," says Jake McKenzie, content manager at Auto Accessories Garage, in Chicago, Ill. "This often means they've had to make some repairs to the vehicle recently and a record of this work can be valuable information if the vehicle has problems later on down the road."
Can I keep the car overnight? Yes, dealers will actually let you take the car home for the night, McKenzie says. "This is a great way to really get to know a vehicle, and make sure you like it," he notes, "Be careful, though, the reason dealers are willing to do this is because they know that parking the car in your own garage for a night will make it feel like it's already yours, and make you more likely to take the plunge. So keep in mind, you're still just testing it out."
What fees are involved? Very often a dealer will try to tack on extra fees as you get into the paperwork. "They know you've already settled on a price and aren't expecting to haggle anymore, so they sometimes see this as an opportunity to raise the price a few hundred dollars in marketing fees, administrative fees, and the like," says McKenzie. "Throw them an off-speed pitch and ask this question pretty early on, and keep in mind most of these "fees" can be waived if you indicate they're a deal breaker.
Make sure to get answers to all of the above questions before you drive off the lot in your new vehicle. Doing so will get you a better deal on an auto, and maximize your overall car buying experience.