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By: Kate Dodge

I'm a first-time car buyer. I picked up my shiny new friend on Friday, the 13th of March, superstitions be damned. I was way too excited to wait until the 14th.

That's how car buying should be, an adventure, not a nightmare.

Confession: I didn't do all the work myself. I hired the delightful Chris Martin at Car Smart to do the ugly work for me. I never even had to speak to a dealer.

Hiring someone to do the dirty work can greatly ease the new-car buying procedure, and it can save you money. Buying services such as Car Smart know how to buy cars, they know invoice costs, they know car dealers, and they will save you money off of the sticker price. The one caveat, and it's a big one, is go with someone you can trust. Get references, choose a service that charges a flat rate, not a percentage of the sticker price. A good buyer will deal with most, or all, dealerships in your area. If you find that your buyer will only deal with a select few, he may well be working for the dealers, not for you.

Your biggest defense in any transaction is educating yourself. Knowledge is power, baby. I spent hours on the web, learning everything I could before I called Car Smart, and it was great. The Web is a vast source of information, available 24 hours a day, and you never have to hear a car salesman call you sweety, and ask if your boyfriend is with you. (A gender-specific obstacle, to be sure, but men can benefit from no-pressure research as well)

I started at Woman Motorist's New Car Buying Handbook, to get an idea of my budget, both purchase price, and long-term costs. Check out their article, "What Can I Afford to Spend on a New Car?". As it turned out, I ended up leasing instead of buying, but not until I really got my head around what exactly a lease is, the good, the bad, and the cryptic. I got lots of help from Edmund's and Motor Trend.

Once I had a notion of what my budget was going to be, I headed over to Car Point to do some window-shopping.

Words of warning:

  1. Only visit when you have plenty of time, because Car Point is by far the best thing Microsoft ever made (high praise, indeed) and you could easily lose track of time.
  2. Go armed with a nice new browser, speed isn't such an issue, but you will need some small plug-ins for the pricing utilities and the surround videos.

That being said, the information here is vast, and so well organized. Car Point makes a great case study for the potential of the World Wide Web as an information transfer medium.

I did a number of searches by price; read reviews of all possible cars (and many of impossible cars, just because they were there); I made use of the comparison feature to see how one choice stood up to another; and I checked reliability ratings for used cars, to try to judge how my new one would last, and what it's resell value would be.

Once I knew exactly what I wanted, down to the optional features (or lack thereof, in this case), I called Car Smart, and unleashed them on the dealers in my area. If you feel comfortable negotiating with your dealer yourself, do so. I'm just not a haggler, so I farmed the work out.

This is by no means a how-to guide, it's more a narrative of my experience. Go your own way. Browse through AutoGuide.net's Buy and Sell category, you will find step by step guides, checklists, reviews and pricing utilities galore

Whether you handle dealer interaction and negotiation yourself, or hire someone to do it for you, your research will be your best defense -- and your ticket to a better deal.

And above all, have fun.

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