COLUMBIA (WACH) â?? In 2012, Americans purchased over 55 million new and used cars, according to
Kelley Blue Book
. With an average price of
for a new car, it is usually their most expensive investment, second only to real estate. According to NADA, 2013 cited an increase of 7.5 percent of "light care sales," eluding to the fact that the industry is still booming.
With over 300 Million cars on the road, there seems to be no slowing down the country's love for 4 wheels. Therein lies a paradox. American's want cars, and have a thirst for new, used, or just different rides, but the sales process is uncomfortable for many.
The car buying process can often be one that is among the most stressful of situations between selecting the right car, figuring out payments, and of course, the stereotypical car salesman who will do most anything to â??put you in a car today.â??
The one common thread that is echoed by dealerships, bankers, and consumer advocates is â??research.â??
Over the last 15 years, the Internet has become an ultimate resource for car buyers.
There is a seemingly never ending list of websites that are dedicated to educating consumers about cars, reliability, values, reviews and even finance calculators. Sites like
provide information about service records, what options are available and value calculators.
uses the industry standard â??
Kelly Blue Book
â?? values which allows you to not only assess the value of your car, but letâ??s you know what you should expect to pay for a new one.
â??Ten years ago,â?? says
General Manager Kevin Hand, â??You had to come to the dealership for everything. Even a pamphlet. Now, everything is at your fingertips.â??
Hand said that initially, informed shoppers weren't embraced by the industry because many felt the public â??knew too much about what we were doing,â?? but that preception has changed - for the most part. Along with many in the industry, he feels that the more people know when they come into a dealership, the better it is for both the salesman and shopper.
â??The more a customer knows, the easier it is to help them get into the right car,â?? said Hand. He does point out that although buyers may know what a dealership paid for a car, it is fair for them to make a profit, after all, they are a business. It comes down to what is â??fair for the dealership and the customer.â??
Hand also says, when doing their research, shoppers need to take a critical look at their trade, and what they think it might be worth. When you back out things like tires, brakes, or other cosmetic needs a trade may need before it goes out on the lot, it can significantly change what you think your trade is worth.
Many blame overspending on big ticket items like vehicles and houses for the economic crash four years ago. With that in mind, one of the most important considerations is how much you can afford to spend on a vehicle.
Shameka Grier-McCray says the calculation comes down to your income. A consumer should not spend more than 10 â?? 15 percent of their income in car payments. Grier-McCray points out that lenders often use a ratio that is 35 â?? 40 percent total
debt to income
to decide finance fitness for a loan. She also said that a
over 680 or above is generally considered a good risk, and over 700 could qualify a buy for preferred pricing.
On the topic of financing, a decision that a shopper may have to make is whether to seek a loan through the dealership or with a local bank. Grier-McCray says that often times, the rates a dealership can provide are more competitive than you could secure on your own. She does point out, however, that for some customers, the ability to have one-on-one contact with the bank, rather than a â??1-800 numberâ?? is worth paying a little extra for.
Once you know how much you can spend on a vehicle, another question that can be a struggle for shoppers is looking at a new or used car, both of which have advantages.
Kelley Blue Book
United Auto Sales General Manager Leo Jones believes that when you buy a used car, you â??come out better on top.â?? He says that that often times you can trade a used car within a year of buying it, and not end up â??
,â?? or owing more than the car is worth.
Jones also says that cars are lasting longer. â??I donâ??t have a problem with 200,000 miles on a car. It doesnâ??t play a factor in the longevity, but it may impact the value.â??
Nissan New Car Manager Eddie Maracich says that the biggest advantage of buying a new car is the warranty. Plus, he says, â??you get to break the car in.â?? He points out that the new technology that a new car offers is often a draw for buyers.
Maracich says that leasing is also an option for someone who is going to trade for a new car every 2-3 years, and doesnâ??t drive a lot of miles. â??Leasing ensures you can always drive something new.â??
There is then the question of the salesman who meets you in the lot, often before both feet are out the vehicle. Many people instantly go to the vision of the â??used car salesmanâ?? as someone who would do most anything to sell you a car, and would use tricks and manipulations to ensure the sale went through.
Maracich says those days are gone. â??Itâ??s not like the old days when you could
roll back miles,
â?? he says of the practice of changing the odometer to show a car with fewer miles than it actually had.
Maracich says he doesnâ??t know of any dealerships in the area that operate with shady practices.
provide information on specific vehicles, using its
, including reported miles at the time of each sale, former owners, repairs, and any accidents it may have been involved in.
Jones says that a potential red flag in the car buying process could be a pushy salesman. â??Donâ??t let anyone pressure you into buying a car,â?? he says. A buyer should be confident in the decision they are making, and if there is extra pushing, you should â??take a step back.â??
Hand says that making sure any deal is on the up and up goes back to research, and not just into the car. â??If a dealer is looking for an opportunity, not knowing your own credit score could provide it,â?? he says. Hand explains that if you go into a dealership thinking your credit score is lower than it is, you might be expecting to pay a higher interest rate. A dealership could then write you at the higher rate, even though your score was higher than you thought, and you could have qualified for a lower rate.
There are several sites on the Internet that explain some of the less than ethical practices that have been reported throughout the industry. Website
says that many salesmen may tell little lies, citing statements about other interested buyers when there may not be any.
also publishes an ongoing list of any trends in the car industry to be on the lookout for.
The recurring theme, regardless of speaking with dealerships, banks, or watchdog websites is the need for research when you are looking for a new car. If you are armed with information and education, the process of buying a car will be smoother, and ensure that you have many miles of happy motoring in front of you.