Americans who are middle-age and older dominate the new car market, accounting for 73 percent of buyers and lessees, according to the California market research firm J.D. Power and Associates. • Whether you're in the market for a new 2011 or 2012 or a "pre-owned" ride that will be new to you, experts suggest taking precautions and doing your homework for the best deal.
Here are some of their tips to help make your purchase a happy one.
Determine the type of vehicle you want and how much you want to spend.
Get quotes from several dealers for the model you want — in person, via e-mail or by fax. Some experts suggest obtaining dealer quotes via e-mail or fax so you'll have them in writing.
Ask friends and family to recommend a dealership. You could check for complaints with the Better Business Bureau, though that's not foolproof.
Read the fine print of ads that seem to be too good to be true. Sometimes there's a catch, like a low mileage limit for a lease or a requirement for excellent credit to get a low interest rate on a loan.
During your test drive, be sure you can comfortably operate all of the vehicle's controls — including those that operate like a computer, with a mouse and screen. Some can be dangerously distracting.
Don't sign anything without reading it. Try not to negotiate or sign anything when you're tired or hungry, advises Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor of the auto information website Edmunds.com. "A lot of people have said to me, 'I signed just to get it over with.' "
Be aware that the "invoice price" the dealer is willing to show you is not necessarily what the dealer actually paid for the vehicle. The Federal Trade Commission notes on its website, FTC.gov, that it's "the manufacturer's initial charge to the dealer" and often gets reduced by rebates, allowances, discounts and incentive awards to dealers.
Reed says his website's "true market values" try to take most of that into account, but he added, "There are a lot of moving pieces behind the scenes."
Simple is better. Reed says there are fewer chances of getting flimflammed or confused in a straight cash-for-a-car deal — with no trade-in and no dealer-arranged financing. Negotiate a price for the car first, he says. Then, if you want any of those added services, talk about them separately.