Shopping for a new car can be like redecorating a room.
You envision something affordable, attractive, comfortable, and easy to take care of. But where do you begin?
The average new-car buyer starts by visiting a few local dealers, looking at the cars in stock, talking to the sales personnel, and collecting colorful brochures on cars that look promising.
That's the easy way, but it's also likely to lead the buyer into making a poor decision on an expensive investment.
A little research and preparation before even talking to the dealers can save you money and lead you to a superior automobile.
Provide yourself with a simple notebook to record information you collect and to help your search through the sea of new cars.
Be honest with yourself and list the requirements that you think the car should fulfill, including what you expect to use it for (pleasure, commuting, or hauling) and the type of driving you do (long-distance, city, or rough-terrain).
What are your personal tastes in styling and design? As you know, there is a wide variety of body styles and colors from which to choose.
Write down the things that you feel make the interior of a car convenient and comfortable. Options such as air conditioning, a sun roof, and stereo components are nice to have, but they add a lot of money to the initial purchase price of the car.
More-necessary interior items to consider are engine gauges and instruments; heating and ventilation; seating capacity, adjustability, and durability; and the luggage-compartment capacity and accessibility.
Also list ''on-the-road'' requirements: engine power and acceleration, shifting, steering and handling, suspension, braking, quietness, and general comfort.
Once you have an overall idea of what the car should deliver, you can start focusing in on your category of car.
Categories can be formed on the basis of price, size, fuel-economy ratings, style (number of doors, hatchback, sedan, coupe, station wagon, and so forth) luxuriousness, or any combination that suits the individual.
Using car-price guides, such as Edmund's, published by the Edmund Publications Corporation, you can effectively determine the difference between the cost to the dealer and the suggested list price you will find on the sticker.
What you can pay for a car establishes a framework around which to build other deciding factors.
For instance, if it's decided that you can afford to finance as much as an $8 ,000 car (not including finance charges, taxes, dealer fees, insurance, and other expenses) you can then eliminate all of the makes and models that have a base dealer cost higher than the $8,000 figure. From there you can narrow in on the cars that meet your styling and economy requirements.
Even at this point there's a wide range of possibilities from which to choose. Now is the time to take some trips to large libraries and magazine stands for some more specific information.
There's a vast storehouse of automotive information that can be obtained in recent and back issues of such magazines as AutoWeek, Automotive News, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Car and Driver, Consumer Reports, Consumer Guide Auto Series , Buyers Guide, and more.
After you have done some reading and have a fairly good idea which cars will meet the requirements you have listed, collect brochures of those models at the car dealerships and casually look at the models in stock. But don't do any dealing with the salesmen at this time.
Once you have established a specific category, such as 2-door coupes, rated for at least 30 mpg (city), and selling for under $8,000; or perhaps 6-passenger station wagons, rated for at least 25 mpg (city), for under $10,000, you can actually begin shopping for the car.
Make a list of all the auto makes that have models in your category, then list the models that most closely fit the category (it could include anywhere from three to 15 models from which to choose). Using the yellow pages, list all of the dealers in your area that handle each make.
Prepare check-off lists that cover all of the pertinent information you want to evaluate while looking at and test-driving each car.
While at the showroom, write down sticker prices, dealer fees, and other charges to compare with those found, for example, in ''Edmund's.'' Still don't do any dealing with the salesman.
At home, choose the two or three models that you feel fit the bill and decide what you can offer each dealer, if you decide to buy his car.
Return to the dealers of the finalists and test drive the cars again. By now you should be confident enough to choose the winning automobile.
If the dealer doesn't accept your top offer, try a little bargaining. If he still won't budge, find other dealers, even if it means more traveling. The prices they offer can vary significantly.