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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Shopping for automobiles

The end of the year is often touted as a good time to make a great deal on a car or truck.  Yes it is, but with the proper knowledge, a good-value purchase can be made all year since dealers are always eager to move inventory.  In a process that should be enjoyable, selecting a new car or truck can become stressful amid the many available manufacturers, models and options, especially when coupled with dealer negotiation.

You can choose brand new, or select a previously owned vehicle that is new to you.  New autos depreciate quickly, so buying a like-modeled used one will cost you considerably less.  The largest value drop occurs during the first 2-3 years; opting for a vehicle that age, driven about 12,000 miles per year, will save you 25 to 35 percent compared to new.

Purchase price aside, you’ll miss the new-car smell (a consumer fave) and may give up some of the latest safety and convenience features if you buy a used vehicle.  When financing a used vehicle you will generally pay higher interest rates and leases are seldom offered.  Repair costs on new cars are nil during the warranty period, but if bottom-line price is the main consideration, used vehicles still have the edge.

With a bit of Internet research, one can find answers to every question regarding makes, models, features, testimonials, manufacturer incentives, pricing and financing. and are two good starting points and manufacturers’ Websites host a wealth of information.

Some Websites, like truecar, nerdwallet or carvana are not only information-laden, but allow you to complete your purchase without dealing with a dealership!

But don’t fear dealers.  Whereas approaching a new or used dealership can make one wary, much of that feeling is self-inflicted.  Remember that you are the one with the purchasing power and the ability to say yes or no.  Again, arming oneself with sufficient data regarding vehicles and pricing will help to level the playing field during negotiation.  Aforementioned Internet Sites offer invoice prices for new cars and average market prices for used ones.

New cars never sell for “sticker.”  That is the retail price level shown on the sticker that’s stuck to the side window of new cars and trucks.  Nowadays, the “invoice price” (what the dealer pays the manufacturer before holdbacks) is the negotiation starting point.

How much you pay over invoice depends on model popularity, manufacturer incentives and market conditions in your region.  Your eventual price will be somewhere between sticker and invoice for a new car purchase.  Web-searching “car buying services” will reveal sources to estimate what that amount should be.

Used car prices are not so identifiable, since adjustments must be made (both up and down) to market averages for condition.  Near perfect, low-mile vehicles, or those with warranties command above average prices.  By the same measure, appropriate deductions must be levied for body damage, higher-than-normal miles and other defects.  You can always turn down a cheap car with too many problems, but don’t expect a huge discount if it’s already priced below established book values since most used dealers factor condition into pricing.

Whether the prospective new ride will be showroom fresh or previously owned, do as much homework as you can before setting foot on a car lot.  You’ll fair better with an outline of what you want and what it should cost.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at