Vehicle Buying Tips

Getting a Good Deal On A New Ride


Fall and winter are good seasons to buy new cars, as dealers are trying to get rid of the previous year’s models, year-end bonuses motivate those in sales, and many want to start the new calendar year off on the right foot. But far too often military members find themselves getting ripped off by unscrupulous dealers. Thankfully, following a few simple tips can help protect you from getting scammed.

Get your finances in order

These first two steps should be done before anything else.

  • Get a copy of your credit report—Do so at, the only site legally able to give you free copies from all three bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion).
  • Get your financing in order—Unless you have enough cash stashed under your mattress, you will need to get a military auto loan in order to get that new or used car. Make a budget, find out how much you can afford in monthly payments and then get financed. This gives you a set amount, which in turn, keeps you on budget and lets you negotiate on your terms. Also ensure that you have enough extra money to pay license, title, and taxes. Few things are worse than having a new car you can’t drive because it’s not registered.

Do some research

  • What do you really need—The key here is to focus on reliability, as you need a car that isn’t going to break down when you have to get back to base. Check sites or magazines that give impartial research on repair costs, quality of construction, gas mileage and other important features. Yes, you car should reflect your personality, but not at the expense of your budget.
  • Look at insurance costs—Contact at least three different insurance companies to find out how much it will cost to insure, and check different levels of coverage and deductibles to see price differences.
  • Comparison shop—If you are buying a brand new car, visit a dealer’s website, look at costs at dealers from another town or city, or even buy straight from the factory. If you are buying a used car, the standard is usually the Kelly Blue Book value, but you should use more than one publication or website, such as Edmunds Auto or the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) to find a consensus price.

Other considerations

Some other things to think about: 

  • Trade-in—If you plan on trading in your old car, do not wait until it is ready to head to the junk yard. It can (or at least should) take several months to research, obtain financing and decide on what car you should buy. Waiting until the last minute can force you into a desperate decision.
  • Buying a used car—Never buy a used car without a report from CARFAX, the standard for information on used cars. Even better, if you know a reputable mechanic, ask to have him or her look at the car, as they can often identify any problems that are not on the CARFAX report. If you are buying used from a dealer, never, ever sign an "As Is" paper. Always get at least a 30-day warranty or, if possible, a 90-day guarantee. Many states have "lemon laws," but there are still a few shady salespeople who will try to pass their problem car on to you.
  • Skip the extras—The easiest way to save money is to avoid all of the extras offered by dealers (i.e., undercoating, rust protection, etc.). Also remember that you can buy extended warranties on the Internet for a fraction of the cost of what most dealers charge.

Prep your old car

When selling or trading in your old car, make sure to remove any military or other decals that could allow the next owner of the car to breeze through a security checkpoint on base, or even park somewhere they shouldn’t. Do this even if you’re selling to someone in your unit, or you could be held liable for their infraction. (This happened to me once when someone bought my old car and used the parking permit I forgot to remove…and rang up nearly $400 in tickets. I would have had to pay for it, too, had I not been able to prove it was someone else.)

Also make sure to notify the Pass and Registration office (or similar) of the change so you can get your new ride registered correctly.

Enjoy your new ride!

Getting a new car is a great feeling, especially the first few months when it still has that new car smell. And if you follow these fairly simple steps, you just might find the car of your dreams at a price you can actually afford.


The following websites can help you save money, teach you about scams and provide you with useful information for the car buying process.

  •—If you have the vehicle identification number (VIN) you can check the vehicle history report for a small fee.
  •—A wealth of information on tips to save money, scams to avoid, and links to helpful sites. Very consumer friendly.
  •—Shop for cars and even get a quote from a dealer.
  •—Find cars, how much they’re really worth, and lots of helpful info with this consumer-friendly site.
  •—The site for Kelly Blue Book, where the phrase “blue book value” originates.


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