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But Does it Have Heated Seats?

car-dealership-lotWhen was the last time you went shopping for a car? Purchasing a car is one of the single biggest purchases you’ll ever make, especially if it’s a brand new car. But where do you start? If you have the luxury of not needing a car immediately, what time of year should you start looking? Which sources can you trust when researching cars and comparing features? What do you need to know before you go to a dealership, and how do you know you’re getting the best deal when you’re working with the sales person? Lucky for you, dear readers, I had a recent foray into the wild world of car buying, and I want to share a few lessons I learned along the way.

Like most of us, my first car was a used car. My grandmother left me her powder-blue Chevy Caprice, which was a car so big it was often described as a boat. The poor car was driven on northern roads crusty with winter salt, and therefore suffered from chronic muffler problems – so chronic, in fact, that about three-quarters of the muffler eventually rusted away. My family affectionately called it The B-52 Bomber because they claimed they could hear it coming a mile away. They weren’t wrong.

My first car buying experience was at a small country mechanic shop that sold a few cars on the side, and I traded in The Bomber for a used Honda Accord. Even used, this was a significant upgrade from the ’90s-era Caprice, and I was thrilled. However, this was not the traditional car buying experience, in that selection was extremely limited and I was buying from a small local mechanic, a friend of a friend who wasn’t operating in the same ballpark of sales margin as a suburban dealership.

Nearly a decade and well over 100,000 miles later, and I was ready for a new car. Honda makes very good cars and there wasn’t anything wrong with the Accord, but I was ready. But where to start? I had a list of features I knew I didn’t want to compromise on in a new car. I had only owned sedans in the past and was used to that low-to-the-ground driving experience, but I was also hoping for the sort of storage flexibility you get from a hatchback or small SUV.

As a librarian, research is my go-to, and because I was lucky enough to not be in a crisis of needing a new car right away I starting reading about and comparing vehicles months in advance of a test drive. Consumer Reports was my first stop. We subscribe to the physical magazine and you can look at it at the Reference Desk, but we also offer full online access to Consumer Reports so you can access it at home. Go to our website,, and at the bottom left of the homepage under the list of Quick Links you’ll see Databases. This takes you to an alphabetical list of all the databases we offer, and to access Consumer Reports all you need is your library card number.

Consumer Reports has a whole section of their website dedicated to buying new and used cars, including vehicle by vehicle ratings and comparisons, articles about how to choose the right vehicle for you, lists of the best and worst vehicles on the market, calculation tools for financing your vehicle, and tips for how to prepare yourself for going in for a test drive and how to bargain effectively at the dealership. Honestly, there’s such an overwhelming amount of good information on the Consumer Reports website that you should plan on making several visits to their page.

Another website I found extremely useful, especially when arming myself with research for bargaining, was This site was founded by a co-founder of TripAdvisor, and is chock-full of comparison data about new and used vehicles. You can see real prices that people are paying for vehicles you’re interested in, and you can even sell your used car through the site. Their information about real invoice price paid was one of my most important pieces of data for my own bargaining experience.

One more note about vehicle information sites – there were two other sites I used called TrueCar and Edmunds. Both of these sites contract with dealerships to give buyers competitive price quotes, but don’t be fooled into thinking these are the best prices you can get for a vehicle. While they serve the purpose of starting the conversation between the buyer and the dealership about price, be wary; in neither case did they give me the best price I could get, and in one case gave me an estimate that was thousands of dollars above a reasonable value. The dealerships have a deal with these sort of services in order to reach you, the buyer, and try to get you into the dealership faster, so take their recommendations with a grain of salt.

When looking to estimate a fair market value for trading in or selling your used car, try using Kelley Blue Book, found at, or NADAguides, found at or in print at the library’s Reference Desk.

Figure out which car you want, do your research to see what other people are paying for this car and then decide on a number that is the most you are willing to pay. Do as much communicating via email about price as you can with a salesperson at the dealership so that you have the conversation in writing. Start your bargaining by saying you want to pay a price you know is lower than you will likely pay – they will be starting their end of the bargaining at a price that is far too high, and you will both move incrementally toward the middle to settle on a price. If you bring with you printouts of your research and their emailed quotes, this will help your case. This is likely to be a lengthy and even stressful process, so be confident and stick to the amount you’re willing to pay. If the salesperson ultimately won’t agree to your terms, don’t be afraid to get up and walk away. I had to do this at one dealership and was so glad I did. I’m thrilled with the car I finally found, and couldn’t be happier starting the New Year in a new set of wheels.

Liz Reed is the Adult Services Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the January 10, 2019 edition of the Norwood Transcript.


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