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How to buy a car
How I did it: I realized I needed a better way of getting around in September and started seriously searching in mid-November. I briefly indulged myself and contemplated getting my dream car... then I got serious. I tried to figure out how I would use a car and then tried to match that to available automobiles on the market.
I couldn't afford a new vehicle, so I looked into buying used. Every time I found a car I liked I would look up the BBB info on the dealership. Several cars dropped out of consideration after that.
I lucked out with my immediate financing worries; a family member stepped forward and offered to cover me. Then there was the car shopping, actually choosing a car (i hate being decisive), the paperwork, arranging insurance and registering myself as an organ donor.
Lessons & tips: Figure out what you really need in a car. Good city mileage? Space for kids? Some heft to get you through the snow? An excellent crash record? Try to come up with a shortlist of cars that fit what you need.
Are you going to buy a new or used car? If used, are you comfortable buying from a private seller or would you prefer a dealership? Does your dealership have a good reputation? Always ask to see the carfax report.
Know how are you going to pay for the car. Can you afford out of pocket or do you need a loan? Investigate offers from your credit union/bank/dealership. See if there is there someone who will spot you.
Car shopping: know what fiddly bits to look at when testing a vehicle (Buying a Car For Dummies has the best list) and how to deal with salesmen.
newcars.com - useful for finding models to fit you
Car search sites:
Better Business Bureau
Other useful sites:
Fuel Economy Calculator
Highway Safety Ratings
And, of course, the 629 section of your local library.