By the time you’re ready to hit the lot or case the classifieds for a car, you better go in knowing your stuff. Things like reliability, safety and fuel economy are what most people look for, but where do you go to get the dirt on any car, new or used?
Before you venture out, take a few minutes to read this post about the pros and cons of buying and leasing a car. Zing writers Anthony and Keith have covered buying a new or used car respectively, and what to know before going in.
But let’s say you’re a bit closer to making a decision. Where do you go to get the best information? As a buyer of a new car in the last few years, I can tell you what I did, and hopefully it’ll give you some informational fuel when it comes time for the rubber to hit the road.
When you’re just scraping the surface on your new set of wheels, make the manufacturer website your first stop. They’ll fill you in on the different model breakdowns, what each offers, options and available colors. Some even go so far as to give you a rough pricing estimate.
The shortcoming of manufacturer websites is that they have every incentive to paint their vehicles in the best possible light. Camera tricks like cutaway roofs can give the impression of a roomier interior, for example. And the pricing estimate I mentioned is a ballpark figure, if anything.
As a starting point for a car shopper, the manufacturer will set you up with what you need for a test drive. Most can even introduce you to a local dealer. But when it comes right down to it, the manufacturer’s website is a showroom for the showroom. Plain and simple.
Review Sites and Publications
Reviews come in handy when you’ve narrowed your choice down to a vehicle’s form factor. From minivan to convertible, review sites help you find out not only what kind of car you want, but also what you’ll be getting for the price.
Kelley Blue Book
As car buying references go, it doesn’t get much better than the Kelley Blue Book. Also known as “The Book,” “KBB,” “Blue Book” or simply “Kelley,” the Kelley Blue Book has been around in one form or another since 1918. Most people consider it gospel when selling their car. It breaks down car value by price depending on condition, make, model, age and mileage.
As a buyer, however, the Kelley Blue Book is just as valuable. If a seller is asking $10,000 for an ’84 Nissan Sentra with 500,000 miles and a broken odometer, you might not need The Book to know that’s crazy. But in cases where condition might be closer to asking price, you can reference The Book and do some quick math to see if you and the seller are on the same page.
For new car buyers, the Blue Book is just as useful. It offers up MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price), dealer invoice price and a New Car Blue Book Value (the price people are paying for new cars that week). Armed with those numbers, you might be able to get a leg up on negotiations.
The gold standard in auto reviews is Consumer Reports. As a publication, it puts out a “Best of” several times a year that is aimed firmly at the auto-buying crowd. Part of what makes Consumer Reports such a trusted reviewer is, as a rule, they pay for the products they test, they accept no advertising and they are independent of any interests. Consumer Reports asserts that what you read is free from any influence and is strictly informational.
As a subscriber to the publication, you have access to their fine-tooth reviews and access to their website, which houses a lengthy index of past and present reviews.
Consumer Reports is known for reviewing toasters with the same scrutiny as they do Toyotas. But what sets Consumer Reports apart is that very approach to their reviews. Using a round button icon, where red is good and black is bad, Consumer Reports’ method of scoring offers a scale within good and bad that is insightful and always justified.
Whether you’re shopping by price, value, brand, safety, economy, size, wheel clearance, you name it, the auto buyer annual offers up “bests of” for each.
This go-to website for many auto shoppers was originally a publication that offered printed booklets to help buyers make more informed decisions. When Edmunds brought its name and reputation online in 1997, it brought that same informational spirit to the information age.
At Edmunds.com, you can view profiles of the vehicle you’re looking for by make, model and price, just to name a few. And as with all review sites, there’s a healthy dose of additional information to help guide you to the right car, truck, van or motorcycle.
Car and Driver
If you ever wanted to know how the new Ferrari F12 Berlinetta handles through turns, or if you’re curious about the versatility of folding seats on the 2014 Honda Odyssey, Car and Driver is your destination.
From high-end luxury sport cars to economy minivans, Car and Driver gives each auto a thorough, multi-point review, sparing no feelings with honest and insightful praise and criticism.
You can find Car and Driver on the newsstands (or in barber shops) across the country.
If what you’re after is a site that covers all things auto, sport and shopping, look no further than Autoweek.
Autoweek includes racing coverage for a host of events from rally races to the Indy 500, right alongside the auto reviews.
While their catalog of reviews might be a little more targeted toward the coupe and convertible crowd (I had to dig to find a minivan review), it offers an entertaining read that can help you beef up on your facts, if that kind of car purchase is in your future.
When you’ve finally settled on the car you want, the last step is to make sure you’re not stuck with a lemon. The best way to do that is with CARFAX. CARFAX is like a background check for your car. It gives you a complete accident report on your car that’s all tracked through the Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN.
CARFAX also offers help for shopping for a car, with options to filter cars by service records, one-owner cars and cars with no accidents – something exclusive to the CARFAX model.
A car is no small purchase, so it makes sense that you’d want to be able to research it. No matter what, consider several sources, including other consumers, to help you get a feel of what you’re after.
Once you’re ready to sit in the driver’s seat and hit the gas, you’ll be driving off in your new car knowing that you not only got what you wanted, but you came to it knowing your stuff.
What kind of resources do you use when you’re making a purchase, auto or otherwise? Let us know in the comments below.