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  How to know a car dealership is reputable  
 
     
 

Buying a car can be an exciting, but sometimes scary, adventure into the myriad makes, models, options, warranties, and financing available. And as if these decisons aren't difficult enough, throw into the mix the search for the elusive reputable dealership. It's enough to make a girl want to forget the whole process and ride the bus or take a taxi. But take heart, my fellow female car shoppers. By doing a little research, you can be an educated consumer and drive away with a great deal.

After you've decided on the type of vehicle you want, or at least narrowed down the possibilities, you have to locate a reputable dealership. This is the most important element of your search. And yes, sisters, it can be intimidating. As with any profession, there are good dealers and bad dealers, and unfortunately, many of the dealers you find will be males who don't take women car buyers seriously, even in this day and age. So how do you know if a dealer is honest or not?

The best way to find a reputable dealer is by his reputation - hence the word "reputable." Ask around. Talk to friends, family, co-workers. Find out about their experiences with local dealerships, good and bad. Jot down a few notes. You can learn a lot from their past "rip-offs" or "sweet deals."

Another way to check out dealerships is to call the Consumer Affairs Office of the Department of Agriculture, at 1-800-435-7352. They will share any negative reports, complaints, or problems about vehicle dealerships in your target area. Be sure to contact your Better Business Bureau, too. An even easier way to explore dealerships is to visit www.autotropolis.com/car.dealership. Just click on your state, then on your city or on the city where you'll be searching for your car, and a list of dealerships will appear. Most importantly, the website displays customer reviews of most dealerships - positive and negative. The reviews are written by people who have actually purchased vehicles from the dealership in question, so the information provided is invaluable to a would-be buyer.

Before you ever step onto the lot, know how much you can afford. What is the maximum monthly payment that your budget can handle? Exactly how much do you have for a down payment? Be firm. Don't let a smooth-talking salesman pressure you into a car you can't afford or don't really want. Get their best offer, then go to another dealership or two to compare prices. Be sure you understand what is and is not included in the price and warranty. With a warranty, the three big words are terms, coverage, and exclusions. Read everything carefully. Remember - the big print giveth, the small print taketh away. Don't sign anything under the influence of excitement while you're picturing yourself cruising down the highway in your new wheels. Take the papers home, read them thoroughly, and sleep on it. The car will still be there tomorrow. And if it isn't, there are probably hundreds more just like it.

One more thing to consider, make sure you understand if it's a purchase or a lease you're agreeing to. This might sound simple, but there are unscrupulous dealers who "trick" buyers into believing they're getting a great deal on the purchase price of a car, when in reality, the price is for a lease. They get the consumer all excited about the car, then at the last minute, when the papers are almost all signed, the dealer explains it's actually a lease. This happens all too often. It even happened to me several years ago.

If you're purchasing a used car, find out what it's really worth; don't just take the salesman's word. Visit the NADA Official Used Car Guide at www.nada.com, or the Kelly Blue Book at www.kbb.com. Also, find out if your state has a Lemon Law that covers previously-owned vehicles and protects consumers from shady dealers and shoddy automobiles. Some dealerships offer warranties with used cars, and some don't, so this is another important thing to think about.

Just remember that car dealers work on commission. They have to sell to survive. Caveat emptor, Latin for "let the buyer beware," certainly applies when shopping for a vehicle. My advice is to take the time to research not only the car itself, but even more importantly, the dealership. If you've done your homework and are truly a savvy shopper, then caveat venditor, "let the seller beware"!