No feeling is like the thrill and satisfaction of driving off a lot in a brand new car--one that meets all of your needs, while also reflecting your own signature style. But for many, getting to that moment is a very challenging process. What should be an exciting experience is made daunting by countless options and complicated paperwork that can leave shoppers feeling like they're in over their heads.

Luckily, you can avoid that feeling if you're well prepared and know what's ahead. That means comparing new models, finding out what your budget can accommodate and knowing how to close the deal--in short, all the research such an important purchase demands. Whether you're a first time buyer or are just looking for some extra help, this is a good first stop on the way to your new car.

New Model Research: Don't Go Anywhere

When you're researching models, almost everything you need can be found right on your computer. Just examine your own personal driving habits and vehicle needs, and then tap into the Internet's vast supply of automotive information. Not only will this save you loads of time and gas money, but you'll have the luxury of deciding when you're ready to buy.

Before you dive in, ask yourself some key questions to determine your desired body style. Do you need the towing capacity and toughness of a truck? Or something more family friendly, which will fit your kids' needs as well as yours? Or maybe the circumstances are finally right to buy that convertible you've always wanted. You can research your options in detail right here at AutoTrader.com.

Now would also be a good time to look at the differences in models of your preferred style. Here are some things to study that may help you build your short list:

  • New car reviews
  • Safety reports
  • Invoice pricing information
  • Gas mileage estimates
  • Cargo room
  • Engine and transmission options

Also, find out what comes standard on the models you like and which features costs extra. Are there options you can live without? You will often get a better deal if you choose a car already on a dealer's lot. If you have a particular manufacturer in mind, its website will provide comprehensive information about the latest models. Additionally, many dealerships use AutoTrader.com to showcase every car on the lot.

Money Matters

Once you've decided on the models you'd like to test drive, you still have some work to do before heading to the dealership. In particular, you should outline all the expenses that come with car buying and ownership, so you know exactly what to be prepared for. This part of the process is especially useful for first time car buyers, who may be so focused on the ultimate goal that they let key details slip by.

With Road Loans, you can choose the best loan for you within minutes from up to four lenders. Plus get tips and advice on securing the best loan.

If you have a current car to sell, you should also make an early decision about how you're going to do that. Trading in to the dealership is certainly the most convenient route, but you will likely make more money if you sell your car privately. If the latter sounds like a better option, visit our Sell Your Car section for guidance on placing an ad on AutoTrader.com. Even if you're committed to trading your current car into the dealership, remember to keep that number separate from negotiations on the price of your new car; one should not affect the other.

Make the Most out of Your Test Drive

There are a number of things you can do to make the most out of your limited time test driving a vehicle. Here are some questions you should be asking yourself during a test drive:

  • Does the vehicle have enough head and leg room for everybody who will regularly ride in it?
  • Does it have the acceleration you're looking for?
  • Does it slow smoothly when you brake?
  • How does it feel on bumpy roads?
  • Are the interior controls and displays easily accessible and readable?

Dealership Tips

Once you have an impression of what you're looking for, it's time to search for the right dealership. It's a good idea to make phone or email contact initially, to get a feel for the dealership and schedule a test drive. A phone call goes a long way to finding out if you'll be dealing with the courteous and patient salesperson you need to help with your big purchase.

You'll want to bring along much of the information you've already collected including:

  • Your credit report
  • Several price quotes and the invoice price for your chosen model
  • Car loan pre-approval information
  • Insurance quotes for your chosen model
  • Extended warranty quotes to compare to the dealer's warranty
  • Pricing information about your used car, if you're considering a trade-in

It may be tempting to drive away in the first car you like, but you should be prepared to take all the time you need to make a confident decision. Patience is a major key to getting a great deal.

Time to Negotiate

Make sure you can stay informed and comfortable during the negotiation process; bringing other new car price quotes will make things easier.The car's invoice price is also valuable information when determining an initial offer. Don't be afraid to make a low offer and try to move up in small increments--if you have a price ceiling preset, don't budge from it.

Dealerships are required by law to have a window sticker displaying the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) on every new car. However, this should have nothing to do with your baseline offer, and the dealer should be able to spell out the purpose of every single fee. You should never be confused about anything on your bill of sale. And when you finally decide on a price, keep in mind that putting more money down up front will do more to save you money in the long run than getting a lower rate.

If at any point you don't have a good feeling about your negotiation, don't be afraid to walk out the door, but hopefully you won't have to. Everybody negotiates their own way, and having a breakdown of every fee and bringing along your ample Internet research will put you well on your way to a good deal. Knowledge is power!

Close the Deal

After another inspection of your new car and a thorough examination of all the paperwork, you'll finally be ready to drive away with confidence--both because you got a good deal and because you have the peace of mind of a new car warranty. It's important to get everything you've been promised in writing. You've come this far and you should leave nothing to chance. And after you've done that, you can finally focus on what really matters: driving away in new car.

author photo

Brian Moody heads up the AutoTrader.com editorial team. An automotive writer and presenter for more than 12 years, he's contributed to such media outlets as CNBC, Edmunds.com, Fox Business, Speed TV and The Today Show.

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