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Fifteen minutes. According to a television ad for a local car dealership that's all it takes to drive away in a new ride! What a deal! You're in a hurry? No need to waste time on those troublesome details. Just drop in and drive out in a new car. What could be easier?
When I see a TV commercial, especially one that runs frequently, I have to assume that the advertiser knows what they're doing. If an ad doesn't generate results, they'll stop running it. So, in this case, the dealer must be finding some people who come in for a "15 minute deal."
I just purchased a new car. And it took a lot longer than 15 minutes. There's a good reason for that. I wanted to make a decision that I wouldn't regret in the months and years to come. My last car was purchased when it was a year old and driven for nearly eight years.
Let's walk through the steps I took in buying new wheels. They'll work on other purchases as well. Financial decisions, too. What can we learn from the process?
I've been considering a newer car for almost two years. Working up to a buying decision is good exercise. It allows you to decide whether you really need to make the purchase at all. It also allows you to think of yourself driving and using different types of vehicles. You can calmly decide whether you need the towing capability of an SUV or the fuel efficiency of a hybrid. In my case, I needed to decide whether seating for two was sufficient. I decided I wanted something bigger.
I spent time comparing the different models that might interest me. Went to various websites to read the reviews and reliability reports (www.edmunds.com and www.kbb.com). I test drove the three models that looked most promising.
For most major purchases, we have a large variety to choose from. And, we have many sources of information. If you're not sure where to look, just do a search on the type of product and the word "reviews." Or go to the library and find the issue of Consumer Reports that compares that type of product.
It took some time to do the comparisons. Valuable time. But whether you're buying a car, a washing machine or choosing where to invest your 401k, you'll live with your decision for a long time. A few hours now could prevent headaches later. It's a fact that most problems with major purchases are very hard to solve after the purchase. It's much, much easier to prevent them before cutting a deal.
I researched the cost of the new car and the value of my old one. Used the Internet to get pricing from a number of dealers in the general area (within 50 miles). Then I used the Internet pricing as a lever in negotiating with my local dealer. You'd be surprised how flexible dealers can be if you have an alternative to their offer. Especially near the end of the month.
There's no reason not to get competitive pricing today. Even if you have no intention of buying a dishwasher over the net, you can still find the lowest online price and take it to your local store for negotiating purposes.
If you're financing part of the purchase, collect and compare various loan offers. If it's a term loan, make sure you understand what happens if you want to prepay it. Compare rates. A 1% difference in a $20,000, five year car loan amounts to $600 over the life of the loan.
Let's see. If I only had 15 minutes which steps could I have safely skipped? The correct answer? None of them. So maybe the best answer is not to see how fast you can buy a car. Maybe the best answer is to make sure you make the effort necessary to arrive at a good decision. One that you won't regret in a year or two.
The most common question I get is from people who want to get out of a car or truck that they shouldn't have bought. And, for the most part, they've dug themselves a pretty deep hole. Often the only way out is to throw thousands of dollars at the problem or live with it for quite awhile. Wouldn't it have been better to avoid the problem when the vehicle was purchased?
Some things just don't change. John Ray's A Collection of English Proverbs (1678) includes this: "Haste makes waste, and waste makes want, and want makes strife between the goodman and his wife." When the average car loan lasts more than five years (according to The Power Information Network), can you really afford to buy a car in 15 minutes?
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report and he's a regular contributor to US News Money and CreditCards.com. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+.
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