National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Common Sense for Car Shoppers

BY Phil Lenahan

April 11-17, 2004 Issue | Posted 4/11/04 at 12:00 PM


Family Matters

Our family needs to replace an old car. Do you have any suggestions that will simplify the purchase process and ensure that we get the best deal?

With the cost of automobiles today, the need to replace an existing car creates a substantial impact on the budget of most families. Assuming you have already ruled out the purchase of a used car for valid reasons, there are a number of tips that will help you make a wise buying decision.

Your first step will be to determine which car you want to purchase. Chances are that, if you are buying a new car, you'll be looking for it to last a long time — so make sure you consider future needs. We are a good example of this as now, having seven children, we are finding that the minivans we have relied on for the last decade will no longer meet our needs.

The Internet can be an invaluable resource for information that will help you make your decision. But, based on my experience, the actual buying of a car through a website has a ways to go before it is completely effective and user-friendly. You can review product information online so that you can not only determine which vehicle will best suit your needs, but you can also “build” the car online with various options and begin to get a sense as to what it will cost you. I would encourage you to start your review at the actual sites of the manufacturers. It would also make sense to utilize reviews provided by independent groups such as Consumer Reports.

Once you have determined the brand, model and options you want, you can begin to get serious about finding the best deal for that particular car.

I encourage you to obtain pricing information from independent groups before you contact a dealer. When we purchased our new full-size van, I utilized the online (and free) services of I als.o purchased a new-car price report for our desired model from Consumer Reports for $12. This report was invaluable because it provided not only the dealer-invoice price but also what is called the Consumer Reports Wholesale Price, which shows you the amount of any rebates the dealer is expected to receive from the manufacturer.

Your next step is to contact a range of dealers in your area to let them know you are ready to purchase a car and to ask for their best offer. Once again, the website of the manufacturer comes in handy. Look for a “dealer locator” section. Here you can find those dealers closest to you. I noted contact information for the closest 15 and e-mailed a letter spelling out the details of the car I wanted, including options. Four dealers responded, and one of them had submitted what, in my view, was a fair offer. I then made an appointment with the dealer and we were done with the paperwork in less than an hour. It was nearly painless.

God love you!

Phil Lenahan is director of media and finance at Catholic Answers in El Cajon, California.