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How to Save Money on Cars and Tires

How to Save Money on Cars
Personal Finance

Do you dread the car-buying process? Me too. I’m more likely to drive a car into the ground and then get a new one, rather than needing a new shiny car every year. Because of that, I buy a car so infrequently that I forget how horrible an experience it can be. All the research is kind of fun, but the dealership? There’s not much help I can offer on that front, but what I can do is help you save money on cars and tires. I’ll even help you save on car essentials, like wiper blades and headlights.  

When to Buy a New Car

We can’t always plan when to buy our next car, but if you have the luxury to plan ahead, the best time of year to buy a new car is in October, November, and December because manufacturers and dealerships like to end the year with positive sales figures. This is also the time of year when most dealers want to unload the previous year’s models. 

In general, buying at the end of the month is better than at the beginning, because at the end of the month, sales teams are trying to make their quotas and will be more open to negotiating. 

Avoid busy weekends. Instead, try to go on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, which are slower days. You won’t have to wait as long and salespeople will be motivated to make a deal. 

There are usually sales over 3-day holiday weekends, but they can also be hectic with long wait times. To take advantage of the sale, but avoid sitting around for hours, go right when the dealership opens. The salespeople will be motivated to kick their day off with a sale.

Financing a Car

Want to minimize the time you spend at the dealership? Have pre-approved financing in place before you go! Plus, you’ll get better rates financing your car loan with a third party.

Car Negotiating Tips

Yes, you should be prepared to negotiate the price when you buy a car, whether it’s new or used. It’s a hassle – unless you enjoy that sort of thing – but if you don’t do it, you’re leaving money on the table.  

● Do your research online. Learn everything you can about the car’s various options, upgrades, and accessories. You’ll be better prepared for in-person negotiating. 

● If you plan to trade-in, be very aware of how much your car is worth before you head to the dealership. 

● Once you have a general idea of what kind of car you want, check the Kelley Blue Book Value so you know how much the car should cost.

● Call the seller/dealer ahead of time and ask all the questions you can think of to learn about their inventory, such as available models, and what kind of incentives they’re offering. If they don’t have what you’re looking for, it’ll save you the trip. 

● Once you get to the dealership, don’t be a jerk. It’s the right thing to do, but you’ll also have a more favorable outcome.  

● Don’t let the salesperson see that you are desperate, even if you are (if smoke is pouring out of your engine, park a few blocks away and walk). You won’t get any good deals if the salesperson senses that you need to purchase a car immediately. 

● Once you’re sitting at the sales desk, there will be a lot of numbers flying around. Take notes and have your phone’s calculator out so you can see the bottom line for yourself. I’ve heard stories about buyers saving thousands of dollars by catching a math error in the salesperson’s calculations.

● If you’re not happy with the end price, be prepared to walk away. 

Used Cars vs. Certified Pre-Owned vs. Off Lease

Used Cars

If you’re open to buying a used car, you’ll pay much less than if you purchased new. Plus, used cars are cheaper to insure. But you don’t want to take the salesperson’s word on whether it’s a good car or not. The Car Fax Report will tell you a lot, but if you can, pay a mechanic you trust – approximately $200 – for a Pre-Purchase Inspection so you know you’re not getting a lemon. And check the Lemon Laws in your state so you are aware of your rights in the event something goes wrong soon after your purchase.

Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Cars

You will pay more – sometimes as much as $2,000 – for a CPO Vehicle. That upcharge is for the factory’s inspection certification which is what qualifies the car as “Certified Pre-Owned” and typically includes an extended two-year warranty. It’s a topic of some debate whether that $2k is worth it for an inspection and an extended warranty. Here’s what Consumer Reports says about extended warranties. 

Off-Lease Cars

These cars are similar in quality to a CPO, but they cost less because they don’t have the factory “certified” inspection and warranties. 

Buying from Rental Car Companies

A side effect of the pandemic is that people are traveling less, and therefore, renting cars less. I’ve been hearing that rental car companies are looking to sell off some of their cars. Used rental cars are typically only 1-2 years old, but they might have high mileage, so be careful when choosing your car. They are also more likely to have wear and tear because renters aren’t as careful with a rental car as they would be with their own car. 

Sale prices are typically fixed, so if you hate negotiating, buying a used rental car can be a good bet! In many cases, you can “rent” the car for several days at a low rate as an extended test drive, which will be refunded if you decide to purchase the car.

Buying New Tires

When to Buy New Tires

For safety reasons, you should replace your tires every 5-10 years depending on how much you drive. When you have a routine inspection or service checkup, they’ll certainly tell you when you need new tires, but if you want to see for yourself, try the Michelin Tires “penny test”:  

  1. Pick a point on your tire where the tread is the lowest and put the penny with Lincoln’s head down into a groove.
  2. If any part of Lincoln’s head is covered by the tread, you’re driving with the legal and safe amount of tread. If your tread gets below that (approximately 1/16th of an inch), you should replace your tires.

Best times of the year to buy tires: April and October are best (before vacation and before winter). Tire manufacturers know this is when folks are looking to buy and they offer deals during these months. It’s best to buy all 4 tires at the same time. If only 1 or 2 of your tires are wearing down, you’ll need to have your tires balanced.

Where to buy tires: You’re better off shopping online for tires. You can price compare across manufacturers easily and have them shipped, in some cases for free, to a local installer. 

Tire deals: If you prefer to purchase tires in person, check online for available rebates and sales before heading out to make your purchase.

What tires to buy: If you’re looking for the most versatile tires, look for ”All-Season,” “Performance All-Season,” or “Ultra High Performance.”

Best Tire Brands

According to Car Talk, the Best Passenger Car Tires are:

● General – Best Car Tires for Overall Value

● Michelin – Best Car Tires for Overall Quality

● Pirelli – Best Passenger Car Performance Tires

● Goodyear – Best Car All Season Tires

● Vredestein – Best Cheap Car Tires

Saving Money on Car Essentials

Windshield Wiper Blades

Bosch and Michelin wiper blades get really good reviews. Check your owner’s manual for the exact size needed before purchasing. Extend the life of your windshield wiper blades by wiping them off occasionally with a damp paper towel with a little dish soap or window cleaner. Always replace both blades at the same time.

Headlights and Tail Lights

Check your owner’s manual to find out what type of lightbulb you need. Or failing that, simply go to your local auto-parts store and ask them for help. One helpful Auto Zone employee came outside, removed my old bulb, helped me find a new bulb; and then he installed the new bulb for me! 

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Smart Shopping Expert

Trae Bodge is an accomplished lifestyle journalist and TV commentator who has specialized in smart shopping, personal finance, and retail for more than a decade. She has appeared on TV over 1,000 times; including Today Show, GMA3, NBC Nightly News, Inside Edition, and network affiliates nationwide. She has been named a Top Voice in Retail by LinkedIn, and her expert commentary has appeared in Forbes, USNews.com, Kiplinger, Yahoo Finance, and numerous others.