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10 STEPS TO BUYING A NEW CAR

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Step 4: Do Your Research Online

What makes a new car the best new car for you?

With the incredible amount of data available, what specifically should you research? There are pricing and equipment options to consider, but what else should be of concern? Other important facts to discover include information about safety, quality and five-year cost of ownership. These ratings can help you achieve some needed peace-of-mind. Then, follow up by researching owner opinions and expert reviews.

Safety
There are two aspects of safety. One is called "passive safety," which concerns itself primarily with protection of the occupants in the event of a crash. For the most part, passive safety is the job of the car, although the occupants have the responsibility to use the seat belts. Features associated with passive safety include airbags, energy-absorbing crumple zones, seat-belt pretensioners, head-protection devices and the like. The other aspect is called "active safety," which concerns itself primarily with not having the crash in the first place. For the most part, active safety is the job of the driver, but certain important features on the car can help the driver avoid a crash. These features include such things as antilock brakes, traction control and stability control. For driving in bad weather or on slippery surfaces, all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive can also be considered as having a positive effect on active safety.

The relative importance of these features may vary based upon your driving style and where you drive. You can also check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Government 5-Star Safety ratings. These ratings will give you an idea of the relative performance levels of various cars and trucks in crashes, and an indication of how your prospective vehicle's safety features compare to those of others. In 2010, NHTSA will release updated, more rigorous safety standards and in 2011, NHTSA will begin promoting crash avoidance technologies as standard features as part of the new Government 5-Star Safety ratings. You can learn more about crash avoidance technologies on NHTSA's website.

Quality
An online analysis of how your favorite vehicles rate in quality can be a true eye-opener. Years ago, quality referred only to the absence of defects in a car. Now, research organizations, such as J.D. Power, have expanded their research analysis to cover positive aspects of new cars.

This valuable information is provided in the form of J.D. Power Circle Ratings. On the absence-of-defects side, sometimes described as "things gone wrong," you can find out how the car rates in mechanical, feature and accessory quality and the quality of the body and interior. For positive aspects of quality, known as "things gone right," you'll find ratings for performance, creature comforts and style. There's also a score for the dealership experience based on the J. D. Power "Customer Service Index."

Expert Opinions
Another way to gain confidence in your purchase is to spend some time reading what the experts have to say about your new vehicle. Reading the opinion of experts before the test drive serves many purposes: You can discover the strengths of the car's performance, see how the vehicle compares in its class and learn how the vehicle rides and performs on longer trips, or what it's like to drive around town.

Owner Opinions
The opinion of owners is also a valuable resource. With this tool you can discover how owners rate their new cars. A visit to the consumer review section of each vehicle pricing report on kbb.com will give you access to personal ratings and comments. After you purchase your car, you can submit a review of your own to help others make informed decisions.

Side-By-Side Comparisons
Finally, don't forget to run a side-by-side comparison of the vehicles you are considering and you will get another level of insight. Seeing horsepower, mileage, seating capacity, headroom, legroom and other specifications side-by-side helps you quickly identify which vehicles meet your specific needs.
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