Are You Being Taken For A Ride?

African American buyers spend more than anyone for new or used cars. Why are we getting "shafted"? Here's how to fight back.

guidebooks such as Edmund’s Buyers Guide and the Kelley Blue Book have added Web sites to their information portfolio, complete with car specifications and buying guide information that browsers can scan. Not to be left out, software giant Microsoft has its own auto Web site, CarPoint ( Call Consumer Reports New Car Price Service (800-933-7700) for information on new cars; to get the price on used ones, call the service at 900-446-0500 (the cost is $1.75 per minute).

Some consumers are turning to credit unions when buying a car, not just for financing, but for one-stop shopping–from negotiating the best price to vehicle delivery. When Rose Pitt of Floral Park, New York, went shopping for a new car a few years ago, she sent her son to look for a 1992 Nissan Maxima or Stanza at three Long Island area dealers. “Every dealer was approximately the same, within $200-$250 of each other,” recalls Pitt. Her husband had a copy of the National Automobile Dealers Association’s (NADA) “blue book.” The publication, which is actually yellow-colored, appraises what vehicles are worth. All prices quoted were below sticker price.

Pitt had decided to buy a Stanza when she happened to get a newsletter in the mail from her credit union, highlighting a new service it offered called AutoAccess. “It was cited as a great way for women to buy a car because they had a trained person who would do the research for you,” says Pitt, who called the service and was assigned to a broker.

After she explained which cars she was interested in, the broker called back two days later with a price quote for a Stanza. “The price she quoted was a few hundred dollars over dealer cost,” remembers Pitt. The glitch was that the car was at a Nissan dealer in Peekskill, New York, about an hour’s drive north of New
York City. But that didn’t matter. After she called in her insurance information to the broker, the car was delivered to her home in Long Island, complete with registration and license plates. “I did everything over the phone; I never left my house,” she adds.

Whether you’re buying new, used or leasing, doing your homework is key to getting the best deal possible. But then how can you afford not to do your homework, considering that the average price of a car is $21,582, according to NADA. Payton suggests that you start your preparation at least six months ahead of when you plan to buy: “We could save thousands of dollars, if we just our research first.” Here’s a step-by-step approach.

Set a budget. Before wasting your time and everyone else’s, determine how much you can afford to spend. Creditworthiness is a major factor when purchasing a car. Generally, auto dealers assume African Americans are not as creditworthy as white buyers. If you plan to finance your purchase, decide how much of a down payment and monthly car note you can afford. As a rule of thumb: your total debt

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