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Whether you've got your eye on a $100,000 Tesla or a used station wagon for a fraction of that price, buying that car is likely to be one of the biggest purchases of your life. With the haggling and negotiating, it can be pretty scary. As part of our Money and Life series, NPR's Sonari Glinton has some advice. Don't call him.
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: I'm not really your typical car guy. I only got my first car five years ago. I was 37. But, hey, that hasn't kept me from doling out advice. When a friend calls me from a dealership, I say the same thing every time.
ZOE CLARK, BYLINE: Whatever you do today, do not buy. Let me do - actually let me do it like Sonari Glinton voice. It was like, whatever you do today, do not buy a car.
GLINTON: That's Zoe Clark, program director at Michigan radio. We used to share a cubicle. She couldn't resist. The very next Monday she came in driving a Chevy Cobalt. Now, that's a lemon that provoked one of the largest recalls in automotive history.
I gave our other seatmate, Jennifer White, who's now a host at WBEZ in Chicago what I thought was good advice at the time.
JENNIFER WHITE, BYLINE: I can't even say it out loud anymore without laughing. You need to look at the Jetta Sportswagen. And I think you're going to want to...
CLARK: That'd work out...
WHITE: ...Buy the Jetta Sportswagen.
CLARK: ...For you.
WHITE: (Laughter) That's how that worked out.
GLINTON: Which is...
CLARK: So moral of this story actually don't listen to Sonari.
WHITE: Don't call Sonari for advice (laughter).
GLINTON: It was a diesel, the car smack in the middle of VW's unprecedented cheating scandal. Hey, nobody's perfect. Jenn White says diesel-gate aside, she's learned...
WHITE: A car is not an impulse purchase, and that's actually something I've kept in my head. And I have repeated it to other people. So...
CLARK: Wait, so here's a question. Like, where do you turn for advice?
GLINTON: Well, Consumer Reports and IIHS are two nonprofits that score reliability and safety. There's also a gang of for-profit sites that will help you find a car and negotiate the price. There's a ton of options. Even Costco has a car buying program. We have more detailed information about all this at NPR.org.
At the dealership, though, the car salesman's job is to sell you a car today. They like to work on your primitive brain, says Camelia Kuhnen, a neuroeconomist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
CAMELIA KUHNEN: You might be told that you could get this one car. There's just one exactly like it may be on that lot. And you can get it but only today and only for this price. And if you don't act quickly, then you're not going to get this amazing deal.
GLINTON: Kuhnen says by spending more time in the car dealership, you grow attached to the car. You know, you touch it, you get in it, you begin to think that it's yours. That's called the endowment effect. Then they tell you it's scarce which makes you want it more because you're under this illusion that you need it for your survival.
KUHNEN: You can easily survive without that particular car at that particular dealership. But you see the brain is wired when it sees something rewarding to make you want to go get it.
GLINTON: Kuhnen's advice, take a strong-willed friend to the dealership, preferably someone who know something about money and somebody who hates debt.
MICHELLE SINGLETARY: I loathe debt. I mean, I loathe debt. I loathe it. And if debt was actually a person, I'd slap it.
GLINTON: Michelle Singletary is a syndicated personal finance columnist with The Washington Post. Her advice is if you can't pay cash for it, you probably shouldn't buy it. Definitely don't lease and if you have to finance, shop around. Now, not just at the dealer, check with your bank or your credit union. And most importantly, don't buy more than you need and pay it off early.
SINGLETARY: Then you've got three or four or five, six or seven years of saving three or four or $500 a month. So you've got to look at it like that, and not just look at the monthly payment.
GLINTON: It's rare that I get to offer advice as a reporter, but I feel pretty confident about this. Car companies make cars. Car dealers make deals. Neither of them are going to run out of deals or cars anytime soon. I told Zoe, and I'll tell you. You don't have to buy a car today, really you don't. Now, say that a couple hundred times the next time you're at a car dealership. Sonari Glinton, NPR News.
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