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There’s a SoCal maxim that says you are what you drive. And thanks to today’s gajillion resources, you can educate yourself right into a great ride. It’s even kind of fun. So let’s begin with these easy tips for buying a car, shall we?

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Twenty20

1. Up, up, up your credit score
You should start this one early--as much as 6 months before you even want to get a new car. Pay your bills on time and pay down high balances. It’ll all help you get a better interest rate on a car loan.

2. Study up like your life depends on it
Use Auto Trader and Kelley Blue Book to know the “what” and “why” of the cars you like. Are you looking for a car with incredible mileage (hello, hybrid) or new tech (electric all the way then) or a higher driver profile (hiya, crossover SUV). This is the time to research all of your options.

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3. Know your price
For a new car, ignore paying too much attention to confusing and easily misconstrued numbers like the invoice price (what the dealer paid for the car) and the MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price). Instead, check TrueCar to see how much other buyers have paid for the same model you want, and use that as a starting point in your negotiations. For used cars, check out the resale price of the specific model the same way.

4. Research auto loans
Consider financing your car through your bank or credit union where you might get better rates than at the dealership.

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5. Test-drive
Shockingly, a full 10 percent of buyers don’t even try out their car before they buy. Don’t let that be you. Visit a couple dealerships, including one across town (prices can vary dramatically), drive a few cars, then go home and think about it. Your meh attitude will incentivize those commission-hungry salespeople.

6. Negotiate terms
Suggest a ridiculously low number, then negotiate up and meet somewhere (hopefully) in the middle.

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7. Buy based on purchase price, not monthly payments
Because if that low, low monthly goes on for five years, how much of a deal is it, really? 

8. Compare dealer offers against Internet sales
eBay Motors and Craigslist are great places to look for deals, because their profit is based on volume of cars they sell, not markup on individual autos. But be careful of online car sale scams: Never wire money, always speak on the phone and make sure the license plate/registration matches the seller’s name.

9. Shhh, about your trade-in--until the last minute
Negotiate as low of a price as you can and then tell the dealer you want to trade in your car. You want to nab a good deal first instead of being mislead that your trade-in discount is the best they can do.

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10. Don’t forget insurance
If you’re like us, you’ve had a few fender-benders. So your insurance payments aren’t super-cheap. Get an online quote from your current and an additional insurance company: Type in your address, driving history and proposed car model to see how much insuring your shiny new baby will cost.

11. Buy a car you can afford
The general rule of thumb is 20/4/10, which breaks down like so: A down payment of 20 percent, no more than 4 years to finance the car and all monthly expenses (principle, interest and insurance) shouldn’t be more than 10 percent of your gross income.

Looking to lease?

Here's some of the best lease deals for cheap.

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