4 websites for virtually kicking the tires

By Reid Kanaley The Philadelphia Inquirer

The hard winter may have slowed car sales. So, if you’re in the market, there might be more good deals out there than usual in the coming weeks. Before hitting the lots, check out these sites.

“Confessions of a Car Salesman,” at the Popular Mechanics site, is labeled “anonymous” but has the ring of truth in it. The question-and-answer post explains, for example, that the salesman really must go talk to the manager on every deal, because — in addition to the odd psychology of car dealing — the manager holds all the cards and typically keeps information from the salesman on the bottom-line price for any given car on the lot. Usually, he says, “it’s the hard-core hagglers that get the best prices.” But “I’ve seen some customers win by being the nice guy. They let you know how much they can afford, and you actually want to work with them.” tinyurl.com/PMCarConfessions

Edmunds.com offers an “upfront pricing” option for car buyers who don’t want to haggle. The process can present you with offers from nearby dealers, and even make an appointment with a salesman. A page of calculators helps you decide what you can afford, estimate loan or lease payments, and see the real cost difference between taking a low-interest loan and a “cash-back” car deal. The “gas guzzler trade-in calculator” estimates fuel cost savings between one car and another. For any car you’re interested in, a link on the calculator page will estimate repair costs and display recall notices and technical service bulletins. edmunds.com

Used-car shoppers should consider using a service like Carfax to find out if a vehicle that looks like a cream puff is fresh, or rotten, on the inside. Carfax uses license number and state, or vehicle identification number, to uncover service records, including accident reports, major repairs, mileage, multiple owners, evidence the air bags ever deployed, warranty and recall information, and other factoids to ease your mind, warn you off, or provide ammo for dickering. The cost is $40 for one report, $50 for five, or $55 for a month of unlimited use of the service. carfax.com

Women, especially, should buy their cars online, according to this post at Slate.com. Writer Libby Copeland raves about her experience: “There was no being ignored when I walked in the door, as when I visited one near-empty dealership, nor any invitation to bring my husband along for my next visit, as when I visited another. And there was no subtle social pressure, real or imagined, to be conciliatory instead of assertive, which I’ve certainly felt in the past while haggling, and which women tend to feel more than men.” tinyurl.com/WomenBuyOnline