How to Get the Best Price on a New Car

I fear the time has come for me to bid farewell to my trusty, but aging, Subaru. Like most people, I’m not thrilled by the prospect of shopping for a new car even though my last experience was relatively painless. I’d researched makes and models, so I knew what I wanted. And I’d bought in September, the month when new models generally come out, so I was able to get the previous year’s model at a good price. On top of that, I found a dealership with a no-haggle policy, which relieved some of the pressure. But I certainly could have gotten a better price if I knew then what I know now.

Here’s what I should have done — and how you can get the best price on your next new car.

Study up online first

First, decide what models you’re interested in. Think of what will fit your lifestyle (SUV, sedan, minivan, truck), and then check online quality and safety ratings to narrow it down. To find a model that suits your budget, you can compare different manufacturer suggested retail prices (MSRP). But those are only “suggested” prices — the actual price can vary. If a dealer has too much inventory, they may offer a price below MSRP, and if demand is high, the vehicle may go for more than its MSRP.

To get a better idea of what you can expect to pay, use an online pricing tool to look up the dealer cost of the vehicle. Kelley Blue Book’s Fair Purchase Price aggregates data from thousands of transactions to tell you a model’s current average selling price, while the Edmunds Price Promise(SM) will give you a guaranteed, up-front price on a car at a local dealer within their network.

Optional equipment can jack up the price of a new car substantially. To find out if your desired features will break the bank, go to the automaker’s website and build your car online. You’ll see how adding a seat warmer or cruise control will affect the cost (plus, it’s fun!).

Finally, if you’re trading in your old car, it’s important to know how much it’s worth. You can look up its wholesale or trade-in value online at Kelley Blue Book or the National Automobile Dealers Association.

Look for incentives

Manufacturers often use cash rebates or low interest rates to stimulate sales. Find out if deals are being offered on the model you’re considering and take advantage. Special financing may only be available to buyers with excellent credit, though, so it’s wise to call the dealership first to see if you qualify. Getting pre-approved for a loan can also simplify negotiations at the dealership.

Choose the right time of year

You’ll find the best deals during periods when inventory is high and/or showroom traffic is low. Late September is good because dealerships are usually flooded with new models and face a post-summer slowdown in customers. But the prime time to shop is late December. While would-be customers are busy with Christmas activities, dealers are hit with a trifecta of sales pressures: they need to clear out last year’s models, they may need to reduce their inventories by year’s end for tax reasons, and they usually have annual quotas to reach in order to get their bonuses. This tends to put them in a deal-making frame of mind.

In general, you want to be shopping when everyone else isn’t — weekdays, rainy days, the mid-winter doldrums. If you can’t wait until the end of the year, dealers also have monthly quotas to fill, so the end of any month can yield savings.

Skip the dealership and buy online

If you’re tech savvy (as our readers usually are), why not forgo the pressure of the dealership and purchase your car virtually? Many dealerships now have internet sales departments that let you handle most of the purchase process online or over the phone. One example is General Motors’s new Shop-Click-Drive tool, which enables shoppers to get price estimates, review incentives, select vehicle features, and apply for financing, all online.

Negotiate like a champ

Before starting any negotiations, find out if the exact model you want is in stock. A dealer may be able to trade another dealership for your model, but you’ll probably get a better deal on a car they can sell you today.

If and when you do start haggling, keep the various parts of the negotiation (price, trade-in, and financing) separate. Use the research you did earlier to get the best possible deal on each. Settle on price first and then talk trade-in value and financing.

Ultimately, be ready to walk away. A dealer’s first offer is almost never their best or final offer, even if they tell you they can’t go lower. Be firm on what you’re willing to pay, and if you feel pressured or the dealer tries to raise a previously quoted price, head for the door. Most likely, the dealer will respond with a better offer.

Next step: get the best price on car insurance

Once you’ve scored a great deal on your new ride, make sure it’s properly protected with a reliable car insurance policy. We’ll help you find the best rate.

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Is Driving Hungover Worse Than Driving Drunk?

We’ve often discussed the dangers of drunk driving in this blog and for good reason — according to recent stats from the CDC, alcohol is a factor in nearly 1 out of 3 traffic fatalities. With the holiday season upon us, it’s important to remember not to drive if you’ve been imbibing. But new studies indicate that driving hungover might not be a good idea either.

Hungover drivers are inattentive drivers

Researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands found that hungover drivers were more impaired than a driver with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05. For the study, each of the nearly 50 volunteers consumed 10 drinks and then underwent simulated driving tests the next day when their BAC was back to zero. Overall, they showed significant lapses in alertness and increases in erratic behavior such as weaving.

A smaller study by the University of the West of England had similar results. Drivers tested the morning after a night of heavy drinking showed poor reaction times, had trouble maintaining a steady speed, and made substantially more driving errors.

These findings echo a 2008 study by Brunel University in Uxbridge, England. Hungover participants in those tests drove faster, left their lanes more frequently, and committed twice as many violations like running stop signs or red lights. The researchers felt sleep deprivation, dehydration, and low blood sugar levels all played a role.

So, what’s the solution if you want to indulge? Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as just sobering up. The best plan is to designate a driver, take a cab, or ride public transit. And if you must drive the next day, wait a while. Take your party hosts out to breakfast, or arrange a late checkout at your hotel so you can get plenty of sleep.

A wake-up call about sleep deprivation

Late nights, hectic schedules, long drives to visit family, fewer hours of daylight — the holiday season is filled with reasons for feeling groggy, even if you didn’t drink the night before. Though it doesn’t usually get the same attention as driving under the influence, recent reports show that drowsy driving is a serious problem. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association estimates it’s the cause of over 100,000 accidents (and around 1,550 fatalities) each year. And a recent AAA study found that 30 percent of surveyed drivers had driven while drowsy within the previous month.

Drowsy driving can happen at any time of day. Often, drivers don’t realize how tired they are when they first get in the car, and the monotony of driving can easily lull people into a sleepy state. If you start to nod off, find a safe place to pull over and rest. It’s also a good idea to take a break every few hours on long drives, try not to drive at times you would usually be sleeping, and avoid driving alone if possible (or, even better, share the driving with an alert passenger).

So, if you’ve been burning the candle at both ends or you made a bit too merry last night, be sure you’re really ready to get behind the wheel. And however you plan to celebrate, have a safe, happy, and restful holiday season!

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6 of America’s Most Spectacular Holiday Displays

Every neighborhood has its Griswolds — the family that cleans Walmart out of colored lights and nearly drains the power grid in their quest to make things festive. When I was a kid, our local holiday display champ was the house with the 12-foot illuminated snowman and equally massive Santa on their lawn. Another neighbor turned their whole home’s façade into a replica of “It’s a Small World” from Disneyland.

I thought those decorations were pretty impressive, until some family friends who lived near Pasadena, California took me to Upper Hastings Ranch — with themed block after themed block ablaze with lights — and I realized that my neighbor’s giant Frosty was pretty small potatoes.

To help you get in the seasonal spirit, here are 6 of the biggest, most awe-inspiring holiday displays around the country.

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Pasadena, CA: Upper Hastings Ranch “Holiday Light Up,” Dec 7-Jan 1

This northeast Pasadena neighborhood started its holiday decorating tradition in the early 1950s. Each block has a theme (reindeer, snowmen) that’s decided by the block captains every year, and plywood icons placed in front of each house announce the themes to visitors. As I recall, the residents really go to town.

Altadena, just north of Pasadena, is also famous for its Christmas Tree Lane, a mile-long stretch of road lined with deodar trees that are strung with 10,000 lights each year. Dating from 1920, it’s the oldest display of its kind in the U.S.

Brooklyn, NY: Dyker Heights “Dyker Lights,” Nov 30-Dec 31

For over 25 years, residents of this neighborhood have been trying to top each other’s extravagant displays — some even have their decorations professionally installed. Around 150,000 people come to Dyker Heights each year to gape at motorized toy soldiers, towering nutcrackers, and talking Santas, not to mention thousands and thousands of lights. The neighborhood (83rd to 86th Streets between 11th and 13th Avenues) is nearly a mile from the closest subway stop, so it’s best to drive or take a bus or bike tour.

Saint Augustine, FL: “Nights of Lights,” Nov 23-Feb 2

This holiday celebration traces its origins to the Spanish Christmas tradition of placing a white candle in the window. The Nights of Lights festivities begin with a Light-Up Celebration at the historic Plaza de la Constitution (which is decorated with 3 million lights). The weeks to follow offer a candlelight march and Christmas parade, a Regatta of Lights with brightly decorated boats of all varieties, Luminary Night at the St. Augustine Lighthouse (featuring thousands of luminarias), and a Surf Illumination around the ocean pier.

Richmond, VA: “100 Miles of Lights,” late Nov-early Jan

Richmond and the surrounding towns of Williamsburg, Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Virginia Beach all get merry with holiday events like GardenFest at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and the James River Parade of Light. Maps are also available for the self-guided Tacky Light Tour, featuring the most outrageously decked-out houses in the region.

Branson, MO: “Ozark Mountains Christmas,” Nov 1-Dec 31

This historic town gets into the season in a major way with 2 drive-through displays. The Trail of Lights winds through a 160-acre homestead and features various themed “lands” of animated characters. The Festival of Lights, located near Highway 76 (aka the Branson Strip), is a mile-long stretch with over 175 illuminated displays. Silver Dollar City, a nearby theme park, also joins the action with their annual festival “An Old Time Christmas,” which dazzles the eye with over 5 million lights.

Pigeon Forge, TN: “Smoky Mountain Winterfest,” Nov 5-Feb 28

Not just limited to the holiday season, this festival offers a full calendar of winter activities in Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Gatlinburg, and small towns throughout the region. Winter parades, crafts fairs, fireworks, a chili cookoff, cowboy poetry, and imaginative 3-D light displays make for months of cold-weather fun.

If you’re planning a road trip to check out one of these extravaganzas (or just plan to view the local colors), be sure you’ve got the right car insurance. Stop-and-go traffic plus winter weather plus gaping at lights can be a recipe for fender benders.

What are your favorite holiday displays?

Are there any famous, stupendous, or spectacularly tacky holiday displays where you live? Do you decorate your place in a big way for the holidays? Tell us about it!

Helpful holiday tips

If you’re headed out of town for the holidays, don’t forget to prepare your home before departing. Read about 6 reasons to winterize your home (and how to do it), and brush up on safety tips for hosts and travelers alike.

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5 Snowmobile Safety Tips You’ve Never Considered

Ah, winter’s just about here. And with it, the time to uncover your snowmobile for a new season of wind-chapped wonder!

We know you don’t need another lecture on the dangers of riding your winter cruiser (rocketing through snow at frigid temps isn’t exactly like going to Book Club — you already know these thrills come with real risks). And you don’t need another batch of common-sense clichés (“wear a helmet,” “be careful in the dark,” etc.).

What you can use, however, are some snowmobile safety tips you may not have considered. And, as it so happens, we’ve got 5 of those in mind.

5 ways to improve your snowmobile safety

1. Take care of snowmobile maintenance

Half the battle for snowmobile safety is won before you hit the powder — and there’s more to it than just filling the gas and squeegeeing the windshield.

At the start of riding season, give your snowmobile a comprehensive check: replace spark plugs and filters, clean and charge the battery, and top off all fluids. As you continue to ride, keep up with your key snowmobile maintenance tasks by inspecting the brakes, lubricating the chassis, and aligning the skis every few weeks.

2.  Make like a motorcyclist

By this, we don’t mean ditching your skis, donning a leather jacket, and sending in audition tapes to Sons of Anarchy. (Although, you’re not prohibited from doing so.)

Instead, we suggest following the motorcycle safety acronym for survival: SIPDE.

  • Scan your field of vision constantly and don’t let your eyes fix on any point for too long.
  • Identify hazards well in advance.
  • Predict the worst at all times so you’re not caught off guard — for instance, if you’re on a trail at dusk, assume a deer will leap across. Or, if you see another snowmobiler headed toward you, assume it’s up to you to steer out of the way.
  • Decide on a plan of action before hazards are close.
  • Execute your plan.

These tips translate perfectly from the road to the snow and can help you condition your response system to work lighting fast.

3. Stay loose

Statues are meant for museums, not trails. If you tense up while riding, your snowmobile is likely to plow straight ahead (which, unless you’re on the world’s most boring trail, can be dangerous).

In order to keep your snowmobile flexible, you need to stay limber. To make a turn, look where you want to go and turn your entire head in that direction. You can also train yourself to shift your lower body around the sled. For many riders, their natural inclination is to use their arms to change course when really it’s the legs that can best dictate your snowmobile’s path.

4. Avoid frozen water

Listing what is safe about frozen lakes or rivers would be faster than listing what isn’t, but we’ll do it anyway. In a nutshell, nearly every nasty riding condition is waiting on the water — a lack of traction, unforgiving falls, unpredictable patterns from other snowmobilers, the threat of cracking ice (remember, ice thickness is rarely uniform, so a foot-deep layer can become an inch deep in no time).

While some riders still choose to take their chances on the ice, the safest bet is to turn around and head the other way.

5. Use a buddy (or satellite) system

Ideally, of course, this would mean riding with at least one other person so you can keep an eye on each other. If, however, your usual snowmobiling sidekicks are unavailable, map out your route ahead of time and leave it with friends or family back home.

And, if you really want to keep loved ones in the loop, you might even consider investing in a GPS messenger, which lets you send texts and connect to your social networks (even in remote corners with no society in sight). Best of all, in the event of a crash, a GPS messenger transmits a direct signal to rescue centers from your exact location, giving you and those who care about you complete peace of mind.

Bonus tip: take a snowmobile safety course

Obviously, a snowmobile safety course will help you ride more confidently. So how is that advice much of a bonus? Well, it’s not. The bonus part comes when you snag a snowmobile insurance discount for being such a responsible rider!

Grab a snowmobile insurance quote to see if you qualify. And, if you have snowmobile safety tips of your own, share them in the comments below.

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Must-Read Holiday Safety Tips for Your Home

Nothing sets the holiday mood like twinkling lights, flickering candles, and a tree with all the trimmings. But, if you’re not careful, those twinkles can turn into dangerous blazes. According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), home fires involving Christmas trees and holiday lights result in roughly $25.2 million in direct property damage each year.

But don’t despair — you can enjoy your adornments and stay safe too. Here are some easy-to-follow holiday safety tips to help you spread cheer the smart way.

Holiday safety tips

Christmas trees

Christmas trees cause hundreds of holiday fires. The reason? A dry tree makes for perfect kindling.

Here’s how you can keep your tree fresh.

Select a recently cut tree: 

  • Look for needles that are green and bendable and a trunk that’s sticky and sappy.
  • Avoid trees with brown needles or needles that break easily.
  • Check the freshness by standing the tree upright and bouncing it on its trunk. If the tree is freshly cut, only a few needles will fall.

Once you bring the tree home:

  • Choose an appropriate location for it away from heat sources like fireplaces, heating vents, or space heaters.
  • Cut the base of the trunk immediately before placing it in the tree stand to help it absorb water. (And never leave a tree standing in its temporary wooden stand.)
  • Check the water levels daily and replace water as needed.
  • Keep your tree for only 2 to 3 weeks to avoid having it dry out. When you’re ready to dispose of the tree, check with your local waste services department to find out where to take it. (Many cities offer recycling as an option, and some will pick it up curbside).

Holiday lights and candles

According to the USFA, electrical fires are most common in December and January.

To safely decorate your home or tree:

  • Use ultra-violet (UV) lights approved by a testing laboratory.
  • Make sure the light bulb wattage matches the cord’s requirements.
  • Inspect all indoor and outdoor lights before hanging.
  • Replace any lights that have frayed cords, exposed wires, and broken or cracked sockets.
  • Never use a light strand with an empty socket.
  • Limit the connected light strands to 3. Connecting more strands of lights may overwork the outlet.
  • Check wires regularly for hot spots. If you feel a hot spot, unplug the cord immediately.
  • Don’t lay electrical cords under rugs or in high-traffic areas.
  • Ensure all electrical cords and outlets are unobstructed by curtains, clothes, and other decorations.
  • Never leave the lights on unattended. Unplug them before you leave the house and when you go to bed.

To minimize the dangers of candles:

  • Consider using battery-operated candles that don’t require a lit flame.
  • Place candles in stable and appropriately sized holders that are made of metal, glass, or ceramic.
  • Don’t place anything that can burn within 12 inches of a candle.
  • Avoid placing candles in high-traffic areas, within reach of children or pets, in the bedroom, near or on a Christmas tree, below curtains, in window areas, on bookshelves, or near medical oxygen.
  • Double-check that your smoke alarms work and review your family’s emergency plan.
  • Never leave burning candles unattended. Blow them out after use and before you go to bed.

With these tips in tow, you can deck the halls to your heart’s content. One final tip: for added peace of mind this holiday season, make sure you have a homeowners or renters policy that has your back.

Do you have an additional holiday safety tip? Leave a comment below.

Special thanks to our guest writer Darcie Connell of You can follow her travels on Facebook, Twitter, and Google.

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