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There are almost as many ways to buy a car as there are automakers. What are your options and which one is right for you?

The Internet

Best suited for: Web-savvy consumers and anyone who likes research. This shopping method can be combined with others. For example, you could do some research online before heading out to a dealership, or you could use the Internet to track down the used car you're looking for and then meet with the seller in person. A good website to start with is AutoSMART. With AutoSMART, you can research new cars, find a new or used car, and even apply for a low-rate auto loan from Northeast Credit Union. You can also click here to locate a Northeast Credit Union dealer partner.

Pros: The popularity of this option speaks for itself. According to a study conducted by J.D. Power and Associates, over 80% of all new-car buyers turned to the Web for automotive information. Information about car prices, reliability and availability is increasingly easy to get and often comes without a sales pitch.

Cons: The choices can be overwhelming -- there are more than a hundred online car-buying services, and that doesn't include the sites that feature only information or advice (not auto listings). Each site offers the information a little differently, so go slowly and explore several sites before deciding which one you're most comfortable with and if this option works for you.

Dealerships

Best suited for: Those who like face-to-face sales contact and are comfortable with negotiations.

Pros: At a dealership, you get to see, touch and test-drive the vehicles. If you'll be using that dealership's service department, you can size it up and talk to the employees.

Cons: Dealers have been known to waste shoppers' time with annoying sales tactics. You may not get the straight story (unbiased, accurate information about cars). Unless you've done an impressive amount of research beforehand and know how to negotiate, you may not get the best deal either.

Used Car Lots

Best suited for: People with some automotive knowledge and those who prefer face-to-face contact and are comfortable with haggling.

Pros: The advantage of buying a used car from a dealer rather than a private seller is the disclosures that have to be given. The Federal Trade Commission requires that used-car dealers provide you with a buyers guide that gives you important information about the car you're considering.

Cons: Sales personnel may be more concerned with making a deal than with helping you make the right decision. It's best to know exactly what you're looking for, and it helps to know something about cars so that you can spot anything that looks questionable.

Private Sellers

Best suited for: People with some automotive knowledge and those comfortable with haggling but who dislike dealing with professional car sales personnel.

Pros: You learn the car's history directly from the seller. If anything goes wrong with the car or you have general questions, you know whom to contact. The absence of a slick sales pitch holds a lot of appeal.

Cons: You don't really know what you're buying unless you obtain a very thorough mechanic's assessment beforehand. Going to see the car can be an unsafe proposition.

Display Service

Best suited for: People with some automotive knowledge and those who dislike dealing with professional car sales personnel.

Pros: As the name implies, cars are on display and there is a no-nonsense approach to selling them. Interested parties check out the keys to the car they like, test-drive the vehicle, and contact the private seller directly with questions about the car's history. Sales staff are unobtrusive and exert no buying pressure. Unlike a true private seller situation, seeing a car at a display service poses no more of a safety concern than going to a dealership or used-car lot.

Cons: Because you're essentially in a private seller situation, you don't really know what you're buying unless you obtain a mechanic's assessment.

Now that you know your way around the car-buying world, hit the road and explore your options. When you're ready to buy, let Northeast Credit Union put you in the driver's seat with a low-rate auto loan.