Car Buying

Research shows that women are the fastest growing segment of car buyers, accounting for more than 50 percent of new-car purchases and influencing 80 percent of them. But while the Internet has definitely helped women come into dealerships armed and ready with information, an ongoing study by Frost & Sullivan found that between 50 and 70 percent of women customers were dissatisfied with their cars, and three out of four women felt misunderstood by car companies.
"In many ways, it's an old game with a new face," says Jen Drexler, senior vice president at Insight Strategy Group , a research and strategy firm in New York City. "So while there is more technology at a woman's disposal, the dealer hasn't changed much in how they approach female customers."
When it comes to shopping for an automobile, buyers of both genders make mistakes that can cost them time and money (See "The 11 Biggest Mistakes Car Shoppers Make." ) But there are a few missteps that a woman is more likely to make, according to interviews with shopping experts and women who sell cars for a living. These mistakes can put a woman at a disadvantage during the buying process. Here are the eight biggest pitfalls women should avoid to ensure a deal that works best for them, according to our outside experts and the consumer-advice team at
Mistake No. 1: She thinks she needs a man to help her with the process.
Every woman has heard the warnings: Walk into a dealership alone and you're going to get taken for a ride (and we're not talking about the test-drive).
The solution: Self-confidence. Women are very able to shop without men at their sides. In fact, when it comes to researching and negotiating, women are often more prepared than their male counterparts.
"Women can definitely feel confident flying solo during the car buying process," says Drexler. "They have all the information they could need from sites like Edmunds — and women are actually excellent negotiators. We just need to have the confidence to believe we can do it alone."
If you're at all hesitant to visit a dealership solo, bring a " wingman " — and that person doesn't have to be male. If you have a friend or family member who is especially good at reviewing contracts, have her look over your paperwork before you close any deals.
Finally, dealership reviews can help shoppers weed out places that might not be female-friendly.
Mistake No. 2: She gets too attached to one salesperson.
"Women are more relationship-oriented; we're not just all about the deal," says Tammy Darvish, executive vice president of business development and government and community affairs for the Pentagon Federal Credit Union ( PenFed ). Until her move to PenFed, Darvish was vice president of her family's business,  Darcars Automotive Group  in Silver Spring, Maryland. "The end result is that we're sometimes willing to pay more to close a deal with someone who provided a more comfortable transaction."
The solution: First and foremost, this is a business transaction, so don't focus on the relationship at the expense of the deal. Most of us (male or female) would like to have a comfortable, stress-free car-buying experience. If the price of that is $100 more than you wanted to pay, no big deal. But you shouldn't hang onto a relationship with a salesperson if it's going to cost you thousands of dollars.
Shop around for the best deal. Comparing quotes from three dealerships' Internet departments will typically yield the best price and provide you with some back-up offers if you need them. You also can use Edmunds Price Promise SM to quickly get guaranteed, up-front prices on a specific car without any haggling.
Finally, a benefit of shopping via the Internet is that it's much easier to ask for a better price or reject an offer you don't like when you're not doing it face to face.

Mistake No. 3: She's often too forgiving when mistakes are made.
According to Darvish, women are more likely to let mistakes slide, even if they could potentially cost them money in the end. The errors that happen may be unintentional. But some dealerships or salespeople lowball shopper trade-ins, or fail to disclose all of a deal's fees . If there are last-minute changes in a lease agreement and the female shopper doesn't call them out because she doesn't want to seem pushy, it's money out of her wallet.
The solution: Ask for a breakdown of fees and the "out-the-door" price of the car and review that paperwork carefully before signing. If you catch any mistakes, request that they be fixed and then stick to your guns.
If the dealer refuses to correct mistakes, then you need to be prepared to walk away, even if that means starting the process all over again with someone new. Trust us: When dealerships catch mistakes that would cost them money, they ask customers to pay the revised amount — or they scotch the deal.
Mistake No. 4: She's less likely to walk away from a sale that's going south.
Car shopping can be a real pain, so it's enticing to want to try to get it done as quickly as possible, particularly if things are souring and the pressure is on. But that "let's get it over with" attitude will not serve a woman well at the dealership.
Salespeople may push hard on shoppers to buy that very day. If a certain color isn't available on the dealership's own lot, a salesperson eager for a right-now sale might not suggest a dealer trade . Some salespeople will say that the price is good only for today. That might be true, if there's an incentive that closes out at the end of the month and it's the last day of the month. But there's typically another deal come the first of the next month. A salesperson might say that someone else is interested in the car — and that might or might not be true. All of these approaches can be used to get a shopper to buy on the spot.
The solution : Give yourself enough time when car shopping. Doing it all in one day is rarely a good idea. If you refuse to sign on the dotted line that day, the salesperson might go out of his way to make you an even better deal the following day. (But in case it really was an expiring offer, it's good to have those other dealers' price quotes in hand.)
Edmunds consumer advice experts say it's best to do the initial comparison shopping (including test-drives) on one day. And then sleep on it. You'll make a better buying decision the next day.
Mistake No. 5: She doesn't conceptualize vehicle storage space and how much she actually needs.
This is especially true when it comes to trunk size, says Laura Madison , who sells cars at Toyota of Bozeman in Bozeman, Montana. While a man is more likely to come in with exact measurements and a tape measure, a woman will try to wing it.
"She'll look at the trunk and think, 'It looks big enough,' but she forgets about all of the items she really needs to cart around on any given day, such as kids' sports equipment, boxes of samples for work, a dog crate, etc."
The solution: Take a good look at what you'll be putting in the trunk before you start shopping. If possible, bring your most important items with you for the test-drive. That could be baby gear, such as car seats and strollers. If you're a real estate agent, bring the signs you use for open houses. If your kids play team sports and travel, make sure their equipment and bags will fit.
Mistake No. 6: She's talked out of a deal by family and friends.
It's a bit of a stereotype, but a man typically sees, wants and buys, and nothing can deter him from closing that deal. But even if a woman has done her research, negotiated the best price and really loves the car she's getting, a few negative whispers in her ear can be enough to cast doubt — especially if those whispers are uttered by a man in her life.
"Getting another person's opinion is important, but you want to make sure that person is educated about cars," says Madison. "If someone is advising a woman, it's almost always a man, but that doesn't mean he's an expert."
The solution: The majority of the time, a woman is better off trusting her own research (and instincts) on whether or not to sign on the dotted line.
Mistake No. 7: She compares apples to oranges.
While women are usually well-versed in different makes and models (thank you, World Wide Web), Madison finds that her female customers often come in expecting the same deal for two completely different vehicles.
For example, a shopper will come in interested in a Toyota Highlander and a Toyota Prius — and want to stay within the same budget and get the same amenities, even though they're two different types of cars: a full-size SUV and a hybrid hatchback. Plus there's roughly a $13,600 price difference between them for the top trim levels.
The solution: This is where doing research is vital. Edmunds offers users the option of comparing up to four cars at a time to figure out exactly what each vehicle offers in features, as well as its price ranges for various trim levels and option packages.
Mistake No. 8: She nitpicks over color.
According to Madison, women are pickier than men when it comes to the color of the car that they drive. And they're willing to hold off on a sale (even if it's a great price) until the hue they want comes in. "Men don't seem to care as much about the color of the car they drive," she says.
The solution: If the dealer is offering a sweet deal on a neon orange vehicle and that's not your color, then feel free to skip it. If your heart really is set on a color, you can custom order it and still negotiate the price. But if it's the difference between driving a silver car or a gray one, don't miss out on a good buy over a shade or two of difference.

If there's one thing that women and men can agree on, it's that shopping for a car isn't much fun. In fact, a recent Edmunds survey found that one in five people would willingly give up sex for a month rather than haggle for a new car. Yes, that's what they actually said.
That dread over car shopping might contribute to the mistakes that many people make during the process. But some blunders might be directly related to gender. While the majority of women's mistakes circle back to insecurity, men's blunders during the car-shopping process seem to be influenced by the male ego, the experts say.
"Male buyers are often more stubborn in the sales process than their female counterparts, and less likely to listen to a dealer's suggestion because hard-headed men know best," says Matt Jones , senior editor, retail experience, at Jones worked for 12 years as a car salesman, Internet sales manager and finance and insurance manager.
So where else do the guys falter when they're car shopping? Here are the seven most common mistakes male car buyers make, according to our outside experts and the consumer advice team at
Mistake No. 1: He doesn't like to shop, so he rushes through the process.
A recent survey from the United Kingdom found that when it comes to shopping, men get bored after a mere 26 minutes . In fact, research shows that women not only do more research than men before stepping into a car dealership, they're more likely to decide on a price before they go shopping for their next vehicle, which translates into more savings for them.
"Men typically don't spend a lot of time in the research process, figuring out what they want and how much to pay for it," says Rick Pennington, who has been in the car business for 25 years and now is a consultant at JD Power and Associates . "As a result, they're more spontaneous with their decisions when car buying. They want to fulfill that desire quickly , so they sometimes wind up with the car they want, not necessarily the one they need."
The solution: Break down the shopping process. If you're a guy who finds research less than fascinating, do it in stages. If you know you're going to be in the market for a new car in the next few months, map out your plan of attack. Use part of the time to look at different models online, both on sites such as and on carmaker Web sites such as Honda , Ford or Mercedes-Benz and think about the car that would best fit your needs .
Once you're narrowed your choices, do some price comparisons. If you think the fun part of shopping is seeing, touching and driving the cars, you can have all that during test-drives . Just don't make the purchase that same day. Go home and sleep on it. That will temper any tendency to buy fast and regret slowly.
Mistake No. 2: He is too proud to ask for help, even though he really needs it.
Men know a lot about cars, right? That common belief, which is held by both genders, can make it difficult for a guy to admit that he needs some guidance before signing on the dotted line.
In fact, a recent Edmunds survey found that women are twice as likely as men to seek advice from a family member during the car buying process, which is an endeavor that not only requires a buyer to know a little something about cars, but also about financing, extended warranties and, usually, price negotiations. It's an overwhelming process for the majority of people.
"Some men just aren't negotiators and will simply accept whatever is presented to them, even if it costs them money," says Pennington. "But asking for help can seem like a blow to the ego for some men, so many are willing to go it alone when they shouldn't."
The solution: The wingman. Think of it this way: Even pilots and police officers work with a partner. Bringing a wingman is not a signal to the salesperson that you're clueless. In fact, it's a message that you're committed to getting the best deal possible. Just be sure you choose your wingman wisely , bringing along a friend or family member who has a certain skill you might lack, whether that's doing mental math or knowing the best trim level for the money. Sometimes it's just good to have an all-purpose sounding board. As Tom Cruise's Maverick said in Top Gun : "Talk to me, Goose."
Mistake No. 3: He relies too much on referrals from his pals.
On the other end of the go-it-alone spectrum, there's the guy who relies too much on his friends' opinions. This, despite the fact that the Edmunds survey also found that friends are consistently rated as the worst source for car-buying advice, and are twice as likely to be cited as a source of bad advice than a source of good advice.
"Many men will take the word of a friend who bought a car from a specific salesperson and not shop around as a result," says Oren Weintraub, president at Authority Auto , a concierge car-buying service.
Or the friend might actually work in the car industry and the shopper doesn't want to risk offending his buddy by looking at other deals.
The solution: Don't sacrifice the deal for the relationship. Weintraub says it's fine to mix business with pleasure, as long as you've still done your own research and can come to the table knowing exactly what you want and what you're willing to pay for it.
If your friend is the car seller, be honest in your discussions. Make it clear that you're walking away from a deal that doesn't work for you, not severing the friendship. If your friend really values you, he'll understand.
Mistake No. 4: He thinks he knows more than the dealer.
It can be hard for some men to admit that the salesperson might be able to provide valuable input about a car, especially when he's walking into the negotiation process seeing the dealer as "the enemy."
"Men believe they're supposed to know more, so they pretend that they do, even when they have lots of questions and need some guidance," says Pennington. "They turn into their own roadblock in getting a good deal."
The solution: Listen to honest advice . While a shopper definitely wants to do his due diligence with research, he also needs to remember that dealers are educated, not only about the cars they're selling, but about the buying process as a whole. That can make them good sources of information. You can also verify what they're telling you through online research or by shopping other dealerships.
Mistake No. 5: He sees the car as a status symbol.
Who doesn't want to drive a nice car? But while women often focus on safety features, gas mileage and price, men are often more concerned with how a particular car's size, styling and power make them feel, as well as the image that the car projects to the world. That could be one reason why more than 90 percent of Lamborghini owners are men.
"Whatever a man's motivation — he wants luxury, a sports car, something that is eco-friendly — he wants it to the extreme," says Pennington.
But the car you want and fantasize about is not necessarily the car you actually need. The motivation to impress others or live out a teenage fantasy is not a good enough reason to get a vehicle, especially if you're going to regret it later on (like when you bring it home to your spouse).
The solution: While you don't want to shop with Debbie Downer , you do need a reality check from a trusted friend or your significant other. This person can ask you the tough questions, like "Can you really afford this car?" or "Should you really buy a two-seat convertible when you have three kids under the age of 5 at home?"
Mistake No. 6: He sees the negotiation as a test of his manhood and won't take a good deal because it doesn't fit into his preconceived and unrealistic expectations.
Here's a typical scenario: A salesman and buyer are negotiating a price on a car. After some to and fro, the salesman is willing to seal the deal at $500 over the invoice price . And for that car, it is objectively a good deal. But the buyer has read somewhere that a good deal is never more than the invoice price. It's not unusual for a man to walk away from such a deal because it doesn't fit into his notion of how it was supposed to conclude.
"Men are also more likely to view a car sale as a competition: me vs. the dealer instead of me and the dealer," says Jones. "That type of reasoning means somebody has to win, and for that to happen, somebody has to lose. This line of thinking can eliminate the opportunity for a win-win situation."
The solution: Ask any married couple: Compromise isn't always easy. But do you want to start over again at another dealership over $25 per month (that's about $1,500 over the span of a six -year car loan)? If the deal is nearly done and you really love the car, that doesn't really make sense.
Instead of saying no right away, you can sometimes take a day to think about the deal and figure out if it is truly the best one for you. You could even use that time (but no more than a day) to invite other dealers to beat the price. Either way, you get the car you want and save yourself a whole lot of time.
Mistake No. 7: He overanalyzes every aspect of the deal because he doesn't want to make the wrong decision, and so he winds up not making a decision at all.
While some men hate digging into the details of research, others are just the opposite.
Some male car shoppers tie themselves into knots so completely, comparing so many different models, features and prices that they're incapable of pulling the trigger on a deal. They're paralyzed at the thought of making the wrong choice.
"Men think, 'I'm going to devise this system — whether it's making spreadsheets or reading every piece of information available on a car — and use it to arrive at the perfect decision ,'" says Philip Reed , senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.
"The fear is that you'll make the wrong choice or, even worse, find out later that someone you know got the same car for a better price."
The solution: It helps to keep in mind that in today's automotive market, there are no really bad choices, Reed says. That's partly because cars are so dependable today. "There's not that same concern about buying a lemon anymore," he says. "The chances of that happening are few and far between."
When all is said and done, spreadsheet guys should keep in mind that this is, after all, just buying a car. It's not a life-changing decision like getting married or even buying a house. And even if you love the car, you probably won't be driving it for the rest of your life. The average, actually, is about six years .

People usually plan vacations months in advance, but often make their car purchases within a couple of weeks at most. European delivery is a service that can combine these two concepts in a way that can turn the car buying process into a unique vacation while saving you thousands of dollars.
If your next vehicle will be a European luxury car and you don't need it anytime soon, you can arrange to pick it up from the factory and make a nice vacation out of it.

What Is European Car Delivery?
European vehicle delivery programs offered by Audi , BMW , Mercedes-Benz and Volvo offer a discounted price on a vehicle, combined with free or discounted travel fares. You can take European delivery from Porsche , too, but there are no discounts.

In a typical program, you fly to Europe, where the automaker arranges a ride from the airport and puts you up in a premium hotel for a night. You'll take delivery of your car the following day and take a tour of the factory where it was built. Part of the tour includes specially prepared meals. Once the car is officially yours, you're free to take it for a drive through Europe (two weeks of insurance is included). Then you drop off the vehicle at the factory or at a designated drop-off location. From there, the carmaker ships the vehicle to the U.S. (this is called "redelivery"). It will arrive several weeks later, and you'll pick up your car at a U.S. dealership.
Sounds great, right? Before you rush off to the nearest dealer, here is a brief overview of the process and a few tips to keep in mind.
Step 1: Be Aware of the Time Frame
You'll want to start the ordering process at least three months before your anticipated travel date. When you finally drop off the car, it will take roughly six to eight weeks to arrive at an East Coast port, and about eight to 10 weeks for the West Coast. In total, it could be about six months from when you place the order on the car to when you park it in your garage. If you need the car sooner, European delivery might not be the best option.
This is also the point at which you'll want to decide which car you want and which automaker's program most appeals to you. This Frequent Business Traveler's chart is a great way to compare the different programs without having to go to various carmaker sites.

Step 2: Find a Good Dealer
Find a dealership you feel comfortable with. There should be at least one person specially trained to handle the European delivery orders. Find that person and ask them any questions you might have. Online forums are good resources for dealer recommendations. The Bimmerfest forums, for example, created an excellent wiki on European delivery for BMW vehicles that includes dealer recommendations. Here's the discussion on the Audiworld forum.
One of the big questions to ask is where the car brand stands on pricing. Every automaker, except Porsche , offers a discount ranging from about 5-7 percent on the vehicle purchase. Volvo 's discounts vary by model, rather than being a fixed percentage. Note that this discount is off the base MSRP of the car, meaning that the carmaker charges full retail price for options on the car. Some dealers won't budge from the standard discount, but there are a number of dealers that will be more open to negotiation. Keep in mind that the European delivery invoice price is different from the U.S. invoice price. You may not be able to buy the vehicle at the European invoice price, but it doesn't hurt to ask what it is and use that figure as a reference point in the negotiation.
Shoppers looking to lease will have to stick with Audi , BMW or Mercedes . Porsche and Volvo do not offer European delivery with a lease.

Step 3: Place the Order
This is where the fun begins. You can order the car exactly how you want it and not worry about whether you've chosen a hard-to-find color or option. Play around with the configuration tools on the automakers' Web sites to see the different colors and packages.
Volvo offers a unique perk: It lets the customer order Europe-exclusive colors, wheels and interiors. Customers can also choose options for the vehicle à la carte (blind-spot monitoring, for example) rather than having to order an expensive tech package with other options you may not really want.
It is important to note that as cars become more global, they may not always be made in the automaker's home country. For example, the BMW X3, X4, X5 and X6 are not eligible for European delivery. That's because BMW builds them in Spartanburg , South Carolina, rather than Germany.
After choosing the vehicle and its options, you'll essentially be paying for the car as if it were on the dealership lot. This means you'll arrange financing, make the down payment and handle the trade-in with the dealership. In fact, you might make the first couple payments without seeing the car. Some dealers will collect the German value-added tax up front. The dealership usually refunds this tax after the vehicle arrives in the states.
After placing the order, you should receive a formal delivery date in a week or two. It is now safe to buy the plane tickets and plan out the rest of your trip.

Step 4: Pick Up the Car
You'll need to fly into the city where the factory is located. Audi gives you the choice of touring its museum in Ingolstadt or visiting the factory in Neckarsulm . Porsche gives you a choice between two factories: Stuttgart (for the Boxster, Cayman and 911) or Leipzig (for Cayenne, Macan and Panamera). Porsche also has a museum in Stuttgart.
Volvo is the only automaker that will fly you and a guest on its dime. All the other manufacturers offer a 15 percent discount on Lufthansa . Most automakers will also offer travel assistance to help you plan your itinerary and make hotel reservations.
After touring the factory or museum , you'll take delivery of the car and receive a thorough walkthrough of its features. The automakers say that the presentations are top-notch and will make you feel like a VIP client.

Step 5: Road Trip!
BMW recommends that all drivers obtain an International Driver License through the American Automobile Association. The International Driver License is mandatory in Austria and Spain. Drivers must be at least 18 years old.
Many automakers have planned itineraries that will show you the best routes and help you hit many landmarks. Or you can stray from the beaten path and explore the countryside if you prefer.
If you plan on visiting during the winter months, you may need to rent winter tires. Porsche will loan you a set, while BMW and Volvo can set you up with a rental set of tires. Audi avoids this by not offering European deliveries in the winter.
Step 6: Drop It Off
Step 7: Take Delivery in the U.S.
All that remains is to sign the last bit of paperwork and take your new car home.

There are people who always buy their cars by walking into a dealership, looking at inventory and sitting down to talk price. It doesn't matter that there's strong evidence that online car-buying research and negotiation save time and money. Maybe you're an on-the-ground shopper. Perhaps you can only take one day off work to buy a car and need to hash out the entire purchase in a few hours. Maybe car shopping tends to be an impulse decision for you and you don't do much — if any — research. Maybe you get a kick out of negotiating with salespeople.

In any case, this article isn't here to talk you out of going to a dealership. But we'd like to present an alternate strategy. Rather than wait for a salesperson to approach you at a dealership, we suggest you go directly to the reception desk and ask for someone from the internet sales department. We tried this a few years ago when we were shopping for a minivan for our long-term fleet. In less than an hour, we made a deal for at least $1,000 less than if we had been shopping the conventional way. You can do this, too.

The No-Pressure Internet Manager Here's how our purchase went: We went into a Toyota dealership in Santa Monica, California, sidestepped several salespeople and asked the receptionist for a salesperson from the dealership's internet department. Her expression told us that this was an uncommon request, but she went along. And so we met courtly, no-pressure Mark. We told him we wanted to buy a Toyota Sienna . He walked us outside to see the minivan and offered to let us test-drive it. We declined since we had already driven one. We just asked him to give us a price. Mark led us to his office, which was across a busy street from the dealership and removed from the usual selling atmosphere. Mark turned his computer screen toward us, pointing at the Sienna's MSRP, the invoice price and all the options. He then said he would sell it to us for $500 over invoice. We needed to confirm whether that was a competitive price, so we pulled out a smartphone and configured the Sienna on the Edmunds mobile site to see what others were paying. It listed the Edmunds True Market Value ® price as $1,037 over invoice. This meant that Mark's offer of $500 over invoice was well below the average price that other people were paying for the car. So we made the deal. We gave Mark a check as a deposit and arranged to have the minivan delivered to our office the following week. We left the dealership about an hour after we had arrived. The next week, Mark arrived with the Sienna and the paperwork. We asked what the price would have been if we had gone the conventional route. He said it would have been $1,000 more "at least." The "at least" was probably because he was thinking that a conventional sale would have concluded in the finance and insurance office , where the dealership would have offered us additional products and services.

Showroom Shopping Tips When you're buying a car, you should try to handle as much of the deal as you can online or over the phone. Edmunds makes this easier with special offers that provide you with a locked-in, up-front price for a new car without having to set foot on a dealer lot. But, if you like some of the hands-on aspects of car buying, you might try out this internet-in-the-showroom approach. Here are a few tips: Schedule a test drive by calling the dealership and asking for the fleet or internet manager. Ideally, you want to schedule a few test drives in one day so the impressions of each are fresh. Then sleep on it and make the decision later. Let the salesperson know if you're in the research stage or if you're ready to buy. You can get a head start on the loan application over the phone if you give the salesperson some information on your finances. If you started the buying process with an email or phone call, get the dealership contact's name and continue dealing with him or her when you are on the car lot. If you're coming onto the lot cold, ask the receptionist to get you a salesperson from the internet department. Check for a supplemental window sticker or ask if there are any dealer-installed options . These can complicate the negotiations. If you don't want the options, ask if they can be removed or consider shopping elsewhere. Check to see what others are paying so you can spot a good deal when you see one. Additionally, look for special offers on the Edmunds inventory pages. You might find a better deal at a nearby dealership. Compare the quote to the TMV price to confirm that it's a good deal. Before agreeing to any deal, ask for the "out-the-door price" or a list of all the fees you'll have to pay. You should only be charged for the purchase price of the car, local sales tax, a documentation fee and registry fees. If you follow these steps, you might be able to get the same quick action and good price enjoyed by internet shoppers.

When the floodwaters recede, they often leave behind damaged cars, and that's where trouble can begin for used-car buyers. After the owners of damaged cars settle up with their insurance companies, vehicles are sometimes refurbished and resold. And sometimes, a middleman buyer intentionally hides a car's history as a flood-damaged vehicle through a process known as "title washing" and sells it to an unsuspecting buyer in a state unaffected by the disaster. Electrical and mechanical problems can potentially surface later — long after the seller is gone — leaving the new owner with an unreliable car and no recourse against the seller.

Serious floods have affected several regions of the U.S. in recent years, including the devastation that Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma brought to the Southeast in the summer of 2017. Estimates of the number of cars flooded by Harvey vary widely, with some sources putting the number of cars potentially lost at 500,000.

In the wake of disasters such as Harvey and Irma, state motor vehicle registries "brand" cars that have been inundated by floodwaters. Such branding changes the car's title to a salvage or junk title, which alerts future buyers that the car was declared a total loss by an insurance agency, either because of a serious accident or a number of other problems. A flood title specifically alerts future buyers that the car has damage from sitting in water deep enough to fill the engine compartment.

Roughly half of the vehicles with salvage titles are resold often in places where the flood never hit. The sale of flood-damaged cars happens most often in private-party sales than on dealer lots. Reputable dealers use vehicle history reports to check cars they are offered so they can avoid such problems.

Check the Vehicle's History
Car shoppers should follow that example. A history report will detail the vehicle's past, including the states in which it's been registered. A vehicle history report should reveal any branding for flood damage, even if someone has washed the vehicle's title by moving it through states with differing regulations.

A good, low-cost starting point is the free flood title check from Carfax . It will only answer whether the vehicle had flood damage reported, but it also provides a link to buy the full-fledged vehicle history report. The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System , operated by the Department of Justice, has a number of reports you can buy from third-party companies, but they do little beyond what the free Carfax check provides. Your money is better spent toward the purchase of a full report from either Carfax or AutoCheck. And as with any used-car purchase, the buyer would be wise to have a mechanic check out the car.

How to Spot a Flood-Damaged Car
In addition to getting a vehicle history report, here are some basic tips from the National Automobile Dealers Association that will minimize the risk to used-car buyers:

1. Be alert to unusual odors. Musty or moldy odors inside the car are a sign of mildew buildup from prolonged exposure to water. It might be coming from an area the seller is unable to completely clean. Beware of a strong air freshener or cleaning solution scent since it may indicate the seller is trying to cover up something. Run the air-conditioner to see if a moldy smell comes from the vents.
2. Look for discolored carpeting. Large stains or differences in color between lower and upper upholstery sections may indicate that standing water was in the vehicle. A used car with brand-new upholstery is also a warning sign since a seller may have tried to remove the flood-damaged upholstery altogether.
3. Examine the exterior for water buildup. Signs may include fogging inside headlamps or taillights and damp or muddy areas where water naturally pools, such as overhangs inside the wheelwell. A water line might be noticeable in the engine compartment or the trunk, indicating that the car sat in standing water.
4. Inspect the undercarriage. Look for evidence of rust and flaking metal that would not normally be associated with late-model vehicles.
5. Be suspicious of dirt buildup in unusual areas. These include areas such as around the seat tracks or the upper carpeting under the glove compartment. Have an independent mechanic look for caked mud or grit in alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses, and around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.

According to Fraud Guides , if you suspect a local car dealer is committing fraud by knowingly selling a flood car or a salvaged vehicle as a good-condition used car, contact your auto insurance company, local law enforcement agency or the National Insurance Crime Bureau at 800-TEL-NICB (800-835-6422).

Of course, the best advice when trying to avoid a flood-damaged vehicle is the adage you've heard so often: If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Smart car shoppers do their homework before setting foot in a dealership. They research makes and models, read the expert reviews on Edmunds, and know what vehicle they want before talking to a salesperson. And of course almost everyone realizes that a car dealer or lending institution will want to evaluate a potential buyer's credit report before agreeing to a loan or lease. But sometimes even the most savvy consumers don't really understand the specifics of what goes into that report, even though it may determine whether they drive away with the car of their dreams.

Credit Report vs. Credit Score Since credit reports and credit scores are so closely intertwined, there's often confusion about what each is and how each is used. A credit report is a record of your current and past interactions with lenders and others with whom you've had financial dealings. The parties can include banks, finance companies, mortgage holders, landlords, utility companies and wireless phone providers. The report contains such details as dates when accounts were opened and closed, loan amounts, current balances and payment history, including late payments and defaults, as well as requests for the credit report from potential lenders. It also contains information from public records, such as debt collections, bankruptcies, court judgments and tax liens. A credit score sums up a consumer's credit health at a glance. This information is compiled by credit reporting agencies, the best known of which are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. They maintain huge, complex databases of consumers' credit purchases and payment history gathered from lenders, retailers and others, such as auto dealers, who then use the agencies' services for future reports. The credit agencies use their data to produce sophisticated models that can predict an individual's likelihood of making payments reliably. This data, in turn, is used to generate a number called a credit score, which sums up a consumer's credit health at a glance.

What Goes Into a Credit Score? The most widely recognized credit score, the FICO score, is produced by the Fair Isaac Corp. There are other scores available, but FICO scores are used in 90 percent of the lending decisions in the U.S., so it's important to know how they're compiled. Base FICO scores range from 300 to 850, with higher numbers indicating better creditworthiness. The exact components that make up the score are proprietary, with more than 30 factors taken into account, but these are generally grouped into five major categories: Credit history: This is a big one, accounting for 35 percent of the total score. When a consumer misses payments or is consistently late, it sends up a major red flag to lenders. They want to know you're going to pay them back for your car. Total amount owed: Another major component, this is responsible for 30 percent of the total. Lenders see a large backlog of debt as a poor indicator of the ability to repay new loans. Length of credit history: Making up 15 percent of the score, this shows how long you've had a credit history, as well as how long current accounts have been open. A longer history gives lenders more information on which to base decisions. Type of credit: This usually accounts for 10 percent of the total, but it can be more for borrowers with a short credit history. A good mix shows that a consumer can handle different types of credit, and of course a lender will pay special attention to loans similar to the one being considered. New credit: This includes both new accounts and recent "hard inquiries" and makes up about 10 percent of the score. Too much new credit can indicate cash-flow problems. Hard inquiries occur when you apply for credit, and too many of them can affect your score and whether you get the loan. "Soft inquiries," such as when you order a copy of your own score, don't affect the total.

You Have More Than One FICO Score When you order a free copy of your FICO score online from one of the agencies or another source, you're getting the base score, which is a good general indicator of your credit health. But FICO develops separate scores for each of the major credit agencies based on the data they've each collected. Although those scores are generally fairly close, your Experian score can vary from your Equifax score. More importantly for car shoppers, there are industry-specific FICO scores for different types of businesses, such as automobile lending. The FICO Auto Score, with a range of 250 to 900, starts with the base FICO score and then refines it to predict more accurately how likely you are to repay a car loan. Although the exact mechanics are proprietary, the FICO Auto Score differs from the base score by, for example, ignoring collection agency accounts that have been paid off, as well as unpaid medical accounts. The latest version of the Auto Score adds a trends component that is pulled from TransUnion's data to provide a snapshot of a 30-month span of a consumer's credit behavior in more detail. Among other information, it shows lenders whether your credit card balances have been increasing or decreasing, whether your overall use of credit has been going up or down, and if you've been making more than the minimum payments on revolving accounts.

Is a Credit Report Necessary? Obviously, a car dealership will need a copy of your credit report if you apply for a loan. But there are number of other reasons that a dealer might request a credit report at various times during the shopping process. A dealer might want to run a credit check for its own convenience, but sometimes the request comes from a misinterpretation of regulations. Occasionally, it's a tactic that's not in your best interest as a shopper. Here are some common situations: Often, dealerships will want to run a credit report for a cash buyer to ensure that if the customer's personal or cashier's check fails to clear, the dealership can still send the shopper to a bank to get funding for the vehicle being sold. Some dealers may tell cash buyers that they need to run a report due to regulations in the Patriot Act. In fact, that anti-terrorism legislation only requires that dealers check the names of certain cash buyers against the Office of Foreign Assets Control's list of specially designated nationals and blocked persons. This situation does not require a credit report. Regulations also require dealers to inform the federal government of instances of cars purchased in cash for more than $10,000. This rule is intended to help prevent money laundering. Paying cash does not require a credit report, although you may need to give the dealership your Social Security number for reporting purposes. A dealership might try to get potential buyers to fill out a credit application or provide enough personal information for a credit report before a test drive. This may be especially true if you're there to road test a high-dollar exotic sports car. Assuming you are a qualified shopper, you don't have to give your permission for a credit check and can test-drive elsewhere if you're asked to fill out an application before you're ready. It's rare, but some dealers want to know how much you can afford to spend before quoting a price on a car. A healthy credit report is a good indication of someone who can afford to pay more. Your research on what a car should cost and your negotiation plan are a hedge against such a tactic.

How to Head Off Credit Trouble Consumer advocates are quick to point out that no one can get a copy of your credit report without your permission, but keep in mind that permission can be given verbally. So if you're not ready to apply for a car loan, don't provide your Social Security number or other detailed personal or financial information, even in conversation. And definitely don't sign a loan application until you're really ready to buy. Perhaps most importantly, get copies of your credit reports from all three major credit reporting agencies and check your credit score yourself before going to a dealership. Having that information will let the dealer know that you're a knowledgeable shopper and will help you avoid making a potentially costly mistake.

While most dogs would love an automated T-bone steak dispenser in the back seat, automakers aren't quite there yet. In the meantime, dogs do have some requirements to keep in mind when you're car shopping. How easy is it for them to enter or leave the car? Are there comfy spots that suit their size and shape? How can you keep the temperature just right? And is everyone safe during the drive? In celebration of National Dog Day (August 26), we've compiled a list of the top eight dog-friendly attributes that address these safety, comfort and convenience needs, along with examples of vehicles that have them, as demonstrated by Edmunds pets and a guest star from an L.A. rescue group. Look for these car features when you're shopping for your next car, truck or SUV purchase. Your dog will give you a happy paws up.

1. All-season floor mats and seat covers Good example: Toyota 4Runner

Owning a pet can sometimes be a constant battle for cleanliness. It certainly is with Archie. Muddy paws, fur and carsickness can wreak havoc with the upholstery. Keep your interior looking and smelling fresh with protective seat covers and heavy-duty floor mats. 2. Backseat shape Good example: Nissan Titan XD

What's the proper shape of a back seat's bottom cushion and backrest? It depends on the size of your dog. Small dogs will fare much better with sculpted, bucket-style seats that they can "nest" into. But larger dogs, like Mya, will find such thrones lumpy and uncomfortable. For canines who are longer of torso, look instead for a bench seat that allows them to spread out and enjoy uniform support. Either way, look for easy-to-access seat belt buckles in order to facilitate fastening your dog's harness. This is especially relevant for dogs that are heavy, squirmy or both. 3. Backseat climate control Good example: Mazda CX-9

Dogs don't sweat. They pant to stay cool. But some dogs pant regularly anyway, so it can be difficult to tell when they're feeling warm. You can ensure they're getting adequate fresh air by looking for a car with backseat air ducts, which Lu certainly enjoys. You'll find these rear-facing ducts on the back of the center console and sometimes on the side roof pillars. In large SUVs, they will be above the windows. The ideal vehicles are those that let you alter the backseat climate control independently from the front seats. On the flip side, a heated back seat is a great way to give your furry friend a rapid warm-up in colder climates. 4. Low backseat height Good example: Honda Civic

It's easy to take a dog's energy for granted. In time, though, a dog's willingness to leap wanes. For these elderly dogs, a back seat that sits closer to the floor poses much less of an obstacle for them to conquer when clambering in. Likewise, it makes for a gentler and less precarious step down and exit for dogs like Koha. 5. Low liftover height Good example: Mazda 3 hatchback

If you're going to carry your dog in the cargo area of a hatchback, wagon or crossover equipped with a pet barrier, a low liftover height will make it much easier for him to leap into and out of the vehicle. Hatchbacks are more readily compatible with folding ramps. There's no door to get in the way, as demonstrated by Nacho, who came to our photo shoot courtesy of the League of Extraordinary Mutts rescue group. 6. Pet gate Good example: Volvo XC90

Some manufacturers offer factory- or dealer-installed pet barriers for the cargo area. This is a great way to keep your dog safe in a dedicated portion of the cargo area while allowing room for items of your own. A latching door on the gated area gives you the option of leaving the hatch open when you reach your destination without any risk of a dog, like the energetic Dudley, leaping out. 7. Sliding doors Good example: Honda Odyssey

Vehicles with wide-opening rear doors and lots of backseat legroom will more easily allow dogs, such as Cody, to pull off a two-stage dismount: They can step from the seat to the floor, and then out the door. A bonus attribute to seek out is a sliding back seat, which makes this process even easier. 8. Sunshades Good example: Genesis G90

Even with the window closed and the climate control on, the heat from the sun can be intense inside a car, making passengers feel as if they're baking. This is especially true for dogs that are harnessed in place. When you're taking long north-south road trips and the sun beats on one side of the car for many hours, strap your pup on the shady side. If that's not an option, rear window sunshades are a nice way to dial down the heat (Cairo likes them). These shades can be manually deployed and stowed by those with opposable thumbs.

There's no doubt that electric vehicles (EVs) have captured attention from consumers. From Nissan Leaf's polar-bear commercial spots to Tesla's high-profile clash with Top Gear to the escalating cost of gas, EVs are in the spotlight.

But EVs are largely a mystery to the average car shopper. A recent study from Synovate, a global market-research firm, showed that the public's general knowledge of hybrids (which have been on the market for 10 years) is relatively low — and it's even lower for EVs.

So if you are interested in an EV but don't know where to start, here are the steps that will help you decide whether a vehicle with a rechargeable battery and a plug is right for you.

Why Do You Want an EV?
This is the first question to ask, because if you're buying an EV to save money, you might be on the wrong track. While a pure EV will eliminate trips to the gas station, it doesn't eliminate fuel cost altogether. Electricity might seem to cost less than gasoline (depending where in the country you are), but once you factor in the higher price of the EV, a traditional hybrid or a fuel-efficient gasoline vehicle is almost always a less expensive purchase than an electric car.

If you're buying an EV to minimize or eliminate your carbon footprint, the purchase has a better rationale, since no tailpipe means your EV is not generating any greenhouse gases. But making electricity does, and the EPA, environmentalists and automakers are still debating whether an EV should be able to earn a perfect environmental score if the electricity used to charge it comes from a coal-burning power plant.

Finally, if you're a card-carrying early adopter of the latest technology, no matter what the cost, then EVs might have the cool factor you're looking for.

Examine Your Commute To See Which EV Is Right for You
Take a hard look at your daily commute to see if it falls within an EV's range. Calculate how many miles you drive to and from work. Factor in whether you make any other stops along the way, such as dropping off kids at school. Once you have a number, compare it to the stated range of the electric vehicles you are considering.

For example, the Nissan Leaf has an EPA-rated range of 73 miles, although the manufacturer says it can travel up to 100 miles in certain conditions. It would work best for people who have urban commutes but rarely take long drives. If you need to travel past the EV's range, you can always rent a conventional gasoline vehicle or use your household's second car (assuming you have one). The Tesla Roadster , the other pure EV that's currently available, claims a range of 227 miles, which would make it suitable for more than around-town drives. But the Tesla also has an MSRP of $109,000, meaning it won't be on the shopping list for most car buyers.

Other EVs scheduled to hit the market in the next few years from Fiat, Ford, Mitsubishi, Smart, Think and Volkswagen, among others, typically have ranges estimated at between 60 and 120 miles.

Plug-in hybrids like the Chevrolet Volt and the upcoming plug-in Prius have all-electric ranges of 14-36 miles, although they can keep going after the battery is depleted. They work best for people with longer commutes or those who are prone to range anxiety . A plug-in hybrid is able to travel significantly farther than a pure EV, thanks to a gas engine that kicks in when the electric charge has been depleted. However, plug-in hybrids make the most sense if you are able to maximize the time you drive in electric mode. In the case of the Volt, a driver who travels less than 35 miles a day and charges daily would only use gasoline on longer weekend and vacation trips and when the engine-generator needs to run occasionally to keep its parts lubricated.

Know Your Electricity Rates
Examine a recent utility bill. Take a look at how many kilowatt-hours you consume per month and whether your utility company has pricing tiers based on usage. You might be in a certain price tier now, but daily charging of an EV will likely push you into a higher tier. When we examined the utility usage of some of our editors, we found that owning an EV could actually double their electric bills. Depending on how much you spend on electricity each month, this might or might not be an issue for you. That's why the next step is so important.

Investigate Utility Company Discounts
Talk to a representative for your utility company about rates and price tiers and ask about any special rate plans the company might have for electric vehicles. Some utility companies offer discounted rates for EV owners who charge their cars during off-peak hours. Some require you to install a second meter in order to get lower rates. The cost of installing this second meter can be $1,000 or more if the wiring to the grid needs work. This added cost could greatly lengthen the time it takes for your special EV rate savings to offset the installation costs.

Calculate the Cost of a Charge
When you look at an EV's window sticker, you'll likely see a miles-per-gallon equivalent (mpg-e) number prominently displayed. Don't let this number fool you. It tries to bring a familiar — but ultimately not useful — unit of fuel consumption to EVs. Edmunds helps you decode this number in this article . We also help you find out the true cost of powering your EV. Follow that link for a more effective formula than you'll find on the vehicle's window sticker.

Check Out Tax Incentives
Like most new technologies, electric vehicles are expensive. They can range from $32,780 for the Nissan Leaf to $109,000 for the base model Tesla Roadster. The federal government offers a tax credit of up to $7,500 for the purchase of an EV to help soften the blow to consumers' wallets and to encourage early adoption of electric-vehicle technology. There is also a federal tax credit of 30 percent, up to $1,000 to help recoup some of the costs for purchase and installation of a home charger.

It is important to note that these federal funds are tax credits, not discounts or rebates. This means you will have to qualify for a car loan and make payments on the full price of the vehicle. You won't see the $7,500 credit until the end of the tax year following the purchase, when you file your taxes. Even then, the actual amount might be smaller than $7,500, since whatever taxes you owe that year will be deducted from the credit. If you choose to lease, the automaker gets the credit and may choose to factor it into the monthly payment, as both Nissan and Chevrolet have done.

A number of states have additional incentives for EV buyers. California, for example, is still as of this writing offering a $5,000 rebate — not a tax credit — to people who buy or lease. A non-cash incentive is that solo EV drivers in California and several other states can use the carpool lanes.

Look Into a Home Charger and Inspection
When you begin the process of purchasing an EV, automakers including Nissan and Chevrolet will help you make arrangements to get a home charger, including a visit to your home by an authorized contractor. The contractor will inspect your home's wiring, give you a price quote on the charger and any other electrical work that might be needed, fill out the necessary permits and make installation arrangements with a specially trained electrician.

The inspection is important whether you choose to have a charger installed or not. EVs can place a large demand on a home's wiring. You need to make sure your home electrical system can safely handle the load. Some of our editors found this out the hard way , when they plugged in our long-term Mini E at their homes, overtaxed the electrical system and triggered a circuit breaker. The plug that you'll use for the EV should be grounded properly to avoid creating a fire hazard. You wouldn't plug a washing machine or dryer into any old plug, and you shouldn't do so with an EV either.

A home charger isn't mandatory, of course. You can recharge an EV through an ordinary 110-volt system, but it will take you up to 20 hours to recharge (using the Leaf as an example). But if you want to cut your charging times by half or more, you'll need a 240-volt home charger.

Complete the Sale
The last step is to purchase and take delivery of the vehicle. Dealers might not be willing to budge on price initially, but any hot car eventually cools down in price. Early adopters will be able to take advantage of the tax credits, but by waiting a model year or two, patient buyers might also get a discount from the sticker price.

It is also a good idea to request a walkthrough of the major features on the vehicle. Though EVs largely drive the same as a traditional car, they have a number of unique features. A walkthrough may include explanations or demonstrations of how to plug an EV in for a charge, how to read and use the gauges for maximum fuel efficiency, or the effects of the vehicle's different drive modes. Some automakers offer smartphone apps that can do everything from notifying you when a charging session is completed to starting the vehicle from afar. The dealer can help set up such apps on your phone.

Finally, make sure you look closely at the sales contract to verify that there are no additional fees. If the dealership offers you an extended warranty for this "unproven technology," it is important to know that both the Leaf and the Volt have five-year warranties on the drivetrain and eight-year warranties on the battery. The most expensive components on the car have excellent coverage, so think twice before choosing that warranty.