auto

Researching vehicles online

There's a wealth of information available on the Internet on every imaginable vehicle, some of it straightforward and some of it opinion. All of it can help you make an informed decision on which vehicle will suit you best.

Manufacturer's Web site

Start with the manufacturer's Web site. A simple Web search will point you right at it, and there you'll find the basics about the new vehicle you're considering, from specifications to options to interior and exterior color choices. You'll also find the manufacturer's suggested list price, as well as any special manufacturer financing, lease deals or rebates available.

Independent Web sites

From there, surf over to some of the free Web sites that break down the invoice costs of the vehicles, so you can zero in on what price you should be shooting for. Some of the best sites are Edmunds, which includes its estimates of true market value; the Kelley Blue Book; and IntelliChoice. At these sites, you can also get reviews of many vehicles.

Many of these sites also help you research a used-car purchase, as well as check out a fair trade-in or direct sale value for your current car.

Government Web sites

Another site that any savvy shopper should check -- both for new and used vehicles -- is the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration database on crash test results, at which you can research a wide variety of models dating from 1991. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also lists its own crash test results, which in some cases are more stringent than what the federal government requires.

For those concerned about a vehicle's environmental impact and fuel economy, the Environmental Protection Agency maintains an online database of the cleanest and most fuel-efficient vehicles, and the California Air Resources Board provides additional information on clean-running vehicles for that state.

Tip: The two best times of the year to purchase a car are the end of December (when dealers are competing for Christmas shoppers) and between July and October (when dealers are making room for new models).

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