5. Don't buy a car using the equity in your home. When real estate prices were soaring, many people used home equity loans to buy luxury cars and SUVs they might not have afforded otherwise.
With home prices collapsing, it makes no sense to put your shelter at risk for the sake of a car. If you take out a car loan and can't make the payments, you will lose the car. If you can't make that home equity payment, you can lose your home.
6. Be realistic about what you can afford. Someone with a sweet tooth walking into a pastry shop knows how car buyers feel when they consider a new car: All those extras -- from satellite navigation to higher-end wheels -- are tempting.
But extras also add thousands of dollars to the price of the car. And at trade-in time, those extras usually return just pennies on the dollar.
Also remember that if a Toyota Corolla can serve your needs, resist the temptation to step up to the Camry.
7. Be even more vigilant at the dealership. There's little doubt that dealers are hurting for sales, so you probably can drive a good bargain on the initial price of the car.
But dealers will try to jack up their profits with add-ons like extended warranties, theft-deterrent systems and other things that usually can be purchased at a better price away from the dealership.
8. Check out used vehicles. Even if you've always been a new-car buyer, don't be a snob toward low-mileage cars and trucks that are just a few years old.
Many vehicles today can run to 100,000 miles or more without major repairs. So it makes sense to avoid the initial depreciation hit of a new vehicle and pick up on the value of a used vehicle.
9. Don't be fooled by falling gas prices. We're all breathing easier now that gasoline prices have fallen well off of 2008’s peak. That may prompt you to overlook fuel mileage when buying a new vehicle, but remember that you're buying a car that you'll probably keep for five years to seven years.
While we can debate exactly how much oil is left in the planet and whether the United States will ever be energy independent, there's little doubt that worldwide competition for crude eventually will have gas prices marching up again. So buy the vehicle that gets the best mileage and still suits your needs.