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Buying a car is a major expense, so we need guidelines in making that important decision. Car salesmen thrive on confusion. They bombard to divert your attention from simple issues.

Go shopping armed with specific information. Remember that you're not there to fall in love with a car or to make a friend. Get answers that you can understand. If you do not understand, ask the person to explain in plain English.

Buy the latest edition of Edmund's New Car Prices. It lists the base costs of each car and accessories, such as air conditioning and automatic transmission.

When you find the car you like, copy down all pricing information from the manufacturer's sticker prices on the window. Compare the sticker prices with those in Edmund's to determine the dealer's profit. This gives you real bargaining ammunition.

Be indecisive. The salesmen will think there's a car you like better down the road. That means he must give you his best shot.

The best time to go car shopping is the last day of the month, when dealers close their books and want good sales figures, and very late in the day, when the sales staff is exhausted.

Beware of red tag sales. Dealers' profits are higher than at any other time. Customers mistakenly assume they will save money during special sales. Really, they are fantasies that draw you away from reality. Stay with black-and-white issues you can control.

Stick with what you can afford. This is determined by two things. How much cash your trade-in gives you toward the down payment and how much you can control.

Tell dealers you are interested in selling you car for cash. Their figures will give you a better idea of what your car is worth than a blue book. It's best to sell your car privately.