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Next to a home, a car is the largest purchase that most of us make. Preparation is they key to making this purchase a successful one. Whether you buy your car online, from a dealer, or from a private party, the Internet can help you research your purchase.

Where To Find Information

Many search engines, such as Excite, Lycos, and Snap have extensive auto sections that will let you point and click your way to knowledge. While you are at those sites, look up Edmunds, which is a vital resource. Keep printed copies of important pages so you have them to refer to throughout the car-buying process.

What To Look For

As you scroll through the myriad of information available, look for data that will help me answer these questions.

What are the best cars in the class I am interested in? First decide what kind of car you want (Family sedan, minivan, etc.). Then look for the cars in that class that are consistently rated near the top. Usually it is better to pay a little more for a car that will serve you well over the years than to buy the cheapest model available. Pay special attention to repair histories.

What do I need to look for in the particular car I am interested in? If you look at Consumer Report's history of repairs, you will see the mechanical strengths and weaknesses of each car. Let that guide you as you go out looking at cars.

What are the features of the various models and trim lines? Know the differences between the different models and trim lines within models. That way you will know which of the many models out there is right for you.

How much should I pay for the car? Kelly Blue Book is a good source for used cars. Edmunds has on its site the dealer invoice and figures from that the amount that you should pay.

How do I pay for the car? Many of these sites have content and ads for banks and other organizations that finance cars. Compare these rates with those of your own bank or credit union so you can see how they stack up with dealer financing.

Once you get the information, familiarize yourself thoroughly with it, print in out, and keep it all together. Armed with that information, you will be in a much better position when you actually go to buy your car.