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consumer advice

Sierra Fiacconi recently bought her first car. Exciting stuff, right? For Fiacconi, not so much – she hated it, finding herself overwhelmed and stressed by the process.

"It was a frustrating few weeks," Fiacconi says. "I was bombarded with information and opinions from lots of friends and family."

The 17-year-old student from Sudbury, Ont., endured weeks of contemplation, stress and second-guessing before deciding on a white 2015 Volkswagen Jetta.

"It was a confusing process," she says. "I felt pretty lost."

Fiacconi's shopping experience isn't uncommon. New cars call to shoppers with promises, technologies and features galore. Buying one can be exciting, though the path to selecting and purchasing a new car can be wrought with tension.

Dealers' sales staff witness and bear the brunt of those anxieties.

"Customers often seem stressed about shopping for a new car," says Meredith Morris, president and general manager of Sudbury Hyundai, and a board member of the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC). "They often tell my sales team that they're overwhelmed with choices, or because a cousin told them one thing, and a spouse told them another. We say they have too many 'car lawyers.'"

There's no single way to navigate the process, or to identify which model is a best fit in any category. It's about matching a vehicle to a consumer's lifestyle, priorities and budget, and choices are abundant, often overwhelmingly. Research is key.

"Do your research online, and use independent media such as Consumer Reports and the Lemon-Aid Guide," Morris says. "Then, go to the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council website and study your rights when shopping for a car. Remember that, in Ontario, all-in pricing is the law."

If a shopper negotiates a price with a sales representative, OMVIC says the shopper can assume they're negotiating an all-in price. Only HST and licensing can be added, and any latter attempt by a dealer to add fees, or so-called mandatory charges for items or services, breach the OMVIC code of ethics.

Leasing versus buying

Deciding whether to lease or buy a vehicle can cause stress, too, as the best choice depends on a multitude of factors.

"Many customers are attracted to leasing a vehicle versus financing because of a lower monthly payment, but don't fully understand the implications of leasing," says Radek Garbowski, from Unhaggle.com

Online resources are available, such as monthly payment calculators, which determine payments while considering available incentives.

Haggling

There's nothing like negotiating – whether bargaining directly with a sales representative to trim a few dollars from the price, or taking the final price from one dealer to others to seek out additional savings – to elevate the stress level.

According to Unhaggle's research, the negotiating process can be a major cause of stress, especially for women.

"Stats have shown that women on average can overpay for the same vehicle by $1,353 compared to men. Approximately 69 per cent of women have a man accompany them to the dealership to help with negotiations," Garbowski says. "One solution is to negotiate a final price from home – over the phone or via e-mail. This ensures shoppers don't feel pressured, and can take the time to fully understand information and figures."

Vehicle selection

All of the above steps happen only once shoppers have decided on a vehicle. Fiacconi says this part of the experience was the most difficult.

"Everyone had input and opinions, and it was hard to know which vehicle was the best," she says. "That was the most frustrating part."

It helps to devise a solid, stick-to-it personal list of features and attributes needed in a new ride. What's important? All-wheel drive? A huge cargo area? Heated seats? A long powertrain warranty? Bluetooth? Writing down a price limit, as well as priority features and attributes, will help a consumer stay focused as he or she researches and gathers data.

"I wanted a car that looked good.," says Fiacconi. "Then, it had to ride really well. And heated leather seats were a must, as well as blind-spot monitoring, since that's a great safety feature for a new driver."

The list of must-haves is important: Go over it with the sales representative, and ensure the model hits as many of the items as possible.

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