Buying a new ride will never be the same

The new resources put you on more equal footing with car dealers.

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By Joe Light, Ismat Sarah Mangla and Pat Regnier

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NEW YORK (Money Magazine) -- Most buyers these days do research online before buying, but it's easy to drive yourself to distraction and confusion going through dozens of sites, free and paid, that offer car reviews and purported pricing expertise.

Here's the most efficient way to find the car you want at the right price. It'll cost you $13 but save you hundreds, if not thousands.

For $5.95, buy a month's worth of access to ConsumerReports.org, where the "advanced search" tool will let you break down your choices by car type, number of passengers, price and miles per gallon. That will give you a good starter list of possible cars, along with a side-by-side comparison of Consumer Reports' ratings and reviews.

Edmunds.com and KBB.com (run by Kelley Blue Book) have similar tools and ratings for free, but without the reliability rankings, which are easily worth $6. (Ask any owner stuck with a lemon.)

The sites also have video reviews: They couldn't be duller. Edmunds.com, though, is a great place to find out what others think of the car that you're considering. The site's active forums have a healthy balance of regular owners and enthusiasts who can answer your questions.

Now for the deal. Edmunds will arm you with an MSRP, an invoice price and a "true market value" - showing what most buyers are paying in your area - for every trim and option available.

Next go to CarDeals.org and buy the most recent CarDeals report ($7), which comes out every other Wednesday. The report shows the current incentives the manufacturer is offering dealers.

Subtract that amount from the invoice price and now you know what the dealer is really paying for the car. You're ready for battle.

From this point on, your best weapon is a slightly older technology: the telephone. Call several dealers and get price quotes, then play them off one another. If a salesman says you have to come in to talk price, move on. Remember, you're in the driver's seat.

A warning: Don't bother asking for dealer quotes through the KBB and Edmunds sites. Give up your e-mail address and you'll have salespeople contacting you several times a week, with almost none willing to give you an actual offer.

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