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Here are some helpful Web sites to check out when buying a new or used vehicle:

Better Business Bureau - www.bbb.org 

Carfax, Inc.- www.carfax.com

Consumers' Checkbook - CarBargains - www.carbargains.org 

Edmunds.com, Inc. - www.edmunds.com - gives the True Market Value, or average selling price, for a particular vehicle in your region.  

Consumer Reports. - www.consumerreports.org/cro/cars.htm

Kelly Blue Book - www.kbb.com 

National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Guides Online - www.nadaguides.com 

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - www.nhtsa.dot.gov  - for federal crash test results

US Department of Energy -  www.fueleconomy.gov  - for gas mileage info.

Highway Loss Data Institute www.hldi.org - gives rankings for injury & property losses for any vehicle, plus a list of the most- and least-stolen models.  These factors affect insurance costs as well as your safety & peace of mind.  

If you want to buy a car on the web, there are two kinds of Internet service:

(1) Dealer Referral: AutoBytel, the major surviving service of this type, does not give you an immediate price quote. Fill in the Autobytel form detailing what vehicle you want and your color and options preferences. Then you will get a phone call or e-mail from a local dealership (sometimes almost immediately, sometimes a day or so later). At that point, you will get a price quote and some idea of whether the dealer has -- or can get -- the vehicle you want.

If you've already researched the True Market Value price from Edmunds, you can tell if the offer is a good one. Autobytel prices are supposed to be non-negotiable, but dealers actually will sometimes budge from their initial offer.

The major drawback of Autobytel, however, is that each dealership gets exclusive territory, so you will get a price from only that dealership designated for your area. That means you won't get the advantage of competitive bids.

(2) Direct Internet Service: With CarsDirect, you can go onto the Web site, fill in the vehicle you want and get an immediate, non-negotiable price. These prices usually are competitive and may be a little above or below the Edmunds True Market Value number depending on the vehicle.

CarsDirect.com, which gets its cars through dealers, doesn't guarantee it will be able to deliver exactly the color and options you want on your new car. But your chances are good if you are buying, say, a Honda Civic, a Chevy pickup or any other big-volume model in a popular color. When you find the price you want at CarsDirect, it really can't be any easier.

For another low-hassle option, consider hiring a car buying service. For fees ranging from $190 to $450, depending on the level of service, they go out and get competitive bids from dealers and do all the negotiating for you. These services communicate with you via e-mail and telephone. Three of the best are AutoAdvisor (www.autoadvisor.com; 800-326-1976) CarQ (www.carq.com; 800-517-2277) and Car Bargains (www.carbargains.org; 800-475-7283).