Whether you want to surprise a loved one with a gift they’ll never forget, swap out for a more fuel-efficient model, or simply replace a car on its last leg, this time of year is a great time to buy a new vehicle.

With some auto manufacturers experiencing sluggish sales today’s car shoppers have a lot working in their favor. Taking the right steps before you even set foot on a car lot can help put you in the driver’s seat when it’s time to negotiate.

Check your credit score. A survey conducted in July by AWARE – a nonprofit consumer education group focused on auto financing – found that 54 percent of consumers will check their credit score before purchasing their next car or truck. Knowing your credit score helps you understand how dealers and auto lenders evaluate your credit risk and the interest rate for which you likely qualify. Having this information at your fingertips is the first step in preparing to negotiate for the best terms possible.

Be sure to compare interest rates. Comparison shopping means more than just pricing out the car or truck you want. Also investigate interest rates on financing from different sources.

Start with the relationships you already have – your bank, credit union, finance or mortgage lender. Auto dealers also can offer a range of options from multiple sources.

Another resource is the Equifax Rate Finder, a free online tool that tells you the interest rates lenders are offering on a specific loan type to consumers with your credit score in your geographic location. Go online to www.equifax.com.

An Equifax credit report offers an explanation of what your credit score means, information on how it compares to national averages and a graph of how lenders view you. You also can use the interactive score simulator to understand how your actions may impact your score.

The information you find at this Web site can help you to decide if you’ve found a good deal, or point you in the direction of a better one.

Once you have decided on a vehicle and you are ready to finalize your purchase, you still have one more opportunity to lower your costs.

Negotiate your annual interest rate. Ask about special financing incentives – these are often limited to certain models, makes or model-year vehicles. If no special financing offers are available, you can negotiate your annual interest rate just like you negotiate the price of the vehicle.

Keep in mind that credit history, current interest rates, market conditions, special offers and competition can impact the interest rates you are likely to receive. Having a holistic picture of your credit history can help strengthen your negotiating position.

It may not be the most exciting part of buying a new vehicle, but the extra research you do to secure favorable financing can yield big dividends in the form of lower monthly payments.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.