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By Dan Serra

RISMEDIA, Oct. 6, 2008-(MCT)-“There’s only pictures in this brochure, where are the words?” asked a shopper I recently overheard. Can you guess what this gentleman was looking at buying? A suit, a vacation, a computer? Try a car.

One of the largest expenses in our lives, our wheels, is a decision that needs to be based on more than pictures, however, the auto industry is selling cars by trying to appeal to the emotions we feel through sight.

After all, 83% of what we remember is from what we see, according to Wharton Research. Smart shoppers know to avoid the visual temptations that designers create and instead focus on the details.

Thanks to the Internet, most details can be found beforehand and therefore reduce time spent on the lot. Instead of starting the process by deciding what car looks the best, focus on what car delivers what you need. Sure, a Mustang may have sex appeal, but will it fill the family needs?

By listing what you need in a car you can make your search easier by narrowing down the choices from the start, or provide a means to eliminate cars you are considering.

For example, create your own auto profile by listing how many people need to fit in the car, how much you need for trunk space such as for strollers or exercise equipment, what gas mileage you desire and what safety features you desire such as passenger airbags and high crash test ratings.

You can customize the profile according to your needs, although a sun roof is hardly considered a need.

Once you’ve created your auto profile, start reviewing cars online either at the automakers’ sites, or (Kelley Blue Book). At the last two sites, you’ll get smarter on what you should pay for the vehicle. My recent experience buying a car that met my profile showed the used price for the vehicle to be around $15,000. When I found one at the dealer it was priced at $17,000. With that information, I was able to make an offer for $15,000 and have it accepted.

Auto dealers are experiencing difficult times in this economy so if you’re financially able to make a car purchase, now’s the time to negotiate. Like housing, it’s a buyer’s market for cars too. Fair offers and requests are likely to be received well.

With words, not pictures, you can avoid the emotional decisions and instead make the practical decision.

Dan Serra is a financial writer in Colorado Springs, Colo.

© 2008, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.