Experts say you should shop for a car loan before you shop for the car, so congratulations, you're ahead of the curve.
When it comes to poor credit car loans, lenders are most comfortable with loans in the $10,000 range. That number comes up a lot because the optimum monthly payment is based on a ratio of your income versus your debts.
There are plenty of sweet cars in that price range. The trick is to find award-winning cars from a few years back and see how they've held their value.
For instance, if you're looking for a sport utility vehicle, the Suzuki Grand Vitara has great crash ratings and has held up reliably over time. If you're looking for a mid-size sedan, everybody wants a Camry or Accord, but you can find very comparable Nissans and Mitsubishis for thousands less. (More research.)
The number one thing upon which all the experts agree is to negotiate the total price of the car, not the monthly payment. Just about any deal can be made for your monthly payment if you stretch the loan out long enough.
The final, most important point for a poor credit history customer, is to appreciate the power of a big downpayment. You don't want to get stuck with what's known as gap insurance because your total note is worth more than the car (in case it is totalled or stolen). When in doubt, put more down.
Look at it this way: Putting down an extra $1,000 on a four-year, 10 percent loan doesn't save you a thousand dollars -- it saves you $1,200 dollars (after interest).
Bottom line: low car loan rates, low new and used car prices -- a perfect time to take our advice.