A couple of months ago I spent several days test driving about every four-wheel-drive sports utility vehicle on the market.

I figured that once I drove them all I would become an expert on that type of vehicle. My hope was to buy the one that I determined to be the best built for the best price.I soon found out that it didn't matter which one was the best buy, because I couldn't afford any of them. I narrowly avoided becoming a member of the overpopulated "I can't afford it but I have to have it" club.

But during my brief test-driving crusade, I learned several things about the car business, mainly because two car-consumer-expert friends got ahold of me before I made some car salesman's day.

I learned that buying a car is a mean and nasty game and requires certain knowledge and skills. A person must become an expert in the field of car buying in order to keep from driving off some car lot with "I've been taken to the cleaners" stamped on his forehead.

I learned that buying a car is not like picking something out at the grocery store. The prices marked on cars are just there to tell you "if you're an idiot this is what you'll pay."

I learned that salesmen have more flexibility on the price of a car than most people think. Even though I didn't buy a car, almost every salesman I talked to was willing to take more than $1,000 off the sticker price.

I learned that cars are not cheaper in Salt Lake City than they are in Provo or Orem. In fact, in most cases they cost more. In some cases, however, Salt Lake car lots have a better selection.

I learned that car prices advertised in newspapers are usually for cars that have only a dashboard, seats and wheels.

But most important, I learned that when I do decide to buy a car there are a lot of resources locally to help me become a more educated car buyer. Both the Provo and Orem city libraries have sections on car buying. The sections contain books and magazines that rate cars, list wholesale prices and describe the proper way to deal with salesmen.

Also, the continuing education department at Utah Valley Community College offers a one-day course on car-buying strategies. By taking this course a person will learn what it takes to get a good deal on a car.

Car dealers place inflated sticker prices on cars because they know that out there somewhere is somebody who will pay that much.

"The majority of people are uneducated in how to buy a car. As a result, most people pay too much for their cars," said Allen Johns, teacher of the UVCC course.

If we would all become better educated in car-buying strategies, the present-day philosophy used by car dealers would have to cease. Dealers would have to drop their weapons and price their cars like grocers price bread. We'll just pick one out and drive it through the check-out stand, and the salesman will kindly ask, "Will that be all today?"