A car might be one of the biggest ticket items you will buy in your life. It can be a nerve-wracking experience–searching for the car you want, finding a reputable dealership, getting the financing you need, negotiating with sales people, and worrying if you’ll get a good deal. Here are five things to consider before stepping onto the car lot:
1. Check Out the Market
Ask yourself what you want in a new vehicle, and list out both your must-haves and your desires. Then, narrow your search. Use popular search automotive resources like Edmunds.com, JDPower.com, CarAndDriver.com, and ConsumerReports.org to better research and select the type of vehicle you want. You can filter by model, price, or otheravailable options. These resources will not only help you weed out models with known issues, but will also help you ask the right questions when you visit the dealership.
There is no such thing as too much knowledge when it comes to narrowing the search for your new vehicle purchase. Check Kelley Blue Book at kbb.com, AutoTrader.com, eBay.com, CarMax.com, and even Craigslist to compare prices for cars in your area. Researching the market will give you the edge you need to negotiate once you arrive at the auto dealership.
2. Check Out Your Local Dealerships
But first, you’ll want to decide which dealership will best meet your needs. Hands down, in this situation, word-of-mouth is always paramount. Call on friends and family, especially those who have recently purchased a car. Ask them to share their experiences with you. Find out what dealerships offered great deals, quality vehicles, and good customer service. Be sure to use your better judgment in making your selection. Don’t listen to the uncle, who plays golf on weekends with the dealership owner. Nor the cousin, who raves of a cute salesman but bought a car with a gremlin-sounding malfunctioning engine.
Additionally, you’ll want to check local dealer websites for several reasons. One, you want to know if the model you are looking for is actually in stock. Also, there is much that you can tell about a dealership by reading site reviews and testimonials. You might expect smart businesses to stifle a bit–but, if a dealership has been in business for 25 years or more and only two people can say something nice about the service, you may want to look elsewhere. A well-written and maintained website is another clue. Dealerships with haphazard websites are likely to carry a lackadaisical attitude towards the vehicles they sell and the service they provide.
Finally, look for company transparency. For example, contact information should be easy to find and working. Basic information about inventory should be easily accessible. CarFax history and reports should be readily available as well.
3. Consider Your Budget
Before you can initiate buying the car of your dreams, you need to know exactly what you can afford. Start with a realistic overall price you want to pay for a car. Know exactly what you can afford per month if you’re considering a car loan and how much you can afford for a down payment. Don’t forget to consider the added fees for tags, registration, title, delivery, inspection, sales tax and so on.
Additionally, remember this. You newly purchased car is not necessarily an investment– it’s an expense. So, don’t forget about the continued costs of licensing and inspections, gasoline, insurance premiums, maintenance, and repairs. Budget for everything, and then some. And, stick to your budget.
4. Check Out Financing and Loan Options
Often, car dealerships can offer you the best loan options. But first you’ll need to know what everyone else is offering. Check national interest rates, local banks, and credit unions to find out if dealership financing is the best option for you.
Know your credit score. If your credit score is less than optimal, do what needs to be done to increase your score. Otherwise, you may qualify for a loan with an 8% interest versus the 2.75% national base. Whatever you do, avoid applying for loans all over town. Every time you apply, a credit check or inquiry is run, which puts another ding in your score.
Ok. Kudos to you, if you have all the money you need to purchase your new or used car. But, you might want to keep this to yourself when it’s time to negotiate with a car dealer. If the sales person doesn’t know your limits, he or she cannot push them. Also, wait until the deal has been made before you mention any trade-in. A trade-in and purchase should be two entirely separate negotiations.
5. Check Your Confidence at the Door
So, you’ve done your homework. You know exactly what you want, where to find it, what you can spend, and what to expect in fair financing. You now have purchasing confidence, and you are ready to invest it into your shopping experience. Bringing someone with you who doesn’t have a stake in your purchase might also help. Let that person be the voice of reason and the one to drag you out of there by your ear if needed. Better yet, bring Uncle Joe, the mechanic. A little extra expertise certainly can’t hurt.
Most of all, brace yourself for the “walk-away.” No matter how perfect the car, and no matter how great the offer, prepare to walk out and go home. But, be sure to bring home all the pertinent information and that all questions were answered to your satisfaction. Now, you have time to think about this purchase and talk it over with friends and family. Chances are, if you have done your due diligence, you can walk right back into the dealership the next morning, confident and with a clear conscience, and drive away in your dream machine.