Everything You Need To Know Before Buying Your Next Car

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A complete guide to finding the perfect car.

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Whether you are shopping for your first car or just looking to upgrade, buying a car can be a challenging experience, which is why so many people end up looking for a car-buying guide. So, if you're looking for guidance on how to choose a car, new or used, here are some tips and tricks to make it a little easier. Needless to say, this is not a price guide to car buying, but rather a rundown of the steps you should follow from the first moment you consider the prospect, through to when you drive your new car off the lot.

Steps to a Successful Car Purchase Pexels.com
Long-awaited Purchase first car freepik.com

1. Know Your Finances and Your Needs

Before you even consider purchasing a car, you should make sure it's something you can afford. This means sitting down and doing a detailed assessment of your finances: clearly define your income versus your expenses to ensure you have enough disposable income to put towards a new vehicle. Of course, part of doing so is determining exactly what kind of car you're after.

A small sedan or hatchback will set you back a lot less than a mid-size SUV or a sports car. So, you need to take a look at your lifestyle and figure out which body style will best suit your specific needs. If it's just you, then a small vehicle might be ideal, but if you're settling down with a partner, you might want to consider a family-focused vehicle, even if you're not planning to have kids right away.

Those who can afford an expensive luxury car or a high-performance roadster may not need to be quite as pedantic with their financing. But, you don't get rich by being irresponsible with your savings. And, if you take the time to do it right, you may find out that you can afford a lot more car than you originally thought.

Sitting Down and Doing a Detailed Assessment of Your Finances
Track-Weapon Warfare: GMA T.50s Niki Lauda Vs. Pagani Huayra R
Track-Weapon Warfare: GMA T.50s Niki Lauda Vs. Pagani Huayra R
Presenting The Best And Worst C8 Corvette Bodykits
Presenting The Best And Worst C8 Corvette Bodykits

2. Do Your Research to Find the Perfect Fit

Once you know what your limits are, you can start hunting for something that catches your eye. However, this is more than just a beauty pageant, although looks certainly do matter. Some key points to keep in mind when shopping around is to ask yourself whether the options have:

  • Sufficient power to get you where you need to
  • Enough cabin space for all your passengers and cargo
  • Modern safety features to keep everyone safe
  • Acceptable fuel economy figures
  • The right looks that align with your personal style
  • Unique characteristics that you may be specifically looking for (for example, 4WD for off-roading adventures, or a drop-top roof)

Once you've picked out some favorites, it's time to do some in-depth research. Luckily, the modern age allows you to do all this from the comfort of your home. There are a variety of online car sites with detailed reviews, as well as a complete breakdown of the specs and pricing for every model on sale in the USA. Many even have comparison tools or a complete car buying guide, including consumer reports to help you get a complete picture. Remember to check safety ratings, recalls, and complaints to get a good idea of what to avoid.

Small Old but Cheap Car unsplash.com
New Comfortable Car unsplash.com

3. Lease or Buy?

Once you've organized your finances and refined your list of options down to a select few, it's time to decide if you'd rather lease or buy. There are advantages to each that you should take into consideration before you even walk into a dealership.

Leasing

  • Lower monthly costs in comparison to paying off a loan
  • You can upgrade every few years to make sure you always have the latest cars
  • You seldom have to pay out of pocket for repairs and maintenance
  • There are no complicated trade-in calculations
  • Potential savings on sales tax

Buying

  • You aren't locked in to a specific car for an extended period
  • You can sell the car to get cash for your next upgrade
  • You don't have to worry about mileage penalties, though they might affect trade-in value
  • Freedom to modify and customize the car to your taste
  • Financing a loan is a simpler process than leasing
  • Ownership of the vehicle you are paying for
Leasing a car freepik.com
Buying car freepik.com

4. Know Your Credit Score and Get Financed

Now, it's almost time to go see the car for real. But, before you set foot in a dealership, there is still a little prep work to do. Firstly, check your credit score, unless you happen to have cash or a lump sum on hand to use. This will help you determine what kind of rating you can expect to get when you choose to finance your car. It may also be a good idea to contact your financial service provider and get preapproved for a loan. With both these pieces of information, you will have all the power when it comes to negotiating with the salesperson. They can't mislead you about your credit score, and they will have to meet or beat your loan if they want to offer you financing on their terms.

5. Look Around for the Best Deal

Now that you're in a position of power, you can start shopping around for cars. You know what you're looking for and what you can afford, so now you need to see who has what you want. Look up your local dealers to see what they have in stock. If you want the best prices possible, you should aim to do your shopping around the end of the year - since dealerships are often looking to get rid of their current stock to make space for new models, you might find some really great deals.

However, there are often sales at other times of the year, too, so keep your ear to the ground and your eyes peeled. By leveraging various offers, you can increase your odds of getting exactly what you want for the best possible price. Of course, you can find even lower prices if you aren't opposed to owning a pre-loved vehicle. You can often haggle more when it comes to used cars, too.

Keep in mind that when you are buying a hybrid or electric car, you are entitled to certain incentives. You should check with your state's emissions regulations to see what you may be eligible for. Information is power, after all.

6. Take it for a Spin

At last, it's time to actually get behind the wheel of one of your top picks. If possible, you should find the same car at multiple dealerships, since each will be slightly different. Unless you are willing to order it to specification on the manufacturer's site and pay all the relevant costs you will have to settle for one of the mass-produced presets. Getting a feel for each might affect your decision to go for the best you can afford or to save a few bucks by skipping out on some unnecessary features.

Naturally, the main reason behind a test drive is to get a feel for the car. No matter how good it may look on paper, this is the make-or-break moment. Settle your nerves and drive it the way you would your current vehicle to ensure it will live up to your daily needs. You should also spend some time in the back seat and give the trunk a thorough examination. It is also a great time to fiddle with all the available features to see how useful and easy to use they actually are.

Side View Driving unsplash.com
Take a Ride Behind the Wheel unsplash.com

7. Is it Brand New or Does it Have a History?

If you decide that you are interested in buying the model you tested, you first have to do your due diligence. If you are buying new, the car's history and repair records should be clean. What you can do, though, is check out consumer reviews of the dealership. This will prepare you for any shenanigans they might try to get you to spend more. This may include pressuring you to buy a more expensive model with attractive monthly installments or convincing you that you need much more insurance than you do.

However, if it's a pre-owned model you're looking at, you can't just take the owner's word on everything. You should definitely insist on seeing all the paperwork pertaining to the vehicle. However, this, too, may not always be reliable. If you can afford it, then your best bet would be to get an independent expert to perform a proper inspection of the vehicle. This will help to settle any doubts or reservations you may have. Read our guide on buying new or used here, and remember that buying a car sight-unseen has its own considerations that you can read more about here.

Buy New Car pexels.com
Buy Use Car pexels.com

8. Information is Power, don’t Give it Up too Easily

Once you are satisfied with everything about the car, it is time to start negotiations. This can be one of the most stressful parts of the process, since you need to remain friendly but not get emotionally invested. Dealers may be focused on the bottom line only, and want to make the best sale possible - don't let this be at your expense. Some key things to keep in mind during negations include:

  • Remain professional - never let on that you're overly interested in a specific car.
  • Don't get personal - your private life is exactly that; there is no need to share such information with a car salesman.
  • Don't be swayed - many dealers will try to sell you extra features or add-ons; stay true to your maximum budget no matter what.
  • Know your trump cards - if you are planning to trade in your current vehicle, never lead with this information. Once the final price has been set, you can use the trade-in to knock a little extra off at the end.

In most states, you will also need to get car insurance for the new vehicle, even if you have it for your current ride. Here, it is important to know exactly what you need to cover. Don't allow yourself to be manipulated into spending more than is actually necessary. The same goes for other protection plans like extended warranties.

9. You’re the One in Charge, Never Forget it

If you ever feel uncomfortable during the buying process, remember that you are the one who makes all the decisions, and this includes when to leave. Sometimes, showing that you are willing to walk away from what is being offered can be enough to prompt a salesperson into being more generous. More than anything, they want to make a sale, even if it means not getting you to agree to all the little extras that will see them get a juicier commission. Use this to your advantage to maintain control over the proceedings.

Car Buying Guide freepik.com

10. Before You Sign on the Dotted Line...

The very last thing you need to do is sign the paperwork, but this should never be done without a thorough examination of everything in front of you. If you sign without fully understanding every section, you are the one who will be held liable, even if you have been cheated. So, make sure you understand the jargon, both car-related and legalese. It can't hurt to get some advice from an impartial party or someone you know who has done this all before, if you are unsure.

best way to buy a car freepik.com

FAQs

How should you choose your next car?

There really is no shortcut to finding the perfect car. You need to decide if you're looking for an SUV or a sedan, or even a hatchback or minivan. Once you know what body style best fits your lifestyle, you should see what the experts have to say on the various car-review sites. Whether you're looking for a regular gas-fed vehicle or need a car-buying guide for a hybrid or used car, you will often find some great advice.

What is the best way to buy a car?

These days, you can find just about anything online, which makes it one of the best places to buy a new car. Manufacturer sites allow you to configure a specific make and model in just about any way imaginable. Alternatively, you can cruise many dealership showrooms in the US virtually to see what is available on hand.

What car brands retain their value the longest?

In terms of five-year depreciation, the vehicles that lose the least value last year include the Jeep Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited, the Toyota Tacoma and Tundra, and the Porsche 911.

Where can I buy the cheapest car?

You will unlikely find anything cheaper than you would in the used car market. People selling their cars privately don't put a mark-up on to earn a commission as a dealership would, so you can get a car even cheaper than you would at a used car lot. You may even be able to haggle the price down further.

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