I will never again buy a car while under stress. Three years ago, a driver ran a red light and totaled my Kia Rio. I loved that little car for many reasons, primarily because it was a gift and therefore had no car payment attached.
For the first time in my life, I had to go car searching by myself. My car insurance would only pay for three days of rental car use, so I felt like I had to buy a car right away. In hindsight, I wish I had just paid for another week. It would have saved me so much anxiety and money.
I did some research about the process, but absolutely not enough. I thought all I needed to do before I went to a dealership was check with the bank about a loan. Wrong. After visiting two dealerships, I really had no idea what kind of car I wanted, or what I needed to look for/ask about while there.
I ended up purchasing a 2005 Nissan Altima that seemed practical. Since that time, I have put more money into the car than I care to think about. It seems something goes wrong every other month. I’d say it’s what you would call a “lemon.”
So, when my husband and I needed to purchase a new car for our Family, we performed over six months of research. We read articles. We talked to our parents and older friends. We visited countless dealerships. From that experience, I offer the following recommendations for a successful car hunt.
Know what you can spend
There is nothing worse than falling in love with a car and then realizing you can’t afford it. Visit your bank or a military-friendly credit institution, such as USAA, before stepping foot in a dealership. Many times, you can get a better interest rate and terms than if you go in with no background and agree to dealer financing.
Narrow it down
Knowing generally what kind of car you want and need can prevent you from becoming overwhelmed at the car lot. Think practically about what stage of life you and your Family are in now, how long you plan to keep the car, and what changes may lay ahead. For example, it’s probably not practical to buy a two-seat sports car if you and your spouse plan to have a child in the next year.
New, certified or used?
Now that you have an idea about your preferred car type, you should consider whether you need to have a brand-new car, or if a certified or used car would work for your Family. There are benefits to each, and it really is an individual decision, so I recommend researching the pros and cons before making a final choice.
Test drive
I cannot emphasize this enough — test drive as many cars as you can to get a feel for what you like about a car and what bugs you. Test drives are especially important for used cars.
Research
Once you have narrowed down your choices and test driven a few cars, it is important to thoroughly research your final picks — read reviews from other drivers and experts on websites like Consumer Reports and Edmunds. Look online, in newspapers and in automotive publications to compare prices between dealerships.
Negotiate
Most car dealerships expect and accept some form of negotiation on their sticker price. This is why research is so important. If you bring in an advertisement for a comparable vehicle at another dealership, the salesman may be inclined to price match or offer some other incentive, such as a roof rack. Don’t be afraid to walk away if things aren’t going well. It is very likely that you’ll receive a call with a new deal.
Purchasing a car doesn’t have to be a traumatic experience. Be smart, do your research and don’t spend more than you can afford. You’ll come out on top with a great car to boot. Good luck!