Buying a car always seems to be more fun than ever. You set off with visions of driving home in a pristine modern engineering marvel, only to find the reality slightly less fantastical.
But this doesn’t have to happen; many car buyers make the mistake of showing up in a parking lot and walking aimlessly like a country boy who just fell off a turnip truck.
However, when buying a new or used car, a little more work needs to be done. To get as many cars as you want, you need to know what you’re doing. Preparation—as in so many aspects of life—is key.
Here are five things you should make sure to do before you even think about approaching a car park with the intention of buying a new or used car.
1. Research and decide
If the car dealer asked what kind of car you were looking for, and you said something like “I don’t know. Something good, I think…” then you deserve the hunk of lead they give you. You’re looking at a few thousand dollar purchase; don’t you think you should have an idea what kind of car you want? Check online, and read reviews from vehicle owners. Get a list of car direct mail to see what specials are currently available. Decide what kinds of features you need, and find out which ones you might not have.
Once you know the make and model of car you are looking for, decide on a few alternatives. As the song says “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes… you’ll get what you need” (Rolling Stones sing about cars, right?).
2. Check your credit
Once you have an idea of what kind of car you want, you have to figure out how to pay for it, and unless you have enough cash to just dump the salesman’s wad and speed like Duke of Hazard, that probably means you’ll be using a loan. The car dealer wants two things from you: you will buy the car, and you will pay your payments on time. If you have had trouble paying off debt in the past, then you will appear to be a greater risk to the person making the sale. So, to get a good rate on your car loan payments, you need a good credit score.
Of course, you can always try to refinance the car later in hopes of getting a better refinancing rate once your credit score improves, but that doesn’t really solve your current problem. You can check your credit score online for a small fee. The good news is that a high credit score means you’ll be able to negotiate better rates. The bad news is that a low credit score may mean you’ll be on the bus for a while.
3. Determine your absolute spending limit
We all like to think of ourselves as smart negotiators. And even if we ever get a used couch to steal at a neighbor’s garage sale, the difference between you and a car salesman is the difference between amateur and professional. These people do this for a living, and the things they know about negotiation and manipulation will blow your mind into a quivering mass of conquest that wants to sign any paper that is pushed in front of it. Your best defense against getting stuck is to set a limit on how much you are willing to spend.
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to spend this much; don’t tell the dealer that you are willing to lose $10,000 and not a penny more. If you do, he’ll help you out by selling the car for $5,000 for the low price of $10,000 exactly. Instead, make a mental note of what your limits are, and for the love of heaven, stick to them. If the dealer says he won’t sell you a car for less than $5,500, then walk away. There are lots of cars out there; eventually you will find a seller willing to play ball.
4. Find a good mechanic for future checks
Even more than a test drive, an inspection by a certified mechanic is the best way to get an accurate picture of the shape of your prospective car. Because of this, it’s important to find a talented mechanic so that before you buy a car, you can have him inspect it for problems. A mechanic will be able to tell you which components are in bad shape, and what need to be replaced. With this knowledge, you can decline a purchase, or use it as negotiating ammunition. Most car dealers will allow you to do an inspection before buying a new or used car, but be sure to call ahead to verify that it won’t be a problem (if it is, then don’t bother buying the car). from that dealer).
5. Arrange alternative transportation
If you do it right, car shopping can take a long time. Your chances of finding the right vehicle in the first lot on day one is slim, and nothing motivates a buyer like knowing he has no way to get to work on Monday. Desperate shoppers are easy prey for unscrupulous sellers, and they will do anything to capitalize on your needs. So take some of the pressure off and find a short term solution to get around town.
If you can borrow a car from a friend or family member, or get a temporary bus ticket, then you’ll be more willing to wait for a good deal. And if you can switch to a bicycle, then you will improve your health while shopping. And who knows? You may find that public transit and cycling are better choices for you. After all, with the price of insurance, licensing, and gasoline, a car can be enough to drain your finances. On the other hand, riding a bicycle or taking a bus will only hurt your self-esteem.