Buying a car for the first time can be exciting, challenging, scary, risky, confusing, overwhelming, exhausting, and incredibly rewarding all at the same time. So how do you prepare to make such a huge decision and confidently pull the trigger on a purchase you’ll live with every day for years to come? First, take a deep breath. And then read through our list of ten things all first-time car buyers should know:
1. Budget realistically
While it’s always ideal to pay up-front in cash, that’s not always realistic. Chances are, you’re going to wind up with some type of financing, so you have to factor a monthly car payment into your current budget. Don’t overestimate what you can afford to spend each month, or be overly confident about what you’ll be willing to sacrifice regularly… sure, it’s easy to say now that you’ll give up happy hour, but making that decision weekly for the next several years won’t be nearly as effortless. And don’t forget to factor in taxes, repairs, gas, insurance, and maintenance along with that monthly payment. Consider using an auto cost calculator online to see what you’ll really be spending on a monthly and yearly basis.
2. Decide what you really need
Before you even start looking at the features of specific cars you might be interested in, be honest about what you actually need in a car, day in and day out. This isn’t the time to think about what’s fashionable, what your dream car has always been, or even what you’ll need occasionally. Just like with your budget, this is the time to be realistic. Ask yourself the real questions: how many passengers will you have a regular day, how much parking space do you have where you live, how much time per day will you be spending in this car? For example, don’t get a truck or SUV thinking it will help when it comes time to move. It makes much more fiscal sense to rent a truck when you’re moving or need to haul something, and buy a smaller car for everyday use.
3. Consider what you want
Yes, this sounds contrary to the previous tip. But your wants do also come into play here. After all, this is not a process you will be repeating in the near future. The car you’re about to purchase will be your car for a long time, so it’s important to have the features that you really want. At this point, you need to carefully consider which of these features is an absolute must for you and which ones you would be fine living without. For example, if you have a long commute and you live in a cold area, heated seats might be very important to you. Someone else might not even consider a car that wasn’t Bluetooth-enabled. Calculate how much more your gotta-have-it upgrade will cost per month and decide (honestly!) if it’s worth it.
4. Research, research, research
Finally, it’s time to start researching! In the age of the internet, there is absolutely no excuse to not do all of the research. Fully research every car you’re interested in before you ever step foot in a dealership. Online, there are no showroom distractions. You can focus entirely on learning about the cars. Pay close attention to important features like mileage and safety ratings, read reviews from real buyers, talk to anyone you know or meet who owns the cars you’re considering. Do the footwork now, and it will save you big in the long-run!
Many people head into a dealership for the first time with a solid handle on their budget, feeling like they’re on top of things, but they’ve made one huge mistake: they’ve left the dealer as their only option for financing. Always, always, always shop for loans before you ever start shopping for a car! Getting preapproved for a loan not only helps you confirm a concrete budget, it also prevents you from being taken advantage of in the moment by the dealership. When you walk into that dealership for the first time, you should be armed with your credit score and your offers from multiple financial institutions. Then you have the power and you can see how the dealership’s financing offer measures up.
6. Take someone with you
Okay, so you’re walking into that dealership for the first time with your research in mind, knowing your credit score and financing options… who’s walking in with you? If you said “no one”, you’re setting yourself up to be at a disadvantage. Unfortunately, being a first-time buyer might lead some salesmen to believe you can be easily swayed by high-pressure tactics. Having another person with you, especially an experienced car buyer, can keep you from being taken advantage of. And it’s always beneficial to have a fresh set of eyes and ears, a voice of reason, someone on the outside who can contribute their perspective.
7. Test drive
There’s a reason the saying “you don’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive” is so well-known. No matter how much research you’ve done, you’ll never know how you really feel about a car until you drive it. There’s a difference between a car looking good on paper and driving well. Take at least 30 minutes for the test drive and be sure to drive it through different areas Iots of stoplights, freeways, etc.) And if you’re test driving multiple cars, do them all on the same day so you can compare them fairly.
8. Get an inspection
Just like never buying a car from a dealership without a test drive, you should never buy a used car without having your own certified mechanic perform an inspection. Yes, it may cost a little money and a little time, but it’s well-worth it, especially if the mechanic catches an issue that could be a huge money pit shortly down the road.
9. Establish purchase price
Just to be clear, budgeting for what you can afford and setting a purchase price are not the same thing. In fact, you should never divulge the amount you’ve decided you can pay per month to the dealership. Instead, take the amount you can afford per month and figure out how much the total cost of the car would be… and then go low. Give yourself room to negotiate. This is probably the most intimidating part of the process for a first-time car buyer, which is another reason it’s helpful to have an experienced car buyer there with you. Before you settle on a final purchase price, always get quotes from multiple dealership (or request a Carfax report for a used car). And if you are buying a used car, make sure you include any repair estimates (this is where that inspection comes into play) to negotiate down the total price of the car.
10. Enjoy/trust your gut
Even though buying a car for the first time can seem overwhelming, it’s important to focus on the milestone and try to enjoy yourself. Just remember, you’ll never buy a first car ever again! And, at the end of the day, if you’ve prepared and researched and budgeted and gone through every necessary step, when it’s time to pull the trigger on the purchase you just have to go with your gut. If something feels wrong, walk away. Once you’ve found the right car and made a purchase you feel good about, it will all be worth it!