Buying a car is a major purchase, which is why it’s a good idea to spend some time thinking about your needs and investigating your options before you jump into the driver’s seat.
Get to know your options. One great way to learn about different cars and pick the best one for you is by visiting a few dealerships and asking questions and maybe taking a test drive. The salespeople will probably have more time to answer your questions if you can drop by on a weekday afternoon or early evening rather than a busy weekend.
Decide whether you want to buy or lease. When it comes to getting a car, there are basically three options: buy new, buy used or lease. Each one has its own advantages and drawbacks, so it’s a good idea to consider all three and pick the right one for you. Are you unsure how long you plan to keep the car? A lease may not be your best choice, then, because there are often heavy penalties if you want to turn in the car before the lease term is over. Leases can also be problematic if you’ll be putting on a lot of miles, since there are usually limits. Used cars are cheaper, but they often come with a short or no warranty and they may require more maintenance than a new model. Buying outright may be the most expensive, but typically comes with the best warranty.
Ask how you can get it for less. Car dealers offer a range of incentives, discounts, rebates, special financing offers and lease deals. A cash bonus, for example, may be applied to the sale or lease price of a car for a variety of reasons, such as your loyalty to the dealership or brand, or even your ownership of a competing brand. There may also be special offers for lower interest rates, prices and lease terms. Watch the manufacturers’ sites and advertisements for more information, and be sure to ask about the best deals when you visit dealerships.
Get a firm price and stick to your budget. When you negotiate a deal, be sure that the price you accept reflects the final costs and includes everything, including tax, all the extras you’ve requested and any warranties. Speaking of extras, it’s a good idea to decide in advance which ones you really need—and whether a warranty is worth it—and be prepared to turn down additions that you don’t actually want. Determine your maximum monthly budget for car payments in advance and be sure that the final monthly payments fit that budget. When you’re calculating your monthly budget, remember to consider car insurance for the model you’re choosing and the people who will be driving, as well as gas and commuting and maintenance costs. If you’re surprised by how much they add up, you may need to lower your budgeted monthly amount.
Bring the whole gang for the test drive. Will a particularly tall member of your family be riding in the car a lot? Will your kids or other riders fit comfortably in the back seat? Make sure everyone who will use the car takes a ride and checks out the available space. Ask, too, if you can bring the car out on a highway, in heavy traffic or wherever else you do most of your driving.