Don't let the process of buying a car intimidate you. Check out these tips by guest contributor Emily Green.
Shopping for a new car can be daunting, as the ever-expanding selection of brands, models, features, and financing options can make any buyer feel overwhelmed. By learning about common car-buying pitfalls and how to avoid them, you can set yourself up for a successful, even enjoyable, experience finding your next car.
When a customer walks into a dealership without financing in place, the sales staff sees a golden opportunity to not only sell them a car, but also lock them into a financing contract that puts the dealer's interests first. By getting pre-approved by a bank or credit union before you start shopping, you'll have a baseline to compare financing offers from the dealer.
Unless you're in the enviable position of being able to pay cash up front, your first thought when deciding what car you can afford is probably the monthly payment. While it may be tempting to lower your payments by stretching out the term of the loan or jumping on a promotional lease deal, you may end up paying more and getting less in the long run. Do the math and figure out the total cost over time, then weigh that against what you're getting for your money.
Speaking of doing the math, remember that new cars cost more than what's on the sticker. Taxes, license fees, interest, insurance, maintenance, and fuel can add up to big differences in the real world cost of ownership. Do your research and factor these in when calculating the total cost of the car, and consider using them as negotiation points. The dealer may have more leeway on these related costs than on the base price of the vehicle itself.
There are a lot of questions a smart car buyer needs to ask before jumping into a purchase. What sort of car is right for you, in terms of the kind of driving you do most often, how often you carry multiple passengers or lots of cargo, etc.? Which makes and models are the top competitors for vehicles that meet those needs? How do they compare in terms of safety ratings, customer reviews, and features? If you're considering a used car, has it had a thorough, third-party inspection and report?
The more information you have up front, the less likely you are to get talked into a purchase that ends up being a bad fit, practically or financially.
Amazingly, one out of every six new car buyers skips the test drive. Feature descriptions and data have their place, but a test drive is the only way to get a feel for things like sight lines, handling, accessibility of features and controls, and overall comfort. A test drive is mandatory for every car you're seriously considering, and that means trying out everything from the engine to the cup holders.
Once you know what you want, put yourself in the proverbial driver's seat. Stay away from in-person negotiations at the dealership, where you're on the sales team's turf. Hashing out the details by phone or email gives you time to think, and the benefit of doing so on your own terms. It's also a good litmus test; any dealer who balks at working with you this way is someone who doesn't deserve your business.
One thing you can count on when shopping for a new car is that there will be something you didn't know you wanted until the dealer dangles it in front of you. Heated seats, sun roofs, and fancy wheels can be hard to resist, but they're also likely to break your budget. If it wasn't important enough to make it on to your list of needs, it's probably something you can live without, and your bank account will thank you for staying strong.
With these tips in mind, car shopping will be as easy as a,b,c. Do you have any more tips to share?
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