You've been drooling over that sweet little sports car for months — is it finally time to buy your first car? To find out if you're really ready, let's review this quick checklist of some of the things you should consider.
1. Know Your Number
If you're going to be financing your car purchase, it's a good idea to check your credit score so you can clean up anything that doesn't belong there to boost your number for a better interest rate.
2. Budget, Beautiful!
What can you afford to spend on a car payment? Run the numbers and keep that magic number in mind when you're shopping.
3. Don't Forget Insurance
Along with the cost of the payment itself, you'll also need to budget for car insurance.
4. And Maintenance...
And, too, you'll need to think about regular maintenance. Oil changes? Every 3,000 miles. New tires? Brakes? Factor in these occasional expenses, too.
5. Make a List
Think of all of the things you need in a car: good gas mileage, storage space, seating for friends and family, reliability, a sunroof, and so on. Decide what's a need and what's a want; what you're willing to sacrifice and what you're not.
6. Safety First!
If safety's important to you (of course it is!), look at the stats on the vehicles you're considering at the IIHS and NHTSA websites. It's free and it'll give you some peace of mind.
7. New or Used?
Are you wanting a new car, or a used one? There are advantages to both (new cars offer lower interest rates for financing, but used cars can be less expensive to buy overall). Give it some thought.
8. Read Reviews
There are so many sites that offer reviews on the cars you're considering — I really like Edmunds because the reviews are from people who actually own the cars. Spend some time reading reviews, which might help you narrow your field of car contenders.
9. Test Drive
If you're buying a new car, your test drive is mostly just to see if you like how the car handles and looks. If you're buying a used car, you'll want to look for more: is the car leaking any fluids? Does it hesitate? Pull to one side? Are any of the warning lights on? How many miles does it have on it?
10. Get a Mechanic's Opinion
If you're looking at a used car, take the time to have your mechanic give it a once-over to make sure it's road-worthy and that it's the right car for you.
11. Title Please!
Again, this really only applies to used cars, but be sure the vehicle you're wanting to buy has a valid, clear title before you sign on the dotted line. Avoid a car with a salvage title or with a lien.
12. Consider the Use
If you'll be using this car all day, every day as your "daily driver," that cute little convertible may not be the way to go. Consider how you'll be using the car when you're making your list of vehicles to shop.
Once you've narrowed down the list of cars you're considering, do a little comparison shopping, apples to apples. That 2012 Ford hatchback is available at three different dealerships nearby, but how are they priced?
14. Do You Get a Discount?
If you're buying a new car, check with friends and family to see if any of them can qualify you for a manufacturer's discount. It could save you thousands.
15. Sign on the Dotted Line!
Once you've found your car, for the right price, it's time to sign the paperwork and bring it home! Plan to spend about two hours on this process, and don't forget to bring your checkbook!
What other tips can you share with a first-time car buyer?