Buying a new car is a deeply personal experience, so you won’t be able to blame someone else if you discover the Chevy Sonic you were convinced was hip, is actually not quite so cool. That’s not to say you shouldn’t get some input, because doing the legwork on research for the hundreds of cars on sale in the USA would put anyone off. But knowing who to trust, weighing that advice against your own specific needs, and tempering it all with some common sense is how you ensure you get what you need.
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Naturally, before you even start looking at the market, you need to take a good hard look at yourself and your lifestyle. Obviously, you wouldn’t be considering buying a new car unless you needed one, or had the spare cash to spend. However, exactly how much you can afford and what you actually need will differ from person to person.
Your budget will most likely be the starting point for this adventure. Determining exactly what your expenses and disposable income are is the start of figuring out what type of car you should be aiming at. For most of us, this will rule out luxury brands like Mercedes-Benz or Audi. But if that is something you would actually like, there may hope yet, depending on the type of car that will best suit your lifestyle.
If you live in the city, then you might not be looking for a large, ponderous SUV. Instead, a small, nimble crossover might be a better fit. This is especially true if you’re a single guy or gal. If that’s the case, you may even be considering something a little more exciting, like a sports coupe. However, if you are already settled down with a family, or are thinking of starting one, a more practical choice may be advised. If you’re really lucky and have enough combined income to spare, you could get both a responsible family hauler and a sexy sports car for those nights when you hire a babysitter and take your significant other for a night on the town.
Shortlist the applicants
Buying a car is similar to accepting a college application. Sure, a lot of them look good on paper, but which are the ones that really stand out from the pack? You will need to be willing to commit to one of these vehicles for the next four to five years (just as any good school would), so you need to ensure you’re getting quality candidates. This is where the vetting process really begins.
Once you’ve determined what kind of car you’re after, you can start looking around, getting opinions from friends, and reading a review or two on the ones that catch your eye. Things to pay close attention to include:
Price – remember that MSRP is not what you’ll be paying at the end of the day.
Powertrain – the engine does matter, but do you really need 700+ horsepower?
Capacity – can it comfortably fit your entire family, and will there still be room left for cargo?
Safety – everyone and everything inside needs to arrive in the same condition they left.
Fuel economy – how much can you fork over monthly for gas?
Style and comfort – even if you’re not shopping premium, you can still find something cozy for those long drives.
Once you’ve found a few applicants that meet all of the basic criteria, it’s time for the interviews. You would never commit to any five-year relationship without first getting a feel for the other person, and the same is true for your car. Take each of your top picks out for a test drive at least once. You could also consider renting one for a week or two to see how it would be to live with. Just keep in mind that many rental agencies choose more expensive configurations than what you might get for yourself.
Wheeling and dealing
By the end of all this, you should have a firm favorite in mind, or maybe even two. Now it’s time to really shop. As with any big purchase, it’s vitally important to find the best deal. If you really need to save money and don’t mind owning a pre-loved vehicle, then you will definitely find the cheapest options on the used market. However, this does limit your choices a bit, since there is no way to customize it like you could when dealing with a manufacturer or dealership.
If you end up going for something brand new, then be sure to look at multiple dealerships. Check for sales and leverage your options to get the lowest price possible. Also, be willing to compromise, but don’t be swayed too easily by a silver-tongued salesperson. Often, if they don’t have what you really want, they will try to persuade you to settle for something else. You need to remember that you are the one with the power in this situation and not to relinquish it.
Beware of the various scams and tactics they might pull to make a sale. These include:
Pressuring you to trade-in your car for less than it’s worth but creating a false sense of urgency
Holding your keys/license hostage to keep you in the showroom longer
Checking your credit rating before you are ready to commit to a car, thereby negatively impacting future credit checks
Convincing you to pay more for your monthly installments than you had planned by offering more “value for your money”. Stick to your budget!
All of this may seem like a lot, but what it all boils down to is knowing what you want, what you can, and sticking to your game plan.