Everything You Need to Know about Buying a Car

So, you’re buying a car. That’s awesome! You’re probably going to rely on it a lot unless you live in a big city with a great public transportation system. From commuting to work or school to having a reliable ride to social activities, having your own car is super convenient.

You’ll need to know a lot before you can start looking for cars, though, so let’s talk about all the work that goes into getting your new car.

Know what you’re looking for

Before you can even start looking for a car, you need to know what you’re looking for. That means answering some questions. How often will you be driving? Are there any amenities you absolutely need? Where are you going to park? You don’t need to have exact answers right away, but you will want to keep those questions in mind as you’re looking.

Make and model

If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t know a whole lot about cars. Even if you know some, you may not have a specific make/ model in mind when you’re looking to buy one. That’s fine and all, but it helps a lot if you know what you’re looking for. 

Figuring what make you want is a great way to start when you’re looking to buy a new car. Once you know what car make you want, you can start doing research. How reliable does the manufacturer tend to be? What are their best models? How many miles per gallon can you expect? You’ll even want to consider how available/ expensive their car parts are wherever you live. 

It seems like everyone and their mom is getting a Tesla these days but did you know even with insurance, it can cost between $1,000 and $2,000 just to replace the windshield? As fancy as they are, I certainly wouldn’t want to pay that much out of pocket for a windshield. I’m not saying don’t get a Tesla; I’m just saying potential repair costs are something to think about.

Knowing what kind of make and model you want also lets you do more research on the safety of specific cars and even the differences year to year of certain models. (Apparently, it’s a thing where car manufacturers just drop the ball on certain years for certain cars). 

New or used?

Another great way to narrow your search is to think about how many miles you want your car to have. Obviously, that’s something you don’t have to consider if you’re getting a brand-new car. Consider though that there are plenty of used cars out there with low miles that will be just as good and cost way less than something new.

Weigh the pros and cons of a new vs. a used car while you’re looking around. It will most likely be easier to find a specific new car than a specific used one. With a used car, you’ll have to roll the dice with its history too. (Luckily, Carfax exists now and can help take some of the risk out of it).

Keep in mind that new cars are way more expensive. That means you probably won’t be able to get as good of a deal on a new car as you will a used one.

Arrange a test drive

If you’re not 100% sure you’ll like a car or not, take some time to test drive. The best way to know if you will like a car is to take it for a spin after all. A dealership is a good place to test drive multiple cars, but you will have to deal with salesmen trying to talk you into buying. 

If you find a used car you like online or elsewhere, you should still be able to take it for a test drive too. Test drives are a completely reasonable thing to ask for. Think twice if the seller is hesitant to let you do it. (Also, make sure you have your insurance info with you when you go to test drive!)

Mileage

When I was buying a car, I was told that I should look for something with 60,000 miles or less. My first car had over 110,000 miles on it when I first got it, though, so think more about how long you’ll want to drive the car and less about the specific number of miles.

According to JDPower, the average car accumulates between 10,000 and 15,000 miles per year, and most cars should be able to run over 200,000 miles without major issues. What that essentially means is if you don’t want to buy another car in the next 10 years, you probably want to look for something with less than 100,000. 

If you think you might sell it off sooner rather than later, go right ahead with the cheaper option with more miles.

Keep your budget in mind

Cars are crazy expensive. Even a used car from 10 years ago can be over $20,000 before all the extra fees and taxes. That means your budget is going to be a huge determining factor in what kind of car you can get. Most people won’t be able to pay out of pocket for a new car unless they go for the cheapest option… Which is likely to break down on them in a month. 

What you’re able and willing to pay is going to be up to you, but there are a few things to keep in mind regardless of your budget.

Negotiating

Most places you can get a car, you’ll be able to negotiate the price a little. Go into the negotiation with a bottom line of how much you’re willing to spend and as much information about the car you want as possible. Look the car up online and see how much other people are buying/ selling it for. If you think you’re getting upcharged, bring that up and let the seller know that you know what the car is worth.

One of the last things you want to do when buying a car is name a price first. It’s hard to find the magic number both you and the seller agree on immediately, so try to get them to name a lower price first. If you still don’t like it, you can work with what they gave you and come up with a counteroffer.

When you go to negotiate, understand the cards you hold in your hand. If you’re able to pay upfront, that’s great leverage a lot of the time. If you’re pre-approved for financing/ a loan, that’s another plus for you. It also helps to have good credit, but that plays a bigger role in financing than in negotiating. 

Car payment 

Unless you’re lucky enough to be able to save nearly every penny you can for a few years, you’re probably going to need a loan to afford your new car. That means monthly payments to pay off said loan. 

While you still need to be able to afford your monthly payments, you want to keep the overall price of the car in mind first while you’re shopping around. 

Some dealerships have options to finance through them, but you probably want to go through your bank or a local credit union first. They’re still trying to make money but aren’t as invested in raking you over the coals as a dealership.

Taxes, titles, and other fees

I think it’s true of any big purchase. There are expenses and fees you don’t think about. I had been warned about extra fees for things like electric cars and hybrids, but I hadn’t expected just how much they would cost. 

After dropping $23,000 on my car, I thought that would be that. Little did I know I would also be shelling out another $2,000 for a warranty (hey, it’s good for 100,000 miles with no expiration date) and an additional $2,000 at the DMV for all the taxes, title transfer paperwork, and other fees. Meaning my $23,000 car actually ended up being $27,000… Not a thrilling discovery to make. 

Moral of the story: when figuring out your budget, make sure you give yourself some financial room to breathe. Just in case.

Final checks

You’ve finally found a car you like; you’ve test-driven it, and you’re even approved for your car loan. The last thing you’ll want to do is take it to a reliable mechanic. Just in case the seller missed a serious problem with the car, you’ll want to have a 3rd party check it over, so you won’t be saddled with repairs right after driving it off the lot.

Some online car sellers will let you return a car, no questions asked, before a certain amount of time/ miles driven has passed, which is very nice. You probably won’t need to do this with new cars, and even if there are issues, they should be covered with your warranty.

It’s more of a “just in case” measure to avoid worst-case scenarios.

On the topic of “just in case,” if you’re buying a car, you might want to check out our blog on what to do after a car accident. Not to jinx it, but car accidents are definitely something you also want to be prepared for.

What do you look for most in a new car?

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