Car Buying Dos & Don’ts

On TV ads, automakers spend millions making their cars look desirable and sexy. But once you get to the dealer lot, you can be faced with a pushy salesperson who steers you toward a decision you later regret. I admit it’s happened to me and it was a very expensive mistake. If you don’t do your homework ahead of time, you too could find yourself wishing for a do-over or an easy way out of a hasty and uninformed purchase. Of course, not all salespeople are going to talk you into the wrong vehicle for your needs, or one you can barely afford, but it happens. Instead, follow these simple tips and buy your next car with confidence.

Do your research
Edmunds.com and Cars.com are good places to start. You can narrow down car makes and models, compare prices, and read reviews. Do you drive a lot? You might want a subcompact that offers good mileage and is easy to park in the city. SUVs and CUVs are popular right now but more expensive to drive, maintain and insure. Is safety a top priority? Do you have kids (now or in the near future)? Make sure you look at rankings and reviews to see what the experts recommend.

Do shop around
Once you know what you’re looking for, check out the inventory at a few dealers. Don’t limit yourself to one city/town. Give yourself more options. Different dealers will have different deals (often called incentives). If they haven’t hit their quotas, they may be more likely to “wheel and deal.”

Don’t buy more than you can afford
When you crunch the numbers, don’t forget to consider insurance, fuel, parking and maintenance. Look for a car affordability calculator like this one to help you figure out payment details before you start shopping. Be sure to stay within your means or you may find yourself with an upside-down loan (where you have negative equity – the car is worth less than you owe). And above all else, don’t fall in love with a car you know you can’t afford.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate
There are some things worth negotiating. Then again, some things can’t be negotiated like taxes and other state fees. But some things are open to discussion like dealer’s documentation fee, surcharges, markups and unwanted extras. Or ask them to throw in freebies like floor mats or lifetime oil changes. Don’t feel bad walking away from the offer if you can’t get what you’re asking for, or they’re being so rigid and inflexible you feel locked in to playing by their rules.

Don’t forget about used cars
Cars depreciate drastically the moment you sign on the dotted line. A gently used vehicle could be a more cost-effective way to go. Pre-certified cars (CPO) are another option. They’re usually low in mileage and come with warranty coverage you wouldn’t get with a non-certified used car. The cost may be slightly higher than another used car, but much less than a new one. If you opt for used non-certified, do your due diligence and check the vehicle’s history from a reputable site. You should also bring it to an independent mechanic for a quick inspection.

Don’t bring up your trade-in
Keep a lot of details to yourself until it’s time to mention them and know the value of your trade-in beforehand. If your trade-in is spotless, the salesperson will know you’re ready to buy immediately, taking away any advantage you may have had.

Don’t buy an extended warranty
They can be expensive, and coverage is often limited. If you’re buying new, the manufacturer’s warranty will have you covered. If used, consider a bank account exclusively earmarked for car repairs. You’re better off adding $25-50/month to the account than spending double on a warranty that may or may not be what you need when you need it.

Don’t forget to take a test drive
Your comfort should be your priority. Next, assess that the idle is smooth, the controls are easy to reach, and you have a clear view of all dashboard knobs and buttons. Does the car handle the way you like? Does it respond to gas and brakes at the sensitivity level you’re comfortable with? If the answer is no to any of those questions, you need to move on to another vehicle option.

Do get financing before you shop
Or at least get pre-approved. You can often get a better rate on your own than from the dealer. Check out credit unions and reputable lenders. But first, check out your credit score. The better the score, the better your finance rate will be.

Don’t accept a long-term loan
Your monthly payments may be lower, but you’ll be paying more in the long run. In fact, when all is said and done, you may end up paying more than the car is even worth. Four to six years is common. Anything longer (72-84 months) isn’t a good idea.

Do shop at the right time
Check out dealers toward the end of the month, quarter or year. Salespeople are going to give you a better deal if they’re trying to qualify for a bonus. Dealers are usually busiest on weekends so if you’re just looking, you may have a better chance of being left alone. Weekdays and evenings are the best time to get in and out without a long delay and without being rushed by a salesperson who has other potential buyers waiting.

Don’t buy it if you don’t love it
If anything doesn’t feel exactly right, walk away. Go with your gut and trust your instincts. If you feel pressured in any way, it’s okay to leave. Even if you’ve already invested a lot of time at the dealer. Don’t feel you owe the salesperson anything. Let them know you’re not ready to buy and go.

Good luck in picking out the newest member of your family. Follow these tips to avoid buyers’ remorse. Drive safely and enjoy the ride!

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