Buying a New or Used Car: 5 Important (yet often Overlooked) Steps

Buying a New or Used Car: 5 Important (yet often Overlooked) Steps Buying a car always seems like it’s going to be more fun than it is. You set out with visions of driving home in a pristine miracle of modern engineering, only to find the reality a little less fantastic.

But this doesn’t have to be the case; many car shoppers make the mistake of showing up on the lot and walking around aimlessly like a country bumpkin who just fell off the turnip truck.

However, when it comes to buying new or used cars, a little more work is involved. To get a great deal on the car that you want, you need to know what you’re doing. Preparation—as with so many aspects of life—is the key.

Here are five things you should make sure to do before you ever even think about approaching a car lot with the intent of buying a new or used car.

1. Research and decide

If a car dealer asks you what kind of car you’re looking for, and you say something along the lines of “I don’t know. Something good, I guess…” then you deserve whatever smoking hunk of tin they foist off on you. You’re looking at a several thousand dollar purchase; don’t you think you should have some idea what kind of car you want? Check around online, and read reviews from vehicle owners. Get an automobile direct mail list to see what special offers are currently available. Decide what kind of features you need, and figure out which ones you could probably go without.

Once you know the make and model of the car you’re after, decide on a few alternates. As the song says “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes…you’ll get what you need” (the Rolling Stones were singing about cars, right?).

2. Check your credit

Once you have an idea what kind of car you want, you’ll need to figure out how to pay for it, and unless you have enough cash to just toss the salesman a wad and speed off like a Duke of Hazard, that probably means you’ll be using a loan. Car dealers want two things from you: that you’ll buy a car, and that you’ll meet your payments on time. If you’ve had issues with paying off debts in the past, then you’re going to look like a bigger risk to the people who are doing the selling. So, to get good rates on your auto loan payments, you’ll need a good credit score.

Of course, you can always try to refinance the car later in the hopes of getting better refinance rates once your credit score improves, but that doesn’t really solve your current problems. You can check your credit score online for a small fee. The good news is that a high credit score means that you’ll be able to negotiate for better rates. The bad news is that a low credit score might mean that you’ll be taking the bus for a while.

3. Decide on your absolute spending limit

We all like to think of ourselves as clever negotiators. And even if we once got a used couch for a steal at the neighbor’s garage sale, the difference between you and the car salesman is the difference between an amateur and a professional. These people do this for a living, and the things they know about negotiation and manipulation would crush your mind into a quivering mass of subjugation eager to sign any paper pushed in front of it. Your best defense against getting trapped is to set a limit on how much you are willing to spend.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you need to spend this much; don’t tell the dealer that you’re willing to drop $10,000 and not a penny more. If you do, he’ll oblige you by selling you a $5,000 car for the low, low price of exactly $10,000. Instead, make a mental note of what your limit is, and for the love of heaven, stick to it. If the dealer says he won’t sell you the car for less than $5,500, then leave. There are plenty of cars out there; eventually you’ll find a salesperson who is willing to play ball.

4. Find a good mechanic for future inspections

Even more so than a test drive, an inspection by a certified mechanic is the best way to get an accurate idea of what kind of shape your prospective automobile is in. As such, it’s important to locate a talented mechanic so that before you buy your car, you can have him check it for problems. A mechanic will be able to tell you what components are in bad shape, and what may need to be replaced. With this knowledge, you can either decline the purchase, or use it as negotiating ammunition. Most car dealerships will allow you to have an inspection performed before buying a new or used car, but make sure to call ahead to verify that it won’t be a problem (if it is a problem, then don’t bother buying a car from that dealer).

5. Arrange for alternate transportation

If you do it right, car shopping can take a long time. Your chances of finding the right vehicle in the first lot on the first day are very slim, and nothing motivates a buyer like knowing that he has no way to get to work on Monday. A desperate buyer is easy prey for unscrupulous salespeople, and they’ll do whatever they can to take advantage of your need. So, take away some of the pressure and come up with a short term solution to getting around town.

If you can borrow a car from a friend or family member, or get a temporary bus pass, then you’ll be more willing to wait for a good deal. And if you can make the switch to a bicycle, then you’ll be improving your health while you shop around. And who knows? Maybe you’ll discover that public transportation and bike riding are better choices for you anyway. After all, with the price of insurance, licensing, and gasoline, a car can be quite a drain on your finances. Riding a bike or taking the bus, on the other hand, will only cost you your dignity.

Felix Jacobson
Felix Jacobson is an authority in the tech and automotive industry. His passion is educating consumers on how to find the best deals out there - from great deals on new/used gadgets to the best auto refinance rates. He believes strongly that consumers should not be taken advantage of!

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