4 Things to Consider When Buying a Car

There’s a lot of excitement in bringing home a new (or new-to-you) car. The feeling of scoring a great deal on the perfect car for you can be a rush. For over half of Americans, though, the car-buying process is a dreaded experience.

It’s understandable. Vehicles are expensive purchases that lose their value over time. For most, buying a car will be one of the most expensive purchasing decisions they’ll have to make – right behind a home and a college education. There is a tremendous amount of pressure to “get it right,” especially if you’ve had a purchase go wrong (or heard others’ horror stories!), as many of us have. The added anxiety over potentially being taken advantage of or getting a lemon is enough to drive some to continually put off purchasing a new car – even when they really need it. It feels like dealerships will say anything to get you to buy and all of your best intentions sometimes get blown away in the finance office.

Fortunately, there are some upsides to today’s car buying. There are more options now for where and how you want to purchase a car. The internet has given us innumerable resources for all aspects of a vehicle purchase. Most dealers display all of their inventory online, so not only can you research what type of car is best, you can generally find that vehicle without ever stepping on a car lot. Many have even ventured on to purchasing cars completely online.

The best way to arm yourself for this adventure is with preparation and knowledge. The less you leave to chance, the more confident you’ll be about your purchase and the more likely you’ll drive off the lot a happy owner. While you can choose to prepare as much as you want, there are several basic things that should be addressed when it’s time to purchase.

4 Things to Consider When Buying a Car:

  • What’s your budget?
  • What are your vehicle needs?
  • Do you want to purchase a new or used car?
  • What vehicles are available in your area?

Let’s break these down and get you ready to buy that perfect vehicle!

What’s Your Budget?

Yes. We have to talk about money. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not exploring what you can and should spend on your next vehicle before you start shopping. You could easily end up finding a “dream car” and then trying to cram it into your budget. Without a set budget, it’s much easier to spend more than you should. Don’t make the mistake of leaving out common expenses that go along with purchasing a car as well. For help during the budgeting process, consider the following:

  • Decide if you’ll be paying cash or financing.
  • If you’re trading in a vehicle, research its trade-in value.
  • Decide if you’ll put money down and how much.
  • Calculate sales tax and include registration fees in the price of the car.
  • Research dealer fees.
  • Consider whether you’ll want to purchase additional coverage, like an extended service contract or Gap insurance.
  • Auto insurance may increase with the addition of a new car

There are many great auto loan calculators available online that you can use to work with the numbers until you're comfortable with your payment and/or budgeted vehicle cost. When you land on your number, write it down and keep it in mind from your researching to negotiating.

What are your vehicle needs?

It’s important to think carefully about what you need and want in your next vehicle before you get to the purchase point. It would be a good idea to make a list of “needs” and “wants” to use when searching for the right vehicle for you. Maybe you need all-wheel drive for snowy winters. Perhaps you need 3rd row seating for a larger family. Many people want to upgrade their cars for the new technology and/or safety features like Bluetooth music streaming and lane assist. Think about how you plan to use your vehicle and what fits your lifestyle. What do you enjoy or what drives you crazy about your current car? Other questions you should ask yourself include:

  • What type of driving do you do?
  • How many passengers will you carry?
  • Are there any “must-have” features like leather seats or a sunroof?
  • Do you carry children or have to use car seats?
  • Do you tow anything?
  • What safety features would you like to have?

You want to have this list prior to looking for a car so you can stay focused. While you may not be able to get everything you want on your budget, you’ll kick yourself for the life of your car if you “forget” an important necessity or nicety. If you’re confused about certain features and need some assistance, there are loads of video overviews of practically any make, model and year of vehicle with all its available features on YouTube.

Do you want to purchase a new or used car?

While people used to worry about purchasing used cars, with warranties lasting longer and vehicles being built better, used cars are now a respectable option for people with a variety of budgets. Many folks are drawn to new cars because they are covered by manufacturer’s warranties and are generally the most reliable – and, honestly, it’s hard to resist the new car smell! New cars often offer up factory and dealer incentives that can make them more competitively priced, however, the average price of a brand-new car has risen to over $36,000 according to Edmunds. In order for a family with median income to finance such a hefty loan, buyers are more and more taking out longer loans, meaning they are upside down on the loan for longer. If you’re looking at new cars, a late-model used vehicle could still offer most of the latest features of a new vehicle but with a much more attractive price tag due to the major depreciation hit occurring in the first 2 years of new car ownership. Late-model used vehicles also generally have manufacturer’s warranty coverage for added comfort that you won’t have any major repair expenses to factor in for a while. If you’re on a tight budget, research older vehicles that are considered the most reliable and look for a clean Carfax report if at all possible.

What vehicles are available in your area?

Now that the major planning and decisions are behind you, you can get to the fun part of searching for your next vehicle! Again, most reputable auto dealers host all of their inventory online, making it pretty simple to find out who might have the next car of your dreams.

There are a multitude of websites that can help you research and compare actual vehicles available from different dealers in your market. Autotrader.com and Cars.com are two of the most popular. Newer sites like Cargurus.com also offer “deal ratings,” which compare the price of the car to the local market and rate the value of the deal from “Great” to “Overpriced.” This is not a time to skimp on research. If you want to be happy with your large purchase for years ahead, it’s worth it to spend some extra time shopping around. If you’re willing to travel to another city for the right car at the right price, you can expand your search further. Remember, if you’re in the market for a “nearly-new” vehicle, you can shop EchoPark locations in Denver, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston and Charlotte!

You’re now ready to forge ahead and conquer the world of car-buying!

Happy motoring!

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