- Get organized before you go. Before you even head to a dealership gather all your financial paperwork. You will need recent pay stubs or award letters, a bank statement showing where these are deposited, the correct name, address, birthdate, and social security number of anyone that will be on any financing. You can even apply for financing (if you must) and walk into a dealership with a check from your bank or finance company before you ever look at a car.
- Research! Research! Research! It is best to head to a dealership know what car your want and what options are must-haves and what you can live without. Whether you are buying a new or used car, putting together a list of what you want and don’t want can be very helpful. You should also research values and reliability of any car you are considering and your trade-in. Dealerships use NADA for used car values and pricing. Know what your car is worth and what the car you are buying should be priced at. Check out reliability and other reviews at sites like Edmunds. If you aren’t sure what kind of car you want prior to visiting a dealership (i.e. you need to see what good used cars they have), don’t sign on the dotted line until you have taken a day to pray, think, and research.
- Test real-life driving situations. In our family, my husband does all the dealership stuff and I do the organization and research. But whenever we are close to buying a car, he brings it by the house and we pile all the kids, car seats, and things we regularly use or keep in the car (i.e. our beach chairs) into the prospective car. Then we drive around town to places we regularly visit. This allows us to see if the kids really are comfortable in the back seat and if it is realistic for daily life. We also test out favorite suitcase and cooler in the trunk/cargo area to make sure those items that we travel with the most will fit.
- Consider gas and insurance costs when purchasing a car. Be sure you contact your auto insurance company to find out what your rate would be for the car you are considering. Understand the gas mileage on the new car and calculate the increased gas expense or savings from the new car.
Doing your homework and having information gathered before you visit a dealership will greatly improve the process.
TIP: Average cars will last 10 years or 120,000 without significant maintenance costs. Instead of buying a new car, when your car is paid off continue making “payments” into a savings account. Then, when you do need (not want!) to replace your car, take the cash you have saved to pay for a good, reliable 1-2 year old used car. Cars 1-2 years old are the best deal as they are generally still in good shape and have a lot of life left, but the depreciation that happens the second you drive off the lot has already happened.