Buying your first car is an exciting experience, one of your first tastes of real independence. With the opportunity for road trips and travel on your own terms, there’s nothing like your first set of wheels. But even if it’s not your first car, knowing what to do before buying a new one is equally important. Below are five things you should know so you can make the best decision possible.
1. Research before and after you go
Cars are simply too expensive to buy without conducting quality market research beforehand. Be sure to read reviews online on any manufacturer or model you may be interested in, look for common issues that may stop you from investing in that car, and ask the dealer about them too for a professional opinion. If you have the option, one way of researching is simply to test drive the car. If it is an option, then take it! This will allow you to get a feel for the car and see if it suits you and feels comfortable—there’s no better market research than this. If you are thinking about making a purchase, request repair records to look through to ensure the car hasn’t been involved in any major accidents, which may reduce the safety features for yourself and other road users.
Related: How to Buy Your First Car: Quick Guide for Students
2. Figure out your financing options and get pre-approved for a loan
Before purchasing a car, ensure you are in a good place financially and can afford either the one-off payment or monthly installments. One way to do this is through the use of a car loan calculator, which allows you to find out the total price of the car, including all payments and the deposit, to see if it’s a sensible and appropriate option that suits your finances. If you plan on taking out a car loan, get pre-approved. This will allow you to see how much money you are able to lend, the lending period, and your budget to spend on your new set of wheels, allowing you to walk into the dealership confidently.
3. Use brand/dealer survey research to help you during negotiations
Before heading into a negotiation, it’s important to do your homework. First, be sure to look up the actual value of the car so you feel confident in not going above the asking price (remember, dealers often get a commission, meaning the more you spend, the more money they make). This will allow you to buy a car within your budget and may even result in getting it for less than the asking price. Also ask about any faults with this specific car, which is especially important if the car is secondhand. Ask for service records and go through these with the dealer to ensure nothing is too concerning and the car is safe.
If you’re looking at multiple cars, research them all. Know common issues that arise with certain makes and models and ask about these. Ask the dealer’s opinion; often they will be genuine if they know you’ve done your research. And don’t decide on a car just because of the price. Doing research can allow you to walk out the door with multiple price quotes for different cars, or maybe even the same car, giving you the best opportunities finance wise.
Related: The Pros and Cons of Owning a Car in College
4. Don't feel obligated to go to the dealer for maintenance
A common misconception is that while under warranty, you must use servicing from the main dealer. This is false; you can actually use services from anywhere that provides them, granted you are willing to pay for it. It is the dealer's responsibility to follow up with servicing deals—however, if you are paying, you can choose to go elsewhere, especially if it’s more convenient for you.
5. Ask a mechanic for advice
If you’re buying a car without a warranty, it's especially important to ask a mechanic’s advice about the car. This may cost an additional fee through the use of a service charge, but it will be useful in the long run and could potentially reduce your monetary investment down the line while maintaining safety for yourself and other road users. A mechanic more often than not will know the car better than anyone else; they’ll be able to point out specific flaws or areas that may require further maintenance and fix them right there in their own garage for an extra charge. If a seller refuses inspection or the advice of a mechanic, this may be a sign that there is something faulty or wrong with the car. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to walk away. It won’t be worth your time.
Related: Adulting 101: Taking Care of Your Car
If you take anything away from this post, let it be this: Do your market research! This will put you in the best place and allow negotiation on your terms by helping you find options within your budget, discovering issues other road users may have had, and preventing you from purchasing something you may later regret.
Buying a car is a lot like searching for colleges. Don't believe us? Check out Searching for Cars or Colleges: Look Under the Hood.