Car Shopping 101

So, you need to buy a car or truck. Maybe your family has grown, or you’ve married, the kids grew up, or your current car just isn’t worth repairing. Whatever the occasion, you’re car shopping. Here are some tips that can save you lots of time and potentially thousands of dollars. If followed, you’ll experience less stress with your upcoming purchase.

Statistically, most people purchase a car within a few days of making the decision to buy. This is great for sellers – but it can be detrimental to unprepared buyers. As the buyer, you should be in control making many choices before you ever speak with a seller. As you begin to research vehicles, consider checking out J.D. Power for studies on Quality, Performance & Design, and Dependability. You may be interested in the Government 5-Star Safety Ratings. Below are the steps we recommend you consider when it is time to purchase your next vehicle:

  1. The first step in buying a new car should be determining the type of vehicle you desire and require. You’ll want to consider the number of seats, doors, size, performance, color, style, comfort, towing capacity, and types of cargo you will carry. Many online sites offer side-by-side comparisons like Nada Guides, Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds.
  1. Next up, determine how much car you can afford. The Edmunds site noted above and Time Value can give you an idea of what you can afford. Speaking with your Financial Planner prior to a large purchase may be an important step. We highly recommend calling your Personal Banker to discuss what you qualify for before beginning your search. Remember, those zero-percent financing deals that dealerships advertise to pull you in are not available to more than 2/3s of the US population (credit based decisions).
  1. Now that you know what you want and how much you can afford, it is important to know the value of what you’re looking at. Since buying a vehicle is typically one of your most expensive purchases after your home, it is wise to have a little education behind you when you negotiate your purchase with the seller in a few more steps. For new and used car shoppers the internet is a great tool to use. There are a few new car values you should understand, Invoice Price (which is what the dealership paid for the vehicle), MSRP, which is what the manufacture suggests retail price to be, and Fair Purchase Price which reflects what consumers are actually paying for new vehicles. For used car buyers, knowing the approximate values of used cars are important to ensure you don’t overpay for that new ride.
  1. When looking at a used car, ask for the vehicle maintenance history. Many in the industry provide a free Car Fax for vehicles they have listed for sale. Find the owners manual in the glove box and review the maintenance table to the Car Fax Report. You’re looking to confirm that the vehicle has had regular oil changes and other maintenance at the recommended mileage. Oil Changes every 3K, 5K, or 10K miles, spark plugs between 60K-100K miles. Drive belts replaced? Air Filters replaced every 15K-30K miles. Look for accident damage reports. Look at the number of owners the vehicle has had. This information is all merely indicators about the history of the vehicle. You certainly don’t want to buy a problematic vehicle which result in you paying a monthly payment in addition to repair costs.
  1. Next, take the vehicle for a good test drive. We recommend putting a minimum of 30 miles on a vehicle during a test drive. During that test, take the vehicle to a Master Technician who can thoroughly and accurately perform a Pre-Purchase Inspection. You can see if a fender is bent but you may not know if the brake pads or control arm bushings or tie rod ends require replacement. You may not know the tires are wearing poorly or that two sensors have failed. If the vehicle had a check engine light that was simply cleared, it could take a few miles before the emission system returns the code to make the light come back on. A quality shop will provide you solid information about the inspection including approximate costs to repair the vehicle to good working order. This is a great negotiating and bargaining tool. Please remember that a vehicle inspected by the same dealership or car lot that you are purchasing from is a conflict of interest for YOU. A prudent shopper will trust but verify the vehicle condition with an independent and unbiased shop.
  1. You have made it to step 6, which means you are ready to negotiate your purchase! Congratulations! Make your offer based on the value of the vehicle to you and the condition of the vehicle with any repairs that may be needed. If you’ve gone with your personal banker for financing, you should contact your insurance agent and be aware that the car sales agent will likely want to discuss a car warranty or service contract with you. Be sure you understand the difference as well as the specifics of what you are agreeing to buy. Shop carefully because the quality and coverage varies wildly. And know that you can purchase a warranty separate from the purchase of your vehicle.

We have been in the automotive business a long time. We know what to look for on a Pre-Purchase Inspection. We also have had the opportunity to work with many car lots, dealerships, insurance agents, warranty companies and many bankers over the years. If you need a recommendation for any of these, let us know. We are more than happy to help you and provide a Pre-Purchase Inspection so you can have confidence in your purchase. We’re CAR Clinic. We Make You and Your Car Happy.