Getting In Gear for Your Next Car Purchase

by Gary Foreman

Gearing Up for New Car Purchase photo

Is it time to trade in your old car for something newer? Here is what you need to consider before making that next car purchase.

Your old ride has seen better days. It’s done everything you’ve asked for years, but now the repair bills are staring to add up fast. In fact, some are approaching the value of the car! 

You make the decision to start shopping for a newer ride. But it’s been awhile since you went car shopping. And the last time wasn’t a pleasant experience that you want to repeat. So how do you get the best deal on a new vehicle? 

Car-Buying Has Changed

You know that the internet has revolutionized car buying. And, the revolution isn’t over. Every few years there are new tools for buyers to use in the battle with the car dealers.

One thing hasn’t changed. You can still buy new (this year or last year’s model) or used, or you can lease. Before you begin shopping, you’ll need to decide which option is best for you.

Begin Your Search before Going to the Dealership

Your first task is to decide what you want a new vehicle to do and what type will best fulfill your needs. Do you haul lots of landscaping needs? Or are you more likely to be hauling the kids to school? Or maybe you need a vehicle that does both. Decide now.

Next, decide what type of vehicle best meets those needs. Sedan? SUV? Pickup truck? This may require you to read some reviews, talk to your friends with similar needs or even visit a dealer for an initial test drive.

Once you settle on a type of vehicle, your next task is to compare various manufacturers within that category. The internet is a wonderful tool for that. There are car sites that provide that type of information. Check out Edmunds.com or KBB.com. Get pricing and option information. Read reviews. Spend time getting to know the various candidates.

Select an alternative second choice from a different manufacturer. Preferably one that’s a little less expensive. Often a model from Hyundai or Mazda will provide a good option. You’ll use this later when you’re negotiating with the dealer. 

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How Much Can You Afford? And How Will You Finance It?

Now is the time to decide if you will keep, trade-in, or independently sell your current vehicle.

Once you’ve selected a target model, your next task is to work on the financing. You should have an idea of how much money you’ll need. If you can’t afford to pay cash, now is the time to pre-arrange financing. Visit your bank or credit union. See what a 401k loan might look like. Have a good idea of what your monthly payments will be. Explore your options before you set foot in the dealer. You’ll need this information later.

The Actual Car Purchase is Relatively Easy If You’ve Done Your Homework

One more task before you step into the dealer to negotiate. Find the dealers for that make/model that are within driving range. Visit their websites and ask for pricing on the vehicle you want to buy. Your goal is to get an idea of what their offer will be.

When you enter the car dealership, never forget that they need you more than you need them. You do not need to buy today, and you do not need to buy from them!

Visit the dealer with the lowest (or nearly lowest) price. Let them know that you’re a ready buyer. If they ask about trade-in or financing, tell them that you’re not sure. That you’ll probably finance but haven’t made a final decision.

Take a test ride. Let the salesman (or woman) show you the car’s features. Make sure that it’s a vehicle you’ll want to own for many years.

Then get down to the negotiation. If there are two of you, it’s possible to play good cop/bad cop. One appears anxious to get behind the wheel while the other is more cautious. Get them to give you their ‘best price’. Then tell them that you want to take another look at your alternative vehicle because it’s less expensive.

They may offer a still better ‘best price’ or they may let you walk out. If you do walk, they may call you the next day with an even better ‘best price’ or offer to throw in some dealer options for free (free oil changes, upholstery stain proofing, dealer prep). Even if they don’t, you’ll be able to go back to them and get the deal that you had yesterday. 

If possible wait until near the end of the month or end of quarter (March, June, September, December). Some manufacturers will offer incentives that stop at month’s end. And dealers often keep their sales stats on a monthly basis.

Next Step: Financing

Most dealers make as much money financing a car as they do selling one. That’s why you didn’t let them know that you were paying cash or had alternate financing. They’ll want to know ‘how big a payment you can afford’ each month. Don’t go there. Instead, tell them how long a loan you want. Then compare their offer to what you already have available.

They will probably try to sell you additional services. Typically these are high margined. If you want these services, you can find them cheaper if you shop around. (See 7 Car Dealership Fees and Services to Avoid.)

There you have it. You’ve negotiated the best deal possible on a new set of wheels! Don’t forget your one final task. Your insurance should automatically cover your new ride, but to avoid any errors, contact them and give them the VIN. Then enjoy your new vehicle! 

Reviewed September 2020

About the Author

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com. Gary shares his philosophy of money here. Gary is available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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