Many of us may remember when buying a used car ranked right up there with a trip to the dentist. But times have changed and buying a used car need not be the horror it once was. Today's consumer has so much information (at least, the information is available), as to make the experience of buying a used car far less stressful. This transformation will occur, however, only if you obey a rule taught to every first-grade student: DO YOUR HOMEWORK.
Decide What You Want to Spend, and Can Spend Before considering the purchase of a used car, it is wise to establish the amount you are willing to spend or, if taking a loan, calculate your maximum monthly payment - and then make a firm commitment to stay within that amount.
Once you figure out how much your payment should be, research your financing options. You can work out a loan with the dealership or manufacturer, but it is also possible to walk into a dealership with financing already secured through a third-party source, such as our official, preferred lender LightStream, an online lending division of SunTrust Bank, and the preferred lender of Kelley Blue Book. Third-party financing can generally be obtained without having to indicate a specific make or model of vehicle ahead of time. Some institutions will give you a lower interest rate if you have direct deposit and an electronic loan payment, so be sure to ask about these options when applying for financing.
Don't forget to consider the costs of tax, title, registration and insurance for your new car. As a very broad, general rule, and depending upon where you live, tax, license, assorted fees and other costs will add roughly 10 percent to the purchase price. This makes the price of a $30,000 car actually about $33,000 and, if you're financing the deal, you will be paying interest on that additional amount. You should be able to afford the car as well as its costs of ownership. Insurance can be a deal-breaker for some, since some companies will raise your rates considerably, depending upon the type of vehicle you choose and your driving record. Typically, sport cars, anything with "turbo" or "supercharged" in the name, higher performance vehicles with larger or more powerful engines and vehicles with four-wheel drive will give you higher insurance rates. Also, consider that vehicles with histories of being stolen can demand a premium. It always pays to shop around, so check rates with your insurance company before you buy your new vehicle. Get a quote on geico.com. 15 minutes could save you 15% or more. Finally, if you have a long-standing and positive relationship with your current insurance company it may be best to stay with it, even though it may not offer the lowest of all rates.
Be certain the car you desire can accommodate your daily needs.
You may also want to consider an extended warranty plan. Chances are an extended warranty or service contract will be offered to you by the dealership. An extended warranty covers a wide range of repairs and services. The repairs can be done at any authorized dealership and tend to be easily approved. You won't pay a penny for approved repairs unless your contract includes a deductible. You can also purchase an extended warranty from an independent company that could cost less than an extended service contract from a manufacturer.
Once you've established a price limit, steer clear of vehicles that barely squeeze under it. Leave yourself some wiggle room and shop for a less flashy vehicle with lower mileage or an older one in tip-top shape. You wouldn't want to buy the car of your dreams only to have it drain your bank account because you didn't factor in all of the costs of ownership.
Research the Right Car Many professionals will tell you that this is where huge numbers of buyers make their biggest mistakes. They don't buy the vehicle that is best for their needs, but instead get smitten with something that doesn't fulfill their requirements, costs far too much money or, typically, both. Figuring out how much you want to spend was the easy part; now you have to find the vehicle that's right for you. But most buyers (yes, most), are not really sure what's out there or even what they need and want. Here are some suggestions: First, make a list of all the things you need your vehicle to do (haul kids, go off-road, get good gas mileage, be absolutely reliable, maintain good re-sale value, be easy to park) and then make a second list of all the things you admire in a vehicle (body style, colors, luxury options). Cross-reference the two. You should end up with a list of required and desired characteristics, which you can use to eliminate models that won't work for you (you can't haul kids in a two-seat sports car or operate a full-size sport utility vehicle on an economy-car fuel budget).
Use Helpful Internet Tools There is a lot of information available on the internet but, many professionals will tell you, most buyers simply don't use that available information to their best advantage. To help, we've developed a couple of decision guides for refining your search. The Compare New Cars feature will put up to four new or used vehicles side by side for you to compare.
Another useful area of information will be the various websites for the manufacturers. Often, you can learn specifics about not only the new cars, but that manufacturer's previous models, as well.