There are actually four areas to consider when buying a car. You must determine:
- The vehicle you need (versus want)
- The value of the vehicle (what it’s worth)
- The financial considerations for the purchase (how you’ll pay for it)
- and the mechanical integrity of the car (is it mechanically sound)
Of course, there are a few differences between each make and model, but we’ll cover the broad brush stroke of topics as a bulleted checklist.
Car Buying Checklist: Determining the Right Vehicle for You
When you shop for a car, there are nice-to-haves and must-haves. It’s up to you to decide which is which. If you live in a temperate climate, you may decide that air conditioning is a nice-to-have. On the other hand, if you live in Dallas, Texas, or Gwinn, Michigan, air conditioning and heating might be more of a necessity for summer or winter months, respectively.
Likewise, if you often do business from your car or take kids on long road trips, you might consider built-in Internet service a must-have. If, on the other hand, everyone in the family has their own phone or tablet with Internet access, a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot would be needless.
• Create Your Perfect Car. Do your homework and visit the automaker’s website to see features available on different makes and models. Make a list of what you want in a vehicle. The vehicle you ultimately purchase may not have all of the nice-to-haves. But it should have all of the need-to-haves. If you make a list, you can find the best fit to match your preferences.
• Determine What it’s Worth. There are several sites to determine value. Edmunds, and Kelley Blue Book are popular sites to assess vehicle value based on its features and condition. If you have a trade-in, be sure to determine value of your existing vehicle as well, because it will be part of the deal.
• Determine What You Can Afford. If you plan to pay cash, the decision is easy. If you plan to finance your purchase, however, your credit score directly impacts the interest rate of your loan. Credit scores below 690 generally incur higher rates. Remember, the cost of the car is not its price tag minus any trade-in value and incentives. It includes the interest paid on financing any loan. Financial literacy sources like The Financial Acumen Course teach how to improve your credit score to save you money. It’s up to you to protect your credit and avoid being exploited by predatory lenders, so shop around. Don’t over-extend yourself on credit by buying more car than you can afford.
• Inspect the Vehicle Before You Buy. You want to buy a reliable vehicle, not a maintenance headache. Any used vehicle purchase is a buyer-beware situation, even if through a reputable dealer. If you have a mechanic, expect to pay something between $100 and $200 for a thorough vehicle inspection. If you don’t have a mechanic, there are a couple of stop-gap alternatives. You could take the vehicle to a third-party repair shop that performs state inspections as a cheaper option. Or, if you’re comfortable and knowledgeable doing so, you can inspect the vehicle yourself. Among other things like the brakes, muffler and suspension, check the oil. You can tell a lot about the condition of the engine by looking at the condition of the vehicle’s oil.
Doing a self-inspection on a vehicle takes a little time. It’s dirty work, but if you’re familiar with cars, it’s your cheapest option. The pre-purchase inspection is a must for both peace-of-mind and for reducing hidden repair costs.
Once you have found the best-fit vehicle, ensured you have the means to pay for it, and checked its mechanical integrity, you’re ready to move forward with your new set of wheels.