Steps to Car Shop Like a Pro!

by Her Happy Balance on October 9, 2013

Car shopping is both a super exciting as well as a slightly stressful (at least for me it was!) experience. And after going through the whole process, I feel like I came out of it with not only a nice new car (duh) but also with a lot more practical life knowledge. Because let’s be honest, “how to buy a car” is not taught in school; it’s a learned life experience that we all eventually have to get under our belts. Okay, here it goes!

Car Shop Like a Pro!

Step 1: Decide on a budget.
Fact of life: no one likes to go over finances, but it is a very necessary thing to do. Whether you want to buy or lease a car, you will need to provide an upfront down payment. What can you afford to put down on a car? And what kind of monthly payment will you be looking to pay? Do you want to finance the car at all, or would you rather pay outright for the entirety of it? Knowing your financial situation helps you to know what kind of cars you should be looking at – new or used, which makes and models.


Step 2: Do Your Research – Part 1.
If you plan on trading your car in, it’s a good idea to know a ballpark figure as to how much a dealership should offer you for it. So a good first step in the research process is finding out how much your current car is worth. Sites like Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book can help you to figure this out. You plug in the make, model, and mileage and they let you know what your car is currently being sold for.

Step 3: Decide what Criteria Your New Vehicle Must Satisfy.
What kind of car do you want? Are you looking for a sedan/truck/SUV? Do you have a family and need 4-door accessibility? What kind of trunk space do you require, would a hatchback be more appropriate? Would you prefer a new or used vehicle? How important are the following factors: safety, looks, luxury/comfortability, performance? You need to come up with a list of your top requirements for your new car. Write them down. Talk with your spouse or whomever else may be driving the vehicle and get their input. You want to make sure that you are looking into cars that are satisfying all your needs for the vehicle. This may sound obvious, but once you start researching vehicles online and visiting dealerships it is very easy to get caught up in the hype of a new car and you could start looking at cars that don’t meet all of your criteria just because they look/sound good. Don’t settle, there is a perfect car for you.


Step 4: Do Your Research – Part 2.
The second step in the research process should be to use your financial information (including your ballpark trade-in figure) as well as your list of requirements to find a car that is available in your price range with all of your specifications. Again, you may want to use websites like Edmunds to see what kind of options you have. They make it easy for you to narrow down your search by car type, make, model, and price range. You can do advanced searches to look for a specific feature, like bluetooth availability. And after you select a car, you can read reviews on how that car performs, what kind of fuel efficiency you can expect, how safe it is, etc. These reviews are written by car experts. If you’re looking at a Volvo sedan, the review will not be written by a Volvo salesperson. It’s always good practice to read unbiased reviews. Find a few car possibilities that meet your criteria, print out the information on those vehicles (it’s helpful to have a concrete copy of the vehicles features/specs) and search for nearby dealerships.

Step 5: Take Your Potential Cars for a Test Drive.
Go to a car dealership (you may want to research reviews of that car dealership before you visit to see their customer satisfaction rating) and take the car you are interested in out on a drive. All the research in the world cannot tell you how much you will or will not like the feel of driving that car. Take the car on a quality test drive; test how sensitive the brakes are, how quickly it can accelerate, notice where your blind spots would be if there are any.


Step 6: It’s Time to Talk Numbers.
This is where the stress starts to set in. A car salesperson wants to make a sale, they will try and subtlely pressure you into buying the car the day you go for a test drive. After you let the salesperson know your budget, they will have their manager crunch the numbers for you. The first round of numbers that they bring to you are probably not the best numbers that they can do. Do not be afraid to ask them to completely explain the break down of their figures. It’s a good idea for you to know what kinds of questions you should ask next…what is the money factor here? What is the interest rate? What is the resale value of this vehicle after X-miles and X-years? If this is your first time purchasing a car on your own, you may want to bring someone along with you that knows the car buying process. I brought my father (shout out to my papa bear!) along with me and he was able to help me navigate this process. After you get the numbers to a range you are potentially willing to pay, thank the car salesmen for his/her time and tell them you will think about it and get back to them. I know it is super hard to do this, but it is in your best interest to walk away now and go home and consider the numbers.

Step 7: Explore your other options.
Go out and test drive another car. Go out and talk more numbers – you’ll have a better idea of what to ask the car salesman the second time around. Remember: car dealerships need you, the ball is in your court.

Step 8: Negotiate.
If you decide you like the first car you drove the best, don’t be afraid to contact your salesperson and re-negotiate. If you only visit one dealership, you don’t have much room to negotiate. If you visit a few, you have more bargaining power. Be honest with the salesperson, you can say things like “Look, I like this car, but in order for us to get these numbers into a price range I was comfortable with it required me putting down a bit more of a down payment than I am comfortable making at this time. What can we do about this?” If the dealership is unwilling to budge on the number, but you still love that particular make and model of car – say an Acura – go to another Acura dealership and see what numbers they can come up with for you. Different dealerships can offer different incentives, do not be afraid to shop around.

Step 9: Get Your Fancy New Car!
Once you find the right car, dealership, and price…do that thang!


Additional Tips:
-Talk with your insurance company, see how your insurance coverage and price will change with a new car.
-Shopping for a car at the end of the year (think Thanksgiving and Christmas) or even the end of a month can often give you greater incentives.
-Have an idea of what your credit score is. If you need a co-signer, square one away before shopping.

What additional tips can you add to this?
What is your view on the car-buying process?
What sweet ride are you currently cruisin’ around in?

Comments on this entry are closed.

Jessie October 9, 2013 at 7:28 am

What an informative post. I’m horrible at negotiating.. thankfully my husband is great & takes care of that part Ha Ha!

Beth @ Mangoes and Miles October 9, 2013 at 8:56 am

Ahhh these are the kind of adult things that I don’t even want to think about! Along with apartment shopping, paying the bills, going to work…you know, the not important things in life. 😛

Sabrina @ Nutritiously Sweet October 9, 2013 at 9:04 am

This is an awesome post. I def will be needing this information when I buy a car in about a year because my baby isn’t going to last to long with the way I travel 🙁

Chelsea @ A Fit LittleOne October 9, 2013 at 9:04 am

Love this! I’m hoping once I’m done with nursing school and have a job that I can get a new car, especially since mine is 13 years old. And always has a problem hahaha, just need it to get me through 3 more years!!

Erin @ The Almond Eater October 9, 2013 at 9:50 am

This is a helpful post. I actually just bought a new car a few months ago (well it’s used but “new”….you know) ANYWAY, I had to have my stepdad come with me and help negotiate because I’m so bad at it! Maybe one day..

Becky @ Olives n Wine October 9, 2013 at 11:08 am

Current sweet ride – my feet 😉 Haha! I did buy a brand new car in college however so I’m all too familiar with picking a car and negotiating! Looks like you were pretty successful. Love the tip about shopping around for negotiating. I would also add don’t be afraid to say “this won’t work for me” and walk out. Guaranteed the salesman will call you back shortly 😉

Alex @ Cookie Dough Katzen October 9, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Negotiating is the tough part! Great tips!

Brittany October 9, 2013 at 6:45 pm

These tips are AMAZing. My dad helped me buy my car THANK God..I would have been lost.

Sarah (Shh...Fit Happens) October 9, 2013 at 11:49 pm

Ha I could have used this 5 years ago! 🙂 I moved back from Arizona and needed a car THAT day to move to Maryland…my dad and I went out and car shopped, but since I am not a huge shopper nor into cars, I got bored pretty quick. I liked the color of my car and figured it was big enough to pack a lot of stuff in, and the sales guy told me it was ‘the last one they had and someone was on their way from NJ to buy it in an hour’ (total BS)…. so I said “Ok, I ll take, I am hungry, lets get this over with!” 🙂

Christine @ Gotta Eat Green October 10, 2013 at 2:32 pm

We have had our car for ages, we are due for a new one soon. I find the whole process so time consuming and I am always so indecisive! Good luck on your car hunt! Your tips are super helpful.

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