The Twenty-Something's Guide for Buying a New Ride

Whether now or later, you will probably find yourself looking to purchase a vehicle. Thanks to my recent car shopping experience, and my stepdad’s sage advice along the way, I have some tips that I hope will help you come out on top when you are ready to buy.

It might be time to get a new car if:

1. Your current car is a sinkhole for money.

Cars cost money to maintain, and they cost a lot more money to maintain when they are not running properly. In the short run, $700 to fix an issue with your engine is less than springing for a new car, but a reliable mechanic will tell you that certain issues often precede other, more serious problems.

Be frank with yourself about the status of your current vehicle. If you can foresee many more expenses, it might be time to move on. As my stepdad says, “You would rather buy a car on your terms as opposed to being under pressure if your car breaks down.”

2. You have an older vehicle that you haven’t maintained well.

After about 10 years, cars begin to decline. If your vehicle is working fine, then there is no need to replace it simply because it’s older. At the same time, you know if you have been a good owner to your car (timely tune-ups, oil changes, tire rotation, etc.).

Not taking care of your car is like eating junk food. You might not see the wear and tear today, but eventually it’ll catch up with you. If your car is 10+ years old, and you haven’t been a shining caretaker, you might be on borrowed time.

So you’ve decided it is time to get a new car:

1. Set a real budget and do your research.

Before you set foot onto a car lot, you need to set a budget and research car options online. Most dealerships have websites, and while they likely have additional vehicles on site, you can get a good idea of what your desired car should cost (check out Kelley Blue Book).

Going to a car dealership without a budget is like going to the grocery store hungry. You are far more likely to make an irrational move because you’re caught up in the physical presence of the car. Remember that salespeople are there to seal the deal, so they are going to make as great of a presentation as possible. Don’t get swept up in the moment and let someone else steer your decision because you are not prepared.

2. Get pre-approved for financing.

If you are going to get a car, and you will need financing, get approved before you go car shopping. This helps you shape your budget, and your financing offer can be used wherever you decide to make a purchase.

This also gives you added control as you have a point of comparison when the dealership offers you financing. If it’s a better deal, you can always take theirs and decline the other option.

Once you’ve picked a car:

1. Remember that you can negotiate.

The sticker price is not final. If you have done your research, you should have not only a general idea of the car’s average cost, but you can use competitor prices to leverage a better deal on a car you like more.

Car dealerships are out to sell cars, and if you can hold your ground on a reasonable bargain, they are likely to drop their price because they would rather you spend your money there.

Consumer Reports has a great article to help with the negotiation process.

2. Have an outside mechanic check it out and listen to their advice.

If you are purchasing a car, you should test drive the vehicle, but you can ask the dealership if you can keep the car to have your mechanic look it over.

As a cautionary tale in my own car shopping experience, I was considering a new car recently. It was very well maintained, the price was perfect, and my test drive was great. However when I took the car to my mechanic, he was able to see that the transmission appeared to have been worked on. I have been lucky enough to know him for several years, but even if not, he had no investment in me purchasing the vehicle. Therefore, there was no reason not to trust his opinion. I decided not to get the car, but had I not taken it to a mechanic, who knows what might have happened going forward.

These are only a few of the many things you should consider when purchasing a new car, but they provide a solid basis to get you started. If you want to know more, there is a wealth of information available to anyone who needs guidance (Consumer Reports is a great source for further research). Whatever you do, be well-informed, make smart decisions, and you’ll be far less likely to get swindled on your way to a new whip.

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