Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

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Looking to Buy a Car? Know Your Options

So, you’re looking to buy a car? It really doesn’t matter where you are in terms of geography, the experience will be similar overall. Whether you’re reviewing online inventories around Seattle or scoping dealerships in Atlanta, the primary differences in outcome will be fueled by two primary factors. First, the subtle nuances that make your dealership of choice a better fit for you; and secondly, how well-prepared you are in terms of performing the due diligence required to ensure your satisfaction.

This all may seem like an obvious understatement, but you might be surprised at how many customers buy a vehicle on a whim. All-too-often, prospective buyers choose a dealership based on little more than proximity and sign off on a major vehicle purchase without any kind of research (or even introspection).

That said, let’s take a look at some of the considerations worth taking when you find yourself in the market for a new, used or certified pre-owned vehicle.

What Do You Want?

This a fairly basic question, but it’s one that you should have figured out before shopping.

Of course, many of us have preferences in terms of make and/or model, but for those who have more of an open mind in the car-buying process, it’s important to understand what you’re looking to get out of a vehicle. What features and functionality do you prioritize based on the unique demands of your lifestyle? How many passengers do you need to account for? With fuel economy in mind, what kind of mileage will you be covering? Do you require the rugged utility of a truck, and if so, how much truck do you need? These are all important questions intended to best-inform your decision.

And as noted above, are you looking to buy a new model year offering, or are looking to expand your buying power by purchasing a pre-owned vehicle? If the latter, have you explored CPO (certified pre-owned) programs that are available to you? We’ll get back to that in just a bit.

What Can You Afford?

With some sort of idea as to what you’re looking for in a vehicle, it’s crucial to understand what you can afford in terms of your budget. Far too many car buyers (and consumers in general) have a tendency to over-extend themselves, leading to financial struggles and, in many cases, repossession of the vehicle due to inability to pay.

Ideally, a vehicle purchase should be made with a downpayment of approximate 20%, and a financing period of 48 months. If these sort of terms are manageable, and you can keep your monthly car payment plus insurance below 10% of your monthly gross income, you can count yourselves among the well-prepared.

That said, it’s important to understand that this is an ideal. Your ability to do so will be based on your vehicle selection and your personal finances. In terms of vehicle selection, it is best to explore all of the options available to you, so that you choose a vehicle that is in your best interests. We’ll explore that further. But in terms of your finances, understanding your budget, credit score and exploring your financing options is crucial.

Having presented an over-simplified explanation of budgeting goals, let’s do the same for credit. If your credit score falls between 620-680, you can count yourselves among those with a “Good” credit score, representing the median of all consumers. If you rank above, you are far more likely to be approved for a low APR, maximizing your buying dollar. That said, if your credit score falls below the median, there’s no need to feel shame, but honesty and introspection are key. Don’t overextend yourself, be willing to accept alternatives that are available to you, and make sure that you understand every facet of the financing and buying options available to you.

The Value of Buying New

It really speaks for itself. When purchasing a new model year offering, there’s the immediate appeal that comes with the sparkle and flash, as well as a built-in sense of reliability combined with the reassurance provided by manufacturer warranties. Is buying ‘new; the best choice for you? Only you can decide, based on an understanding of your finances.

The Value of Buying Used

Thirty years ago, it might have been more difficult to write this part with conviction but, these days, buying pre-owned vehicles is an entirely different ‘animal’ than it used to be. First of all, standards are more strict than ever when it comes to resale, holding dealerships far more accountable to offer safe, reliable and well-maintained vehicles.

And contrary to popular belief, a majority of today’s vehicles are built to last, exceeding the 200,000-mile mark with confidence. With the average annual mileage for the American driver estimated at 12,000-20,000 miles, it’s easy to see just how long a well-maintained vehicle can remain in dutiful service. And “well-maintained” vehicles are at an all-time high, with most car owners being all-too-conscious of resale value.

In addition to the above, a pre-owned vehicle will cost less upfront in terms of tax, title, registration and less incrementally in terms of insurance costs. But let’s not diminish the appeal of a lower price tag, as well. Thanks to depreciation, purchase of a used vehicle allows you to get more car for your money. This means you might be able to afford a more expensive vehicle or trim level than you’d be able to budget if attempting to buy it new.

The Value of CPO

Nearly every automaker offers a Certified Pre-Owned program. This allows qualified, well-maintained pre-owned vehicles to distinguish themselves as offering more value. First, they must meet qualifications in terms of mileage, maintenance and have a clean history report. Prior to being offered for sale, qualified vehicles receive rigorous inspections to ensure that they meet factory standards. Any parts or major systems that fail to do so are refurbished, repaired or replaced. Once that has been done, they are offered along with extended manufacturer warranties along with a number of other perks worth exploring.

What’s Right For You?

With a clear understanding of the above, you can shop with a better understanding of what’s right for you. This will also help to discern the best possible dealer and salesperson that will help you to guarantee a more satisfying car-buying experience. After all, you’re the one who’ll be driving the vehicle and paying for it. The only person you need to do right by is yourself.