If you’re new to car buying — or simply never had much of a choice in what you drove in the past — narrowing down the best car for you can be a challenge.
Not only are there many choices of makes and models on the market these days, but you must also decide among a range of price points, options, colors and styles to determine which ones best fit your lifestyle and preferences.
For many consumers, a car is one of the biggest purchases they’ll make in their lifetimes. Perhaps that’s why many people form emotional attachments to their favorite vehicles and view them as extensions of their personalities.
“The love affair between Americans and their cars has lasted for more than a century,” notes William Jeanes in the Saturday Evening Post. “Like most affairs of the heart, those years have produced triumph, tragedy, creativity, innovation, and a not insignificant dose of laughter and lunacy. That is likely to continue.”
Laughter aside, consider taking these steps to find a vehicle that suits you perfectly.
- Evaluate your needs. To be practical, you must take an objective look at how you’ll use your new vehicle on a day-to-day basis. How many passengers will you typically be transporting? How much cargo space will you need? Do you most often drive on the highway, regular streets or dirt roads, and how often will you face inclement weather? Is fuel economy an issue? What safety features will be most important? Is it important to you to buy American? How important are aesthetics? Do you like attention or prefer to blend in? Do you place importance on being unique or distinctive? Do you like a pristine facade, or are you OK with a more lived-in look?
- Set a realistic budget. Unless you’ve saved enough to pay cash, you’ll need to pay close attention to the monthly payments possible with your income. Most economists recommend devoting no more than 20 percent of your monthly net take-home to car payments, while the more conservative say to allot no more than 10 percent for car payments and insurance combined. A number of online tools can help you compare the length and amount of car payments under different funding scenarios. Ultimately, however, only you can decide how much of your disposable income you’re willing to pay to drive your dream car.
- Research likely models. Online sources offer a plethora of information about the vehicles most likely to fit your wants and needs, and online vendors can inform you of which ones are within your price range. You may have to lower your expectations a bit, perhaps settling for fewer options or an older, higher-mileage version of your dream car. Devote some time to comparing the pros and cons of your top choices until you can narrow them to two or three, perhaps optimizing information from Consumer Reports. You may also wish to compare the long-term costs of different models.
- Shop around for the best financing. Seeking pre-approval on your car loan will give you more clout once your serious auto shopping begins; you can always ask the dealer if he can beat those initial terms.
- Start your serious shopping. Depending on how much you enjoy the thrill of the hunt, the process may involve browsing online, calling dealers or visiting lots in person to check out their stock.
- Conduct test drives. In doing so, try to replicate the routes you’ll be taking most often. Compare the ride when encountering different speeds, sudden stops, stop-and-go traffic, steep hills and bumps. Check for blind spots. If you have children, mimic the placement and displacement of car seats. Listen closely to the engine and sound system. Check for dirt, pet hair, pet smells or cloying smoke odors. Try out all controls. Search for dings and dents. Can you see yourself being happy driving the car in question every day?
- Negotiate your price. Once you’ve found the perfect car for you, the only remaining step is working out a price. At that point, you should be aware of a reasonable price range and have an understanding of which add-on costs are legitimate. Do your best to reach a price that’s attractive to you, and remember to read all paperwork carefully before signing.
If all goes well, you should end up with a great, reliable vehicle that provides years of enjoyment at a price point you can afford. That’s especially true if you’ve taken advantage of the favorable auto loan financing rates at Amplify Credit Union. Happy car shopping!