Buying a car can be one of the most exciting, and at the same time, anxiety-ridden, experiences in life. New wheels are a major investment. And when you’re laying down a chunk of change, you don’t want the wheels to fall off as you exit the parking lot.
We’ve got some handy tips to make your next vehicle purchase an event that spawns a flurry of happy emojis (smiley faces, for those of you still using a flip phone). So let’s get started.
Define your budget.
Unless you just won the lottery, you’ve probably got a budget. If you’ll be financing part or all of your purchase, it’s wise to know what your loan limits are before shopping. TwinStar offers easy auto loan pre-approvals online, by phone or at any branch, with some of the best loan rates around. You can even estimate your loan payments with a handy loan calculator. Knowing how much you’ve got to spend before you walk in the door will help keep your purchase aligned with your budget and allow you to focus on specifics about your new ride. That said, most dealers participate in Credit Union Direct lending which allows you to easily apply for your TwinStar loan at the dealership in a seamless transaction.
Narrow your choices.
There is a curse of plenty in the auto market. So before you set foot on a car lot, take advantage of some really powerful online tools to help you narrow your search. Online sites like AutoTrader.com, Edmunds.com, and vehicle value sites like Kelly Blue Book and NADA Guides can give you a nice global view of what is available in your area and what the going rate is for the car of your dreams. Titus-Will/Olympia sales representative Dave Foss recommends narrowing your selections to 3-4 models before visiting a dealership so you don’t overwhelm yourself.
Negotiate your best deal.
The mystery of auto pricing has been largely unveiled. Buyers can find the invoice amount a dealer paid for new vehicles and see comparable prices at online auto sales sites. And if you’re looking at a used vehicle, you can ask your car salesperson to see the purchase or trade-in value of the vehicle. Most will share this information.
“All dealers in a region pay the same price for new vehicles,” says Foss. “There is very little mark-up on new cars. However, there is more negotiating room on used vehicles depending on how long the vehicle’s been on the lot and, of course, what the dealer paid for it.”
Trust, but verify.
When considering a used vehicle, you really need to check the vehicle’s history. Many dealers provide a CarFax or AutoCheck report that details the history of the vehicle, including whether it’s been in an accident, how the vehicle may have been used, service records, “lemon” histories and title information. However, to ensure you’re not purchasing an expensive fixer-upper, Foss recommends having a used vehicle inspected by an auto shop you trust. Most dealers will loan you the vehicle long enough to have it independently inspected. If not, consider whether there is something to hide.
An automotive shop will typically take the vehicle on a test drive, do a visual inspection, check vital components and scan the vehicle with an engine analyzer that can identify potential problems. “We can often find signs of damage or past repairs, and even more serious indicators — like corrosion from road salts — that may warn you off a problem vehicle,” says Kyle Wood, a manager at Terry’s Automotive in Olympia, Washington. Wood says most inspections take about two hours and cost around $100, which is a small price to pay for peace of mind on an investment that can run tens of thousands of dollars.