Funny how things that make us happy can also make us cry. In survey after survey, most people say their least favorite thing to do—after public speaking, that is—is to buy a new car. Which is ironic, because pretty much everybody WANTS a new car.
And it all comes down to price.
For the most part, everything else we buy, the price is set. Roll up into Macy’s, find a pair of shoes you want, the price on the bottom of the shoe is the price you pay. If it’s on sale, there’s a huge sign above the display telling you the shoe is on sale and how much off the regular price you’re getting.
Yeah—cars don’t work that way.
In most cases, the price you pay for a new car depends upon your ability to negotiate, and your resolve to get the price you want. Which is fine, as long as you have an accurate assessment of the car’s true market value.
Fortunately, with the Internet, that’s pretty easy to figure out, here on the Autobytel site, you can learn everything you need to know so when you go into the dealership you’ve the information you need to get the best deal possible.
Which, of course, begs the question; what do you need to know?
Before you even think about what kind of car to get, you’d do well to do a realistic assessment of your financial situation to determine how much you can afford to pay for a car every month—if you’ll need to finance it. If you’re fixed to pay cash, you’ll still need to consider operating costs once you have the car of your dreams in your garage. In addition to the monthly payment, fuel, maintenance, registration, and insurance are the primary costs to consider.
Even if you have the $65,000 in cash it’d take to put a nicely equipped new Porsche Boxster in your driveway, you’ll still need to be able to afford the insurance. You’ll also pay taxes every year in the form of registration fees. Then there’s fuel to consider as well. Many new cars come with a maintenance program included in the price for the first three years, so you might be OK there, but if yours doesn’t, there’s yet another expense.
Long story short, you need to consider all of the costs associated with owning a car, and make sure they can be comfortably borne by your monthly income—without sacrificing the nature of your lifestyle.
If you’re going to be financing a car, a good rule of thumb to keep in mind is if you find yourself having to finance a car for more than 36 to 48 months to make it fit into your budget, you probably ought to be looking at something else; the car you’re trying to stretch to get into is too expensive for your situation.
Our car affordability calculator will help you figure all of that out.
With the average price of a new car hovering in the $32,000 range, financing your new car purchase is a very real probability. Regardless of how good your income is, if your credit score is low, you will pay more for financing and this will have an effect on what kind of car you’ll be able to afford.
This is why you should get your credit score before you start looking at cars.
Your credit information will also come in handy once you reach the price negotiation phase of the process. If you know how you rank and someone tries to lock you into a higher interest rate than your score qualifies you for, you’ll have the information you need to negotiate a better rate.
Similarly, getting pre-qualified for a loan from your bank or credit union puts you in an excellent position to negotiate a better deal. When financing is offered to you at the dealership and the interest rate is quoted, you’ll already know whether or not the rate you’re offered is a good one. If you bank gave you a better rate, you can use it as a bargaining chip to get the seller to reduce theirs. If they can’t you already have a better one in hand so you’re ahead of the game.
You can also do this online, in fact it can be even easier as you have all sorts of lenders at your fingertips just hankering to put their money in your hands so you can drive the car of your dreams.
Here are some specific considerations to keep in mind when seeking online financing.
Once you have a firm idea of what you can afford, you can start looking around here on the Autobytel site to get an idea of what models fit into your price range.
We all have needs, and we all have desires; problem is our needs and our desires have a tendency to run parallel to each other, rather than intersecting. If you love to drive, you’ll definitely want a sports car. But if you have a family and this will be your only car, you’ll need something more practical.
Buying what you want, only to discover it isn’t what you need, will ultimately force you to spend more money than you should. You’ll eventually have to get rid of the sports car and pick up something with more room. Given how much new cars depreciate right off the bat, you’ll lose money on the sports car.
Best to take some time, look around the site, and see what your choices are. There are many cars capable of delivering loads of driving pleasure, while still providing enough capacity to ensure your family’s needs are met.
Take your time, read the reviews, learn each model’s strengths and weaknesses. Which ones have the best warranty coverage? Create a list of your favorites, look at what they cost, and figure out which ones will fit into your budget.
Now, we get to the fun part!
Once you’ve got your list of potentials narrowed; researched them all, read everything you can find about them, and feel you know everything reading can tell you, it’s time to visit some dealers to test drive the models on your list.
If at all possible, do this on a weekday—ideally Tuesday through Thursday. These are the days auto dealerships are slowest. Most people come into showrooms on the weekend, and salespeople can be too busy to accommodate an extended test drive. Also, since you’re not buying at this point, you don’t want to take a salesperson away from someone who might be about to buy a car that day.
A good solid test drive is a time consuming process. There is considerably more to test driving a car than just hopping in and making a series of right turns until you wind up back in the dealership. You’ll want to look each car over very thoroughly. Look in the trunk to see how it’s configured. Yes, an article says it has 16 cubic feet of trunk space, but how is it shaped? Can you realistically get it to haul all the stuff you need to haul? If you’re buying a family car, what’s the legroom like in the back seat? Will your family be comfortable?
Seated behind the wheel, can you see out OK? Do you have to crane your neck to look down the road, or to see out to make turns? Are there significant blind spots? How comfortably do you fit? When the seat is adjusted so you can reach the pedals, is the steering wheel too close or too far away? Can you reach all of the controls you need to reach to operate the car safely? Is it quiet enough? Is there anything at all about the car that bugs you? If it bugs you on the test drive, trust us; you’ll absolutely hate it two years down the road when you’re still making payments on it.
When you go to do these initial test drives, you’ll be interacting with automotive salespeople. This makes a lot of people nervous. Just be honest about what you’re doing and completely up front about where you are in your process. Let them know you’re working your way through your list of potential models, then go ahead and drive the car and make your evaluations.
As much as you’re test-driving cars at this point, you’re test-driving salespeople too. If they’re too pushy, if they’re short with you, if they don’t know the answers to your questions—and don’t seem interested in getting the answers to your questions—but they do keep pressuring you to buy, you can always go someplace else.
Do keep in mind their job is to sell cars.
Each salesperson you encounter will ask you—in one form or another—what they can do to help you decide to buy that car that day. Simply tell them you’re still in the information-gathering phase of your shopping process. Let them know you’ll get back to them if their car stands out when you’re done. Take their card in case you decide to buy the model they represent at their dealership, thank them for their time, and go on to your next car.
After driving all the cars on your list, odds are one or two will stand out as being the preferred ones. If you’re lucky, one will stand out head and shoulders above the rest—and you can go on to the next step. If it comes down to two or three, go back to those dealerships and drive them again, this time comparing them directly to one another.
This should tip the scales in favor of one.
Once you’ve got your selection, you’re ready to spend some more time online, equipping it the way you want it equipped. This is where you’ll learn the difference between the base price and the price as equipped. Keeping your budget in mind, use our car configuration tool to set the car up with the equipment you’d like it to have.
Here, it’s real easy to go off, so be practical. If seat heaters are offered, do you live somewhere they’d be needed? Do you need satellite radio? Can you live with the stock wheels, or do you have to have the larger-diameter optional alloys? Is all-wheel drive a necessity?
Above all, consider what those choices will do to the overall price, and stay within your budget.
Before you absolutely settle, get exact insurance quotes for each of your finalists. While this shouldn’t be the primary determining factor, it is an important one. Odds are; if your focus was sufficiently narrowed, while the quotes you get will all be pretty close to one another, it’s still useful to know exactly how much your final choice will cost to insure. Use this information to learn all you need to know about buying insurance for your new car.
Once you’ve got your car built, nailed down, and you have its MSRP in hand, you’re ready to dig around to see what others have paid for a similar car in your area. While a number of sites around the web offer this feature, one of the best we’ve seen is Edmunds.com.
Their True Market Value calculator is an excellent tool to use to find out what the average going price for a particular car is in your area. Just make sure you configure the car in your query exactly the way you want it so you’re comparing apples to apples.
Now that you know about what the car should go for, you’re ready to seek your deal. Rather than running all over town trying to negotiate with dealer after dealer after dealer, use our Car Quote tool shop your request around to the dealers in your area.
Tell it what car you’re looking for, when you plan to buy it, and a good time for dealers to contact you, and all the legwork will be done for you. You’ll either get an eMail or a phone call in response to your query—whichever you prefer.
Have your worksheet nearby with your list of options so you can tell them which model you like and the way you want it configured. They’ll get back to you with their price; you choose the lowest quote and go from there.
If the lowest quote is considerably more than the TMV price you found, let them know you think there’s room in there for a better price. At that point, the salesperson will probably ask you to come in to negotiate in person. Now that you are equipped with the information you need to do so intelligently, you can proceed to get the best price available.