Spring is a popular time to venture onto a car lot. It’s warming up outside, you’re sick of your crappy old car that kept getting stuck all winter, maybe you got a great tax return, or you’re looking forward to graduation, a move, a wedding, or another big life event that could require a newer, better vehicle.
There are many reasons to buy a car in the spring, but if it’s your first car you may be concerned about HOW to buy that car without being taken advantage of. It’s a huge purchase and a major life decision! How can you make sure you’re doing it right?
Of course much of that is going to be personal to your exact situation - your finances, where you live, what you like, what your lifestyle is like, etc.
But overall we have some excellent advice and tips for you as you shop for your first car. It’s an exciting and rewarding experience if you have the right tools for the task.
- Check Your Credit. You’d be surprised how often people are, well, surprised by their credit. Car dealerships often don’t pull your credit until you have your heart absolutely set on that perfect car, and then you might learn you can’t afford it. Check your credit beforehand, and start taking steps to repair it if it’s worse than you expected.
- Create a Budget. We don’t mean just for your car. Take a minute to write down all of your monthly expenses, down to your weekly or daily drink orders. Start to get a good picture of your monthly fixed costs - such as rent, utilities, phone bills, etc. Then figure out how much you are spending regularly on non-fixed costs like groceries, gas, entertainment, and shopping. You need to know how much liquid cash you’ll have to even spend on a car payment before you step on a lot.
- Wants vs. Needs List. Before you fall in love with a particular model of car, make a short list of a few things you absolutely need in a car. Maybe you need a roomy trunk for a stroller or equipment. Or perhaps fuel efficiency is very important because your commute is long or you travel a lot. Then add in your top few “wants” such as heated seats, four wheel drive, interior upgrades, color, etc. These will help you to narrow the field.
- Online Research. Check out the Kelley Blue Book, dealership websites, and real people recommendations for the cars you’re interested in buying. Having a good picture of what’s out there and how much it should cost will give you the baseline you need.
- Start with an Overall Price. Don’t start with what you can afford per month, because often salesmen will show you expensive cars with longer loans and higher interest rates to match your monthly payment goal. Instead, be up front about exactly how much you want to spend and ask for their help in getting you the best car for that price.