How to Buy a Car

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Graduation is coming up, and I feel ready–or, at least, as ready as I can be! I have a job lined up in a suburban area not too far from here, and I think it’s going to be a good fit. I’ll be sad to leave my school behind, but I’m ready for the next challenge.


But, speaking of challenges, there’s something I’m not looking forward to: buying a car. My family was never big on haggling or dealing with salespeople, and I never really learned negotiating skills. Plus, we always seemed to inherit (or buy) hand-me-down cars from my grandparents or aunts and uncles, so I don’t really have any experience at a car dealership. So, uh, what do I look for? What do I do? I don’t want to get ripped off!


Buying a car should be easy, but a lot of Americans see it as a stressful experience–even more stressful than a wedding, according to polls! That’s extreme but understandable: after all, it’s a huge purchase, there are hidden costs, you may need a loan, you won’t know as much as the salesperson, and–worst of all, in the eyes of many–you’ll be expected to negotiate. Yikes!


But don’t worry too much. The first thing that you should know is that if you go a reputable car dealership, you won’t get ripped off. Sure, there are guides all over the internet to the perfect haggling strategy, but most new cars sell within a predictable range of prices. There’s only so much you can underpay (or overpay). Overpaying is much more of a danger when it comes to private transactions (if you don’t know your stuff, steer clear of Craigslist) and smaller, less reputable dealers selling used vehicles.

So let’s say you’re going to head to trusted dealership with great reviews and a manufacturer’s endorsement (great choice!). Now what?


Well, now you need to know what sort of car you want. That means generally–it doesn’t make sense to choose a brand and do, for instance, new Ford vehicle research until you actually know whether you’re looking at Ford’s pickup trucks, sedans, or sports cars. So start by figuring out your needs: do you want a sedan? Do you value fuel mileage? (You probably should.) And what do you want to spend?


From there, narrow your choices and compare models across different makes. Each car company may offer only one type of car that suits your needs, but when you compare across different brands, you’ll have lots of options. You’ll have even more if you expand your search to used cars. Very old cars might not be a great choice for you (while cheap, they can be costly in maintenance terms and can be unreliable–not a great thing for a new employee looking to get to work on time!), but a certified used vehicle that’s a few years old can be a great choice for budget buyer looking for a reliable ride.


Make a list of your options and their pros and cons. Check out their selling prices online, including from reliable sources like the Kelley Blue Book, as well as from the sites of local dealers.


Now it’s time to visit the dealership. Don’t be intimidated–you’ve already done your research! The internet is full of tips for negotiating with dealers, but the short version is this: know your budget limits, don’t be afraid to walk away, and use all of that research you did!


Buying a car can be intimidating, but it’s not so bad–and can actually be very exciting. Don’t worry: if you do your research and come prepared, you’re sure to get the right price on the car you want.


“Don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.” — Barack Obama