The Boy and I did something last week that we rarely do - we bought a new (to us) car.
We don't buy cars often because cars are a practical purchase for us, and practically speaking, we don't need a new car very often. But with our existing car having just rolled past 185,000 miles - and our need to keep Old Glory, The Boy's beloved classic pickup, from being driven just any old time - the time for a purchase had come.
Just because we don't buy a car often doesn't mean that we didn't know what we were doing. Here are the steps that we followed to make a wise used car purchase.
1. Save, save, save. Every month, The Boy and I make a car payment to ourselves. The money goes into a sinking fund that accrues over time to fund our next car purchase. We're pretty radical, so we saved $500 a month for a few years to have enough to purchase the car we wanted.
2. Know your needs. Before buying, it's important to know how you'll use your new vehicle. Do you commute a long distance? How much interior space do you need? The Boy and I do not commute a long distance, but we do take the occasional road trip to visit friends and family. Good gas mileage is important to us. We sometimes travel with friends, so we wanted comfortable seats in the front and rear, along with ample legroom for everyone. Since we live in a metro area, it's critical that the car have good get-up-and-go so we can merge onto the freeways. Looking at everything, we realized that our ideal vehicle was a mid-sized sedan.
3. Do your homework. Understand what vehicle makes and models meet your needs. Then get busy understanding the market rates for those vehicles based on condition and mileage. A good buy goes to an informed buyer.
4. Don't start shopping until you have the money. Write this down: If you start shopping for a vehicle before you have the money saved, you will buy something that you can't afford. So be patient.
5. Start shopping when you have the money. Take your time, look at lots of sellers, be willing to wait.
6. Ask for advice. We narrowed down our options to just three vehicles - not three types of vehicles, but three literal cars. Then we emailed people we trust regarding car matters (ahem, my dad) and called to talk to our long-time mechanic to get their opinions on our choices.
7. Go shopping! Armed with our information, we headed out to buy. In our case, we bought a used car from a dealership. The three cars we were interested in all had less than 30,000 miles. Two were the same make and model, but different colors. The third was a different make and model. I knew I liked that particular vehicle, because I'd driven one last year on an extended business trip...which reminds me, it's smart to rent different cars that you're interested in when you're travelling. It's a great way to see if you really like a vehicle or if you just like the idea of the vehicle.
We immediately crossed one of the three vehicles off our list because the color didn't appeal to us. We test drove the car that we'd not driven before and really liked it - liked it so much that we were able to decide instantly that it was the car for us. Remember, we'd driven the other model before. If we hadn't, we would have driven it as well to compare the two.
8. Be smart when purchasing. Don't forget - the sticker price isn't the final price. First, you should always ask for a deal. Work to get the best price for you and fair price for the seller. This is where your homework helps - you should know what the car is roughly worth, based on mileage and market rates. Second, the sticker price doesn't include tax, title and license. Expect another 10% give or take on top of the agreed purchase price to cover those items.
9. Contact your bank and your insurance company. Before you write the check, call your bank to let them know you'll be dropping several thousand on a vehicle. (Unless you regularly write large checks, which we don't!, your car purchase may be flagged by the bank and payment delayed.) And you want to make sure you get the car onto your vehicle insurance policy as soon as possible. In Texas, our purchase is covered by our policy for 30 days without a call, but we knew it was smart to get the coverage officially in place as quickly as possible.
10. Remember that you can always walk away. No one is going to hold a gun to your head and make you purchase that car. You can always say no, wait a little while, or purchase something else instead. Never forget that you're the buyer - you're not a prisoner. And no one can make you buy something that you don't want to buy.
Follow these steps and you can be reasonably assured that you'll make the wisest purchase possible - wise for your pocketbook and wise for your peace of mind.
We love our "new" car!!