We’ve mentioned before that we’ve made every effort to buy our cars with cash. And I can say cars (with an “s”) because we’ve bought two cars and two scooters in our six years of marriage, thankyouverymuch. Pretty much car buying experts here, folks. You should see us at parties. If we so much as hear the mention of “cars” or “buying” in the same sentence, Johnny’s all like, “Let me tell you everything I know about buying cars because I’ve bought two in six years!” and I’m all like, “Oh hey, new best friend, I eat car salesmen for breakfast!” Talk about a dynamic duo. It’s a huge hit every time.
Okay, so maybe we don’t do that at parties. And, okay, we’re not experts. Not even close. But we do take car buying rather seriously. I mean, it’s the most money we’ve ever spent on one thing ever. And so when we bought our cars, we narrowed down the process to five fundamental steps. One of these steps by itself would help point us in the right direction. But combining all of them helped us safeguard our car buying decision so that we were sure to make a good choice — despite being total noobs.
So if you’re in the market for a car (aren’t we all sooner or later?), here are five steps to help you through the process.
- Know what you can afford. Decide how much you are going to spend (out the door) before you even begin looking. Johnny and I decide on our budget first and foremost because we don’t trust ourselves to keep cool budgeting heads later in the process. It’s easy to see a nicer car than we had originally anticipated and and to let our emotions run wild. But if we have an out-the-door price (car + sales tax, DMV fees, doc fees) in mind, it helps us to not even entertain the idea of cars out of that range.
- Narrow your search to three makes and models. First, decide what kind of car you need. Will you be using it to commute? To haul around three dirt-stained little boys? To drive in the snow? All three of those things? Once again, logic — not emotion or what the Jones’s are driving — should take precedence. Once Johnny and I have made this decision (and realized, begrudgingly, that at some point the answer might be a minivan), we narrow it down to three makes and models. How how do we do that? Well, it partly depends on looks. We all want a pretty car, right? But we mostly check which makes and models have good reliability and good value by checking consumer reports. We try to think in terms of lifetime value and cost, not just the upfront cost. Getting a car that’s cheap upfront but is known for being unreliable over time is probably not a wise choice. And I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but used cars are always a better financial choice than brand new cars.
- Find out what you should be paying. So you’ve decided what car you want. Now’s the time to see what you should be paying for it versus what the dealer or owner is asking. Johnny and I use a few different sites to determine the value of a car: Clearbook, Edmunds, and Kelley Blue Book. Many different aspects of a car affect what it’s worth: the condition, the extra features and upgrades, whether it’s for sale by owner or by dealer, and so forth. Buying a car is no small purchase, and knowing that the cars we buy are actually worth what we’re paying, gives Johnny and me a lot of peace of mind.
- Check the car’s history. If the price of a car looks like it’s too good to be true, it probably is. More than likely that car has been in some sort of major accident or flood, and it has a salvaged title. Johnny and I have made sure to get a get a vehicle history report with both of our car (and scooter — don’t forget those!) purchases. Knowing where a car has been driven or whether it was a fleet vehicle are biggies. And the biggest, of course, is the accident history. Also, knowing whether it’s had routine maintenance is another way to ensure it was taken good care of by previous owners. If you buy from a dealer, they should have a free vehicle history report for you. If you’re buying from a private owner, demand that they print off a Carfax for you to see.
- Pay with cash. The last but most certainly not least step is to pay with cash if it all possible (although, obviously, some people’s individual circumstances warrant getting a loan). When Johnny and I bought our current car just over a year ago, the dealer was so put off when he found out we were paying with cash. “Now why would you want to do something like that?” Admittedly, saying goodbye to a bunch of cash we’d worked long and hard to save up was not the most appealing prospect. But staying away from the Debt Monster was more appealing. And knowing none of that money was going toward paying off interest was another clincher that made us stick to our guns with paying cash.
And that, my friends, is the extent of our car buying wisdom. Now, fly, little bird. Go out and spread those little car-buying wings. Those last two sentences are my cue to end this post right. now.
How is your car-buying process similar or different from our own? Are there any other fundamentals you’d add to this list? Can anyone tell me where I can find a light pink Mary Kay Cadillac? I’m asking for a friend…