In the market to buy car? At some point most of us are, so learn How to Buy a Car the Smart Way.
This is part of a #mamachallenge sponsored series to show that class, convenience and community come together perfectly at Park Place Motorcars Arlington.
I remember the first time I bought a car by myself. I didn’t realize at all what I was doing, but I felt that I needed to be strong and hopefully not get charged a crazy amount. Of course this was before I had a family, advanced technology and GPS entered the market, and there were so many resources so we could do some homework.
Thankfully, the situation turned out ok, but I’ll be honest there are so many things I could’ve done better and have learned since then to do and not to do when it comes to buying a car. And believe me – it’s not just about the car when it comes to making the best choice for your auto purchase…it’s also about the entire experience (and paying for it) that is important. With all your life-changing scenarios and needs, it’s important to reassess the process. So learn from this mama how to buy a car the smart way.
Let’s break it down to basics.
DEFINE YOUR NEED
To me this is the most important part and should be done before you even start looking at a car. If you can narrow down what you need vs. what you want early in the process, the rest of the other steps are a walk in the park. Depending on where you are in your life, you could have very specific needs (like lots of room for your little people) and perhaps you could really crave a car that looks good and drives fast.
So ask yourself these questions:
What size do you need? Who is going to be in this car and how is it going to be used?
How much do you want to pay for a car and be comfortable with the amount (remember, there’s maintenance, insurance, etc. to consider as well?)
A rule of thumb is to spend around 20% or less of your take home pay on a car. However, that’s not always feasible for everyone depending on what expenses you have to manage. If you have kids, you know what I mean.
If you have a trade-in, that definitely changes the bottom line as well depending on what it is you have to pay. When you look at sealing the deal (see step below), you should know the value of your car by also doing some research (but take into consideration what condition your car is in, so you don’t always get the price it says.)
A rule of thumb is to spend around 20% or less of your take home pay on a car. However, that’s not always feasible for everyone depending on what expenses you have to manage.
These are the things you NEED to have in the car like – needs to have four doors vs. two, must have lots of truck space, has GPS, is small so you can park it, etc.
This is the WANT part – like the car needs to hav a sunroof, needs Apple Car Play, etc.
Then you have the hard part of prioritizing what you think is the most important thing to you (and these might change, too.)
If you noticed I didn’t ask two big questions here – do you want to buy new or pre-owned AND buy vs. lease. I personally think most people have a biased against both and a preconceived notion on how they work (often you replicate the buying tendency of your parents in this area.) Honestly, there are benefits and challenges to both.
A little note here: A lot of places will tell you to start looking at cars first. The reason I suggest you take the time to define your need is a lot like buying a house. After you start looking at several models, you’re willing to change what you need and what you’ll pay once you see what’s out there. And two things will happen: you’ll either settle for the most inexpensive version because you don’t want to pay much and therefore buy a car that ultimately won’t make you happy OR you’ll buy too much car and every month have to work at making the payment.
When you do the work you’ll be able to find a car that you’ll love and can afford (and yes, you can find that!)
Now this is where you get to have some fun. This is the part of the process that you can get online, ask questions and research away. Once you’ve pegged down what you need (and what’s the icing on the cake), start seeing what’s out there. Visit a car show, get to Google, and ask your friends (they’ve already done some of the work for you so ask them what they like about their car and what they don’t.) Now what you find at this point doesn’t mean that they are your only options, but they give you an idea of what you’re realistically looking for and answer some of the other questions like colors, interiors, technology (this is a biggie for me.)
What I can’t just head to the dealership and start buying a car?
You absolutely can! But I’d at least have your needs, wants and how much you can pay in mind when you go. However, if money is you have huge deal breaker for you, you might need to look at your finances first (see next step below.) However, if there’s a range, you might be surprised by what you’ll find out you like vs. not like in a car when you go shopping. Your sales representative (mine is Ken and he’s amazing) is going to ask you what you’re looking for, so having your needs / wants list already set is so helpful, so they can really target what you needs vs. you having too much fun spending time driving a car you know you won’t buy in the long run (and wasting time!)
Which leads me to an even more important question: Where should you buy your car?
There are many options available to how and where to buy a car, but make sure to do your homework services like online-only car sales. While I know it’s an option for some, for me, I want a person to talk to about the car, to show me how it works (I once spent :30 minutes once trying to figure out how to open the hood), and a physical place to go when there’s a problem. That’s a dealership.
When choosing a dealership, you need to a little work there, too. It’s not just what’s closest or where you bought your last car that is an option. Some dealerships are much more invested in service than just being a place that sells cars. Many of them take great pride in the process of having a car, the customers that buy them, and hopefully, that you’re a client for life.
For example at Park Place Dealerships (which has 24 locations throughout DFW), #MyParkPlace is an entire campaign showing clients that not only have bought a car with Park Place, but have bought multiple cars for many years because of their exceptional service. From the moment you head to the door, there’s someone available to show you cars or if you prefer, lets you peruse the lot. And if you’re the kind of person that wants to do as much as much as possible online before you even visit the dealership, you can work with the Internet Sales Manager who can help you through the whole process online until it’s time to pick up the car!
But there are some other really good reasons to head to Park Place Motorcars especially the one I visit in Arlington.
Just take a look in their Customer Service Area and you’ll see what looks like the most beautiful coffee shop, sports bar, and even a space for the kids. With beverages available, plentiful seating options, TVs (just count how many), and free WiFi, you can get your car washed and maintenanced in the ultimate comfortable setting. I know from my own experiences, that is not normally the case at other dealerships, waiting for eight hours in a loud, cramped service center. I admit in my experience at Park Place, I actually waited a few minutes after my car was done because I didn’t want to leave and I was getting work done. But on days you can’t wait, Park Place customers also get access to loaner vehicles when they get services.
PAYING FOR IT
Okay no one wants to have this conversation, right? It’s the more adult part of the car-buying process…how are you going to pay for it?
First, be real with yourself. Know your credit score and where you sit with your finances. Then consider pre-financing. Whether than pick a car and wait to see if you can pay for it – you can get online and begin the process NOW so you know what you can pay before you start. Park Place Arlington has an online option so it’s quick and easy, but if you prefer, there are other options available like our bank / credit union, Lending Tree, etc. that can walk you through your process.
In the case you need a co-signer/co-buyer, do them a courtesy and ask BEFORE you are ready to sign on a car. Give them the opportunity to make a decision that’s good for them as well in a reasonable time AND that they can also see their finances are also in order. Plus if they know you’ve been planned out and taken the time to make your car choice, they’ll see you’re going to be responsible with their money and where their name is attached.
For me, I know my habits and I like the technology in a car so having a new car is important for the latest and greatest in tech. But for other people it’s having a specific kind of car, like a beautiful Mercedes or a Lexus that drives their leading priorities. But I’ve learned that it’s possible to have your cake and eat it too.
New / Preowned
Did you know that Park Place Arlington has both pre-owned and new cars available? So if you really have your heart set on a Land Rover, or a Ford F-150, or even that Jaguar convertible, they have it available! These pre-owned cars are Certified so that you know that they have been inspected, services, and restored to a like-new condition. And you still get the benefits of being a Park Place client.
Lease vs. Own
So do you want to own or lease? Again, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. I lease my car because I always want a newer car with the most updated technology that has a warranty, but I also need to keep my payments reasonable. My husband’s car is owned because he loves it and so he can add what he wants to it, so we do both.
TRY IT OUT
Whatever you do, you must drive the car. Yep, take that test drive. Even if you have to have it ordered in, you need to make sure you’ve put your eyes on it and driven the car. And here’s why – I once had a car I requested in black that I literally was signing the documents on my car to purchase, but when I saw the car, I saw that the “black car” was actually navy. While somewhere on the documents it said navy, the sales rep thought it was black, too.
But that’s definitely not the only reason to test drive the car. If possible, don’t just drive it around the lot – make sure you’ve driven it on the highway, on the access road, and my favorite learning opportunity, your garage. Yes, once upon another time I bought a car that didn’t fit in my garage. Nothing is worse than realizing you bought a car that doesn’t work for you. You need the kids to get in it if you’re buying a family car including your spouse (hey, they need to fit too.) And if it’s just you and your dog, you might want to make sure they fit too!
Not only do you want to drive it, but turn on the radio, try out the trunk / back area, use the buttons – love this car.
Americans spend on average 293 hours in their car a year.
So you better like what you’re driving.
SEAL THE DEAL
So you found it – your car! Congrats we’re almost there. There’s just a few more steps to the finish line!
Once you have the car in mind and you’re ready to take the plunge, make sure to confirm the rate and price with the lender. Also, if you have a trade-in, time to level up and see how much the dealership is willing to give you for the car so you can leverage your final payment price!
Another benefit of working with a sales representative at a dealership like Ken at Park Place Arlington is that you can discuss all the warranties, special offers, benefits of the dealership and how they work. If Roadside Assistance is part of your deal, make sure you understand how it works, how to contact them, etc.
Once you’ve settled on the price and signed the dotted line, make sure to get the lowdown on all of the following:
- Have your sales representative do show and tell! Have them show you how and set up all your technology before you leave the lot.
- Have your chair set perfect for you, get the radio set, ask how things work! This is why you have a sales rep – they’re there to help you!
- And while you’re looking at the car, make sure you know how to manage that spare tire – just in case!
Yep, it’s that easy…ha! Actually buying a car can be a great process or a horrible one, but with a little planning and help (hello, Park Place Arlington), you can be ready to hit the road in no time!