Buying your first car – how the process works
Purchasing a car can be an intimidating process, especially if you buy into the over-dramatized, stereotypical depiction of car salespeople and dealerships. Here’s the catch, though–it doesn’t have to be. When you’ve done your research, you know what you want, and you’re ready to buy, YOU’RE in the driver’s seat. Here are some steps that will help you effectively manage the car buying process with confidence.
Check your credit score
Before your visit any dealership, be sure to check your credit score. Your credit score is a three-digit number that reflects your individual creditworthiness. It quantifies the likeliness that you will repay your credit obligations and is the best prediction of risk a lender can assume when extending credit to you. Consumers have the right to one free credit report annually from each of the three credit reporting agencies. If you haven’t yet requested your copy, click here.
Once you know your credit rating, visit your credit union to meet with a lending officer. They’ll review the loan options best suited to help you manage your purchase and the subsequent payments. By planning in advance of your trip to the dealership, you’ll be able to get pre-approval for a dollar amount that fits within your budget and comes with a competitive interest rate. This will alleviate the pressure to accept the dealer’s convenient, but often unfavorable financing.
Narrow down your car choices
Before you start looking for a car, decide on the features you need and want in a vehicle. Do you want a sedan or an SUV? Are leather seats a necessity? How about an entertainment system? What safety features are a must? Make a list of features and prioritize them in terms of importance. This list will help you start to narrow down your vehicle choices.
Do some research online. There are many websites that can help you decide which cars might be a good choice. KBB.com reports information from Kelly Blue Book, JDPower.com/cars is an especially good resource if you’re looking to research reliability, and ConsumerReports.org’s annual car issue is an excellent source of independent rating by an unbiased third-party.
Once you narrow down your choices, spend some time visiting dealerships and test driving the vehicles at the top of your list.
Avoiding the lemon
Today, people frequently trade in their cars after a year or two or after their lease expires. No longer is the used car lot full of old clunkers. In fact, pre-owned cars can often be a better deal than buying new. To make sure you’re not inheriting someone else’s headache, be sure to make your purchase through a reputable dealer who has to answer to manufacturers. Look for cars with low odometer mileage, which typically means less wear and tear, and those with warranties still in effect.
Also, be sure to request a copy of the vehicle’s history report, like Carfax, to see accident, repair and title information.
Finalizing the deal
When you’re satisfied that you’ve found the right car, one that meets your needs and fits within your budget, meet with a salesperson to negotiate the price. You’ll need to contact your credit union, provide them with some information, and coordinate payment before the deal is officially finalized and the car is delivered.
Any car, whether new or pre-owned, is an expensive purchase that warrants the appropriate time and attention. It’s not a quick and simple process. In the end, though, you’ll feel confident in the fact that you did everything you could to secure the best deal and execute the smoothest transaction possible.