How to Buy a Car: A 5-Step Plan
Whether you’re thinking of purchasing a car now, during end-of-year sales, or sometime down the road, you’ll do well to have a game plan to help you make the best decision. First and foremost, don’t fall into the trap of letting your emotions — or your ego — interfere with the selection.
Here are the primary steps in choosing the best vehicle for you:
1. First determine what you actually need. Try not to start by choosing the car you like best. Approach the task with a utilitarian perspective and think about the attributes your new car or truck should have to meet your requirements.
For example, perhaps your kids have grown up and you can now downsize from that minivan to something smaller. But if this will be your family’s primary vehicle you have to consider how many adults you may need to transport comfortably.
Speaking of space: Do you have pets that need to ride along? You’ll want to make sure there’s room in the back of a new vehicle for Fido. Or you might haul other large items around on a regular basis like musical or sports equipment, or tools. Can it all fit in the trunk or cargo area or would a smaller car with a roof rack do the trick? If so, figure in about $500 for the rack.
An important consideration these days is your carbon footprint. The same car that meets your other requirements might come with 4, 6 or 8 cylinders. Are you more interested in performance, or fuel efficiency?
2. Decide whether a new or pre-owned vehicle will better suit the needs you’ve identified. Are you looking for the best warranty available, or simply the “most car” for the money?
A new car will generally have a much better warranty, so can hedge against unforeseen costs down the road. There’s also a pride in ownership when buying new that can’t quite be matched by buying a car someone else drove for a few years. More importantly, how did the previous owners treat the car?
On the flip side, a new car depreciates faster — typically at least a grand or two as soon as you drive it off the lot, and in some cases up to 50 percent of the value within three years. That can mean some great bargains in cars from 1 to 3 years old.
Used car makes and models have a known record. Depending on their reliability over a couple of years they receive ratings from consumer guides that can help steer your choice. Many used cars are now sold with excellent manufacturer certifications. In short, you can often get more bang for your buck by choosing a used car.
For comparisons, I searched Seven Days Auto Finder for both new and used vehicles with a price range of $24K to $26K. I found that for about $25,000 you could get a new 2009 Subaru Outback AWD Wagon or a used 2005 Volvo XC70 AWD Wagon with 21,000 miles. Or, you could consider a new Honda Accord versus a used 2006 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Luxury Sedan with 20,410 miles.
3. Pick two or three models that fit your criteria and research the reliability, safety and resale value of each. If you need help, email me at [email protected] and I’ll be glad to assist with that research.
4. Test-drive each of the vehicles you’ve identified. Take notes on what you liked, or didn’t, about each one.
5. Finally, decide which vehicle is right for you and negotiate the best deal possible. As always, email any questions you have to [email protected].