7 Lessons I Learned From Buying My First Car
Tricks You Can Use In Future Negotiations Too
I earned my license at the age of sixteen after failing my driver’s test twice. That was five years ago. Since that, I had mostly driven my parent’s 2011 Chevy Cruze to work, high school, or see friends. It was a shared car which had its benefits and downfalls.
While this was sufficient transportation at home, I thought that I needed a car before I moved into college. Because my parents had told my older brother and sister they would not pay for anything car related, I was told the same. If I wanted to purchase a car before college, I would need to step up my savings and decrease my spending.
After test driving 3 cars, visiting several dealerships, and spending hours of research, I finally purchased a car. This is what I consider my first “adult” purchase as many of you might have. My blue 2010 Toyota Corolla (Skylar) was purchased by me, with my own money thanks to Target for giving me hundreds of hours during my summer break and quarantine.
Skylar was purchased at a major dealership in my area. The salesman there was not too pushy, very friendly, and even helped me search for insurance. To finally purchase a car was a major check off my bucket list, and I learned many lessons in my search.
Research, Research, Research
Did I mention research? This seriously is one of the most important aspects of purchasing a car. Research begins with searching for different types of cars. Do you want a sedan? SUV? Truck? From there you should look to see what dealers have in their stock. Then research the dealer and read several reviews or ask people who might be familiar with them.
Research the car as well. After you have chosen your type of vehicle, do more research on what types of vehicles have great ratings and reliable history. Before I signed for my car, I looked at several sites such as Cars.com, Kelley Blue Book, and Edmunds. These are just a few of the hundreds of vehicle review companies out there.
Build A Dream Car (Within Budget)
This can be very difficult at first and can be used as a measure of your readiness to purchase a vehicle. When I was looking for a car in high school, I just wanted a car. I had no specifics and a very loose budget. I recommend calculating how much you earn per month, subtract current expenses, and deciding on a reasonable budget from your take-home income.
After looking at my budget and income. I found that even though I don’t earn as much while at school, I had saved enough to afford a car that cost no more than $9,000 with a $200 monthly payment, $150 for insurance, and another $150 or so for gas and maintenance. While this was an extra $500/month I was able to minimize costs such as canceling my Netflix subscription and use a friend’s or just switch to YouTube for free entertainment.
After you have a budget, it’s important to narrow down your options by choosing brands, miles, age of the car, and looking at the Carfax. I began to look at cars that had less than 120,000 miles. The miles on a car show how much it was used in a period when compared with the age of the car. Most cars have driven an average of 12,000 miles a year.
Looking at just the miles and age to determine the condition, you don’t see most of the picture. A car that is well maintained and has high mileage could last much longer than one that has fewer miles.
I also looked at the brand of cars. From my research, Mazda, Jeep, and Toyota were all very dependable brands generally, so I focused my search on these brands.
Once you find your dream car, check the Carfax! I know it sounds cheesy, but this is a great resource for used cars as the Carfax has most of the vehicle’s maintenance history and even includes accidents. Many reputable dealers will provide you with the Carfax for free. (Usually cost around $40.)
The First One is Probably Not the Best
Throughout my car search, I had several cars in my sights, but only test drove three. 2 Hyundai Elantras and my Toyota Corolla. The first Elantra was at a dealership in Pittsburgh. It ran decently but had a bit too much wear and tear for its age. Looking back, I also would have fallen behind in payments as my income was much lower in high school than it is now.
The second Elantra was sold by an independent used car dealer in York. The car seemed decent, but the dealer was not trustworthy and unprofessional. While trying to haggle the price, the salesman seemed uninterested in talking and simply wanted to get the car off his lot.
Trust The Dealer and The Car
Think research but on a deeper level. A dealership’s public image draws you to their lot, while your trust in them should be something that they have to earn to close the sale. When you purchase a car, mutual trust is required. You want to trust the dealer that they are providing you with true and accurate information about the car. They want to trust you so that you will repay them and give them a stellar review or positively talk about them.
Don’t Be Emotionally Invested
Used car salespeople know all the mind games and how to pull information from you. If you hop in a car and start screaming about how much you like it, they will see you as an easy sale and you lose negotiation power. They will see you want the car and will be less flexible with pricing while offering more services to give them a higher kickback as well as the dealership.
When test driving a car, it’s best to stay as impartial as possible. It’s OK to ask questions about the car or simply talk to the salesperson about sports or anything else. Just avoid giving them an opinion on the car. Some salespeople might ask directly how you like it, simply say “It seems ok. But I’m not sure how I feel about it.”
Negotiate the Price in A Fair Way
Surprise! Car dealerships are a business and businesses like to make money! With that being said don’t lowball the salesperson when making an offer. After you have all the information you need and decide you like the car, try to negotiate a fair price. If the advertised price is $10,000 and you make an offer of $5,000, they would probably laugh at you and consider you a waste of their time.
Car dealerships must make a profit, even on used cars. Obviously, much of that comes from the extras they offer you but if they paid the last owner $8,000 for the car and put another $1,000 into it, an offer of $5,000 is truly laughable.
You want the car at a lower price than advertised, so start by offering maybe a few hundred less than the sales price or no less than 15%. Also state why you made the offer of that price, if the car has miles, the dealership can’t turn the odometer back because that’s illegal. They can only lower the price due to mileage. When negotiating you want to negotiate based on items that can’t be fixed or fixed that day such as high mileage or older tires.
Be Your Own Finance Manager
This can be the intimidating part. After the price of the car is agreed upon and some paperwork is done, you are taken back to a dark office in the corner of the dealership. The door is locked behind you and…
Just kidding! Its nothing like that. You just have to be sure to stay on your toes when speaking to the finance manager. It’s one of the last steps before you are handed the keys to your new wheels.
The finance manager’s job is to talk more in-depth about terms and offer you everything under the sun. As they are offering services it’s perfectly OK to ask themselves to slow down and reexplain everything.
You should also ask yourself if this product or service would add value to your car or prevent you from spending more money down the road. Remember that your insurance will already cover a lot of what the plans will, so you don’t want to spend more on getting the same thing.
The car buying process is an exciting and stressful one, especially for first-time buyers like myself. It’s also very rewarding as purchasing a car is a major accomplishment and opens many doors for you as well, no matter where you are in life at the moment.
I encourage you to add your own tips and feedback of your car buying experience as I plan to write a guide to purchasing a car at some point down the road. (Pun intended.) This will be a step by step guide that holds a buyer’s hand through every step of the process. Thanks for reading and I hope that you picked up a few pointers for your next negotiation!
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