Most Americans replace their vehicles once every three to seven years. Buying a car is a major financial decision, but it’s also more than that. If you’re anything like the average American, you spend close to 300 hours a year in your vehicle, so it’s only logical that you’re desperate to get it right. You deserve to drive home in a reliable, comfortable, and economically-sensible car. But, how much research should you do before buying a car?
Most people take the car-buying process very seriously, and spend approximately 20 hours narrowing their choices down and ensuring the car they buy is the right fit for them.
It’s essential to spend that time wisely. Need tips? Here’s what to research before you buy a car.
How much should you spend on your new (or new to you) car? Don’t skip straight to considering your car loan options and researching where you can get the best rates. Instead, take some time to consider how much you can really afford to spend on a monthly car payment — a figure that’s often lower than the loan amount you’ll be approved for.
Top financial advisors warn against spending more than 10 percent of your annual income on a car. This figure ensures you can comfortably handle the costs associated with running and maintaining your vehicle.
You already know what you’ll primarily be using your car for, and you have a pretty good idea of the type of vehicle that would suit your needs best. You may not find a car in your price range that checks all of the boxes on your wish list, but you can certainly find a car that serves you well.
Start by narrowing your priorities down. Fuel efficiency is the number one priority for most consumers when car shopping, as cars with good gas mileage go a long way toward keeping monthly expenses down. Other common priorities include up-to-date safety features, design, comfort, quality, and an excellent warranty.
You may leave a dealership feeling pretty good about a specific car, especially if you have already taken a test drive. Don’t stop there, though. Use consumer comparison apps to identify cars with similar features in your monthly payment range. You may find a model that’s even better.
Once you have your heart set on a particular car, see if you can get a better deal (price and interest rate) at a different dealer.
You probably have a shortlist of two or three vehicles at this stage in the car-buying process, and you may have listened to a lot of smooth-talking car salesmen. Find out more about each car you’re considering buying from independent sources like Consumer Reports, and read consumer reviews to make sure you’re not missing anything.
People buying a used vehicle should, meanwhile, take the time to discover the car’s history. Thanks to dedicated websites such as Carfax, this is easier than ever before.
Even people who start with sensible budgets may fall into the temptation to buy a car just beyond their price limit — when another vehicle would have met their needs just as well. You may also be tempted to compromise on important features because you love the look of a particular model.
Ask yourself if you’ve deviated from your plan or stuck to your guns before you finalize that sale!