5 things to include on a car buying checklist

On the Road 3 min read

Thinking of buying a car? Well, there are a few things you should know the answers to before checking out your local car dealership or searching for used cars for sale online. Follow this step-by-step guide to help you figure out exactly what you want for a price you can actually afford.

1. Why do you need a car?

This may sound like a silly question, but it’s actually something you should have a firm answer to before looking to buy. For instance, do you need a car because you just got a new job and need it for your commute? Are you tired of taking the bus and want to finally have the freedom to drive whenever you want? Do you already have a car, but it’s on its last legs and you want to replace it before you can’t get it out of your driveway?

The answer to this fairly simple question will be something you refer back to often when you are car shopping. Without a definitive “Why?”, you may wind up buying a two-door sports car because it’s a great deal and the last one on the lot, even though you’ve got two kids and were just looking for a four-door minivan that would be great for family road trips. Knowing you’re “Why?” will help you stay firm in buying what you want, not what the dealer wants you to buy.

2. What’s your budget?

You know why you want a car, but how much car can you afford? You may already have your eye on a shiny red pickup truck or the latest SUV, but push those images out of your mind and get out your calculator instead.

Hopefully you already have a personal budget and have a sense of what kind of car payments you can afford with your income. If it doesn’t look like you can afford any type of car payment, then it’s time to take a good look at your spending. Grab your bank and credit card statements from the last three months, input those numbers into a spreadsheet, and categorize those expenses to see exactly where your money is going. Then, it’s time to cut back on some of those expenses you don’t need and are holding you back from being able to afford your car purchase.

After doing this, you’ll be able to figure out what amount you’ll be able to afford on a monthly basis. For instance, you may find that you can comfortably afford $300 per month. Using an online car payment calculator, you’d be able to determine that with $300 per month at 3 percent interest over 60 months, you could afford a car that costs $16,700. And if you already have a down payment saved up, you could either lower your monthly payments or afford a more expensive car.

Also, don’t forget to factor in extra costs like oil changes, insurance, and gas into your budget as well.

3. Do you want to buy used or brand-new?

With your budget in mind, it’s time to decide whether you want to buy used or new. Both have their pros and cons, so it’s important to see which one best fits your needs. If you want to get the best value, then a used car would make the most sense. They are often cheaper than new cars, however they do risk more repairs (and thus extra expenses) down the road. A newer car has less chance of car repairs in the first few years, however they’re more expensive and start to lose their value the minute they are driven off the lot.

4. What type of car do you want?

This a loaded question, because the type of car can refer to build (i.e., truck, sedan, hatchback), brand (i.e., Toyota, Ford, Honda), transmission (automatic or manual), color, and special features. Since there are so many things to consider, it’s time to take out that pen and paper and make a list of needs and wants.

This is an important list to have at all times while car shopping so you can make sure you get your ideal car that best fits your needs. It’s also good to refer to when a salesperson tries to upsell you or convince you to buy something above your budget.

5. Is your ideal car safe and/or commonly stolen?

Last but not least, once you’ve figured out your “Why?”, your budget, whether you want a used or new car, and what type of car you want, it’s vital to make sure your ideal car is safe and unlikely to be a target for car thieves. Both of these things you can easily find out by doing a quick search online, but it’s very important you don’t miss this last step before going car shopping.


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