First-time buyers come in all shapes and sizes from recent grads and young professionals to people whose situations have changed and now require them to enter the world of automobile ownership. If you or someone you know is about to become a first-time buyer or you’d simply like to refine your smart shopping strategy we’ve got a few suggestions to help make the process a smooth and enjoyable ride.
- Set Your Budget & Check Your Credit: Americans tend to spend more than they can afford on their cars and trucks. Expert opinions vary somewhat but a good rule of thumb is to keep your vehicle expenses at around 10% of your gross monthly income. Remember to factor in your monthly payment AND peripheral costs like insurance, fuel, maintenance and things like parking. The less you have to finance the better. Shoot for a 20% down payment and even though there are long term (60 to 72 months or longer) loan programs available the shorter the term the better. Any smart car deal starts with knowing how much you can afford and this is especially important when buying your first vehicle. Check your credit score and fix any issues before you apply for a car loan. Good credit = a smoother transaction. A concern for first time buyers is a lack of credit history. Look outside dealer and manufacturer financing options to your bank or credit union where you may be better established.
- Balance Your Wants & Needs: On one hand, you’ll probably be driving this vehicle for a while and it’s good to be able to enjoy the ride. That kick-butt sound system, those high-end wheels, tricked-out interior and panoramic sunroof, while nice, all come at a cost. The V6 is definitely sportier than the 4 cylinder but you’ll pay for it at the pump. As a first time buyer you’ll probably need to stay realistic and lean toward satisfying more of your practical needs but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a little fun. Balancing needs and wants within the parameters of your budget is a good goal.
- Do Your Homework: From a first-time buyer perspective, you’re riding the big waves of the information age and that gives you unprecedented access to information and tools to help you research, price and compare vehicles in detail. Use websites like CarSoup.com to assist you in the process and even begin your dialogue with dealers to determine the availability and prices of vehicles you’re interested in. It’s also a good idea to do your vehicle insurance research in the homework phase so you’ll have a provider lined up in advance.
- Dealer Up: In most cases, you’ll be making your first vehicle purchase from a dealer. Today’s first-time buyers are fortunate in the sense that the vast majority of dealers are absolutely invested in making sure you have a great experience and get a fair deal. Typically, salespeople are highly trained professionals. Today’s dealerships know that excellent customer experiences make for great customer reviews and positive satisfaction ratings. Ask your friends and family about their experiences and refer to the multitude of review and rating resources available today. Expect your salesperson to give you his/her undivided attention, be able to show and explain all the vehicle’s features, answer your questions, and allow you to take your time on the all-important test drive. You should feel like the most important person in the dealership. If that’s not the case, don’t hesitate to move on.
- Have Fun: C’mon, what could be more exciting than your very first, I-did-it-all-myself vehicle purchase? With a bit of preparation you’ll take the majority of the pressure, anxiety and uncertainty out of the equation, clearing the way for a great experience. Enjoy it!