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How to Make Buying a Car a Breeze

Ready to buy a car? If so, you’ll have to navigate the car-buying process, which may seem a bit intimidating, even if it’s not your first time. These tips can help you get behind the wheel with a minimum amount of stress.
Determine how much car you can afford
Setting a realistic budget initially can prevent trouble later. See what the cost of car ownership is, checking auto comparison websites and getting quotes from insurers. That will tell you whether you can afford vehicles you’re considering.

Then, do the math to ensure total car expenses, including financing, insurance, gas, repairs and maintenance, won’t exceed 20% of your take-home pay after you’ve covered other bills.
Think about your lifestyle
Before buying a particular car, it makes sense to see how well the model fits your lifestyle:

  1. Be sure there’s enough cargo room for any gear you transport.
  2. If you’re not handy with basic auto maintenance, make sure the vehicle has high reliability ratings.
  3. Will you face severe winter conditions when driving? If so, all-wheel drive is a must-have option.
  4. Facing a long commute? Make sure the vehicle gets good gas mileage.
  5. If you carpool or otherwise carry passengers, be sure it has adequate seating.

Consider new vs. used
The choice between new and preowned vehicles really boils down to what you want most from your car. Used vehicles can give you more car for your money than you’d get if you bought new, but warranties are generally shorter or nonexistent. Additionally, you’ll want to research used car histories at sites such as the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System.
New cars, on the other hand, offer comprehensive long-term warranties and sometimes have some free maintenance thrown in. Be aware, though, that you’ll pay more than you would for a comparable used model and that resale value depreciates quickly.
Explore financing options
Dealer financing may be convenient, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best you can get. Don’t be swayed by ads touting 0% financing: These special arrangements are generally reserved for buyers with near-perfect credit.

Because not-for-profit lenders such as Johns Hopkins Federal Credit Union operate for the benefit of their members, they typically offer very competitive interest rates on new and usedauto loans. Also, by getting your loan preapproved, you’ll know exactly how much you have available to spend and how much your payment will be each month.
Keep the upper hand in negotiating
If you follow these strategies, no one will know you’re negotiating your first car purchase:

  1. Remember you can just walk away. Don’t let salespeople pressure you into a quick sale or any unnecessary extras.
  2. Never negotiate around monthly payments; stick to the actual vehicle price.
  3. Know the invoice base or resale value of all cars you’re considering.

See whether your lender provides a vehicle buying service that can take some of the legwork out of shopping, may save you some cash and eliminates the need for haggling. This type of service can locate particular makes, models and features, connect you with discounts, rebates and incentives, process your financing, and even deliver the car to you.
The combination of your smart planning and some knowledgeable assistance can make your buying experience stress-free and have you behind the wheel in no time.
Roberta Pescow, NerdWallet
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