So you’re in the market for a new or used car, or maybe you’re looking to sell or upgrade your current model. Either way, you’ve come to the right place!
The first step in buying a car is trying to narrow down your wants, and more importantly, your needs. There can be a lot to think about, so let’s start with the basics:
1) What will you MOST be using the vehicle for?
Do you need a large, safe vehicle to bring your growing family to and from after school programs? You’ll probably be best off looking at SUVsand Crossovers. Need a heavy-duty truck that won’t quit at the work site? Most likely you’ll need something that can fit a wide range of scenarios, but try to narrow down what the main uses be and let that inform your first round of picks.
2) Are there any features you just can’t live without?
Every year we see more and more features become standardized across a wide range of makes & models, but depending on your budget you may not always be able to stay on the cutting edge. For example, those of us with a less-than-perfect sense of navigation might consider built-in GPS to be essential. Or maybe you’re a purist and can’t give up the additional control and feel of a manual transmission. You don’t want to end up with any buyers remorse, so make sure you invest a decent amount of time sorting out your feature wants from your feature needs.
3) New or Used?
For many, this can be the hardest decision to make when you’re first starting your search. On one hand, a new car will lose a lot more value once it’s driven off the lot than a pre-owned car will. On the other hand, you’re far less likely to have mechanical issues with a new car, and if you do, they’ll often be covered by a much more comprehensive warranty. The landscape is changing though, and these days you can feel more confident in your pre-owned car purchase with the help of services like CarFax.com and by buying through trusted dealerships.
At the end of the day, how much you’re willing to spend will likely have the most influence on what vehicle you end up with. Are you willing to dip into your savings and pay cash, hoping to find a great financing option, or just looking to lease? Conventional wisdom says buying and putting as much money down as you can afford is the least costly way to go in the long run, but not everyone can part with a large chunk of savings for a down payment. Luckily, it’s not always the case that buying beats leasing, especially when you take into account opportunity cost and other variables. Calculators for comparing options abound on the web, but one we like is at www.smartmoney.com.
So where do I start?
Once you’ve got a good feel for what you’re looking for, it’s time to start looking for the best deal available to you. There are a number of ways to find your perfect car at that perfect price, but each have their pros and cons. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Car and independent dealers can be a great place to start. The convenience of being able to compare a number of different cars and take test drives is hard to overlook. You’re also more likely to find a knowledgeable salesperson to answer questions and offer advice.
With a dealer, you’re also more likely to get better and more extended warranties to sweeten the deal, and often times breakdown coverage will be included without additional cost. Plus, your old vehicle can usually be traded in to help offset the cost, regardless of its make and model.
The downside to buying through a dealer is usually price. In order to cover the cost of keeping a brick and mortar showroom and knowledgeable staff on hand, the dealer needs to charge a little more. With proper bargaining, you can still often get 10% – 15% off the sticker price, but you may find their price floor to be less negotiable than a private seller.
Brokers may be an option as well when working with dealers. These individuals or companies typically buy in bulk for far less than sticker price and pass the savings on to you, the end buyer. Even after they’ve taken their cut, you can still walk away potentially saving thousands.
Buying Online is becoming increasingly popular as well, but it’s still not without its disadvantages. There are myriad sites out there that aggregate deals and offer comparisons, but don’t forget to check out the manufacturer’s site as well if you have a particular make and model in mind. The upside is that these sites usually offer every customization feature under the sun in a handy and user friendly interface. The downside is that you don’t get to take a test drive or see the vehicle first hand. Much like people have taken to checking out products in brick and mortar stores before buying on Amazon, you can always head over to your local dealerships for test drives but then buy online. If you can get accept the moral gray area, you end up with the best of both worlds.
Lastly, you can always look to Private Sellers, but do so with caution. This is the most risky route of all, as there is often very little protection for buyers should something go sour down the road. Most often, private sellers will be dealing in used vehicles, so read up on our tips and questions to ask if you opt to buy through one.
Selling your Vehicle
There are less options open to you as a seller than as a buyer, but you still have a number of choices when trying to get the best value for your pre-loved vehicle.
If you’re getting rid of your current vehicle to make room for a new one, a Trade-in scenario would likely be the best fit. The upside is that there are usually very few restrictions on make, model, year and condition of vehicles that dealers are willing to accept on trade-ins. Not to mention that there’s often very little additional legwork when trading-in; its usually as easy as handing over the keys and signing your name. The downside is that you probably won’t get the full value of the vehicle when using this option, so it ultimately comes down to value vs convenience.
Online and print classifieds are still a popular way of selling vehicles too, though the trend is most certainly moving from the latter to the former. Your local newspaper most likely still has an expansive automotive section, and spending a few dollars on an ad there will still probably get enough eyes on it to make it a worthwhile investment. You’ll likely get a more mature audience this way as well, which—while not completely without risk—is probably a bit safer from scams or potential foul play.
Online classified listings like craigslist.org are popular for selling any and everything under the sun, including cars. BE EXTREMELY CAUTIOUS though. Scams abound on these sites, and if you’re not careful, you could find yourself with a bounced check, or worse, a stolen car. Always make sure to limit the amount of personal information you give out online, and if possible, always meet potential buyers in public places. Even better if you can have another person with you when you do schedule meetings with potential buyers.
Last but not least, there’s always the old stand-by of parking your car in a visible area (front lawn, public parking lot, etc.) with a “For Sale” sign on it and hoping for the best. You’re not likely to get in front of the same volume of people, but you might just get lucky with a local buyer if your price is right. While this method by far requires the least amount of work on your part, it can also take the longest. Also, remember to be safe about where you leave your vehicle. Make sure it’s well-lit at night and if you can leave it in a highly trafficked area, you have the double advantage of safety and more potential buyers!