So you’re thinking a lithe yet curvaceous topless beauty glistening in the sun would look nice in your driveway. You’re telling yourself that is a sensible choice for your next car. The odds are that you really haven’t thought the idea through.
Far too often prospective car buyers fail to prepare adequately for what will probably be, except for a new house, the most expensive purchase they will ever make. And almost as often what should have been a truly satisfactory experience quickly degenerates into a total disaster.
However, with some preparation, you can avoid most of the pitfalls of buying a car, and hopefully end up with an automobile that meets all of your expectations.
Decide how much you can afford
You should be looking for something that will not put too much strain on your budget. The rule of thumb is that your total monthly debt payments, including rent or mortgage, credit cards, loans or other installments, should not exceed 36 percent of your gross income.
For example if your income is $3,000 per month, your payments should not exceed $1,080. Assuming you have $800 in housing and credit cards payments, you can afford to pay $280 a month for a car.
Decide on the type of car
Avoid running around from dealer to dealer hoping to find the perfect car at the ideal price. You’ll probably end up buying the wrong car at a price you can’t afford. Do some research online, look at the car options available to you, and compare prices of different cars until you settle on a model that meets your needs as well as your budget.
An important factor to keep in mind is that it costs to keep a car running, whether in fuel bills, maintenance, replacement parts, repairs, insurance or the unavoidable Mecanique fees.
It goes without saying that fuel-thirsty cars will cost a lot more to drive than their more fuel-efficient counterparts. Similarly, you could upgrade with the extra $150 a month or so you save on gasoline with a more fuel-efficient car, but the pricier automobile may require equally pricey maintenance or spare parts.
Furthermore, it’s good to keep in mind that the bigger the engine, the heftier the Mecanique fees will be.
Obviously, you need to be comfortable in the car. Make sure the seats adjust sufficiently so you don’t feel cramped, or at the other extreme, unable to easily reach the pedals, steering wheel or the dash controls. Also check for visibility. Can you see easily in all directions without any obstructions?
Finally, the car should be appropriate for the kind of motoring you typically do. Buying a 4x4 because you may go off-roading sometime in 2015 is just not smart consumerism. A coupe might seem more personal, but if you have a family or often have passengers in the car, consider a sedan. Your mother-in-law will not disapprove.
Also keep resale value in mind. Marques like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen and fuel-efficient cars such as Honda, Toyota or Nissan have a tendency to depreciate slowly. In addition, the resale value of cars with neutral colors such as black, gray, white and silver will be higher than their more colorful counterparts.
Looking at pre-owned cars
It’s described as pre-owned because saying it’s a used car implies it’s no longer good as new, and yes, it’s not.
Just the same, that’s fine. A well-maintained used car costs far less than a new one, and can still serve you faithfully for many years.
However, the trick is finding just such a car, and with a little patience and prudence, there’s no reason why you can’t find one.
Ask to see the car’s service history. This will give you an idea of how well the vehicle was maintained, what repairs were made, and what expenses you can anticipate in the near future.
Examine the interior. An interior that looks almost new is an indicator of a car that was cared for by its previous owner.
Have an expert take a look at the car. Inspect the engine, transmission, suspension, brakes, electronics, tires, rims and body. Any existing or imminent faults should be taken into consideration when agreeing on a price. Make sure the car is cold when you check the mechanics. Problems that can be detected when cold tend to be less noticeable when the car has warmed sufficiently.
Avoid cars with engine or transmission problems. Repairs are just not worth it, and most likely will not perform as well as before.
Avoid cars that have been involved in major accidents. No matter how much of a bargain they seem to be, risking your life in an unsafe vehicle isn’t worth it no matter how much you save.
The majority of the time, cheap means more expensive down the road. You could buy an old or neglected car for peanuts, intending to “fix it up” slowly. Very soon you’ll discover that with a portion of what you spent on repairs, you could have purchased a newer car in far better condition. And even as you replace one failed component, something else will inevitably break down, forcing you to set a monthly budget for just such an eventuality.
Low mileage does not necessarily mean in better condition. A higher mileage car whose previous owner maintained religiously is likely in better condition than another with lower mileage but which was neglected. Alternatively, a shiny 2-year-old car with 200k on the clock is probably not as healthy under the hood as it looks.
Closing the deal
Once you have identified a car that interests you, it’s time to deal. Keep in mind that the purchase of a vehicle, used or new, is a business transaction. The dealer is eager to sell a car, and you are prepared to buy one. Before you begin negotiating, remember that there are countless other cars for sale, and if any aspect of the transaction does not meet your requirements or makes you feel uncomfortable, you can simply take your business elsewhere.
With that being said, don’t disclose to the dealer how much you can afford to pay. Once you’ve assessed the car’s condition, and subsequently its value, offer less than what you’re willing to pay. A reasonable dealer may not go as low as your offer, but he wants to sell a car, and will likely bump down the price somewhat, and/or throw in extras or other odds and ends that can save you a few dollars.