Laura Edgar is a senior writer for NerdWallet.com, an unbiased personal finance website dedicated to helping you make smart financial decisions.
Shopping for your first car is stressful, but very exciting! Without the proper planning, it can also be a disaster. Be sure to do your homework to make your buying experience a positive one, overall. Here are 8 important questions to ask yourself before you make that big purchase.
1. Do I really need a car?
Probably, since you’re reading this article, but then again, maybe not. If you’re working in a major city with good public transportation options, having a car might not be convenient or economical. If you’re looking to save money on commute costs, try using Wage Works. This commuter program lets you buy tickets out of your salary before it’s taxed, for a savings up to 40%.
2. Can I afford it?
Cars are expensive. If you’ve got a few thousand dollars saved up, you may be able to buy a used car without borrowing any money to do so. If you’re like most people, you’ll probably need an auto loan, especially if you’re buying a new car. Before you even consider buying new car, ask yourself if you can afford several thousand dollars for the down payment, and another several hundred every month for your loan payments. No car is worth it if the cost puts you deep in debt.
3. Do I need a co-signer?
To qualify for a loan in the first place, you’ll need to have a good credit score. If you’re a recent college graduate, you probably haven’t had much time to build one yet, and you may need someone to co-sign your loan. For most people, this is a parent or guardian. Ideally, you can piggyback off their good credit score to get a better rate, and as you make your loan payments, you’ll help build your own credit score.
4. Should I buy it used?
According to Kelley Blue Book, most cars lose 20% of their value in the first year, and 60% of their value within 5 years. When you consider the fact that a 5-year-old car won’t have many problems, if any, a used car is a great deal! Just make sure you research it before you buy it. Don’t buy a used car that doesn’t have a maintenance history, and get a Carfax report if you can. Be sure to check your desired make and model’s Kelley Blue Book price to see if you’re getting a good deal. You can also check out Consumer Reports for unbiased reviews.
5. Do I need the bells and whistles?
If you’re buying a new car, you’ll learn pretty quickly that all those extras come with a price. How badly do you want those leather seats, or that sunroof? Are you willing to settle for an icky color to get a better deal? The decision is yours, of course. Just make sure you stay within your budget.
6. Should I lease a new car?
We recommend saving your money and waiting instead. Leased car monthly payments are lower than loan payments, but leased cars often come with restrictions like mileage limits and steep lease termination fees. You also might not be allowed to move to a different state before your lease is up, and after investing all that money, you won’t even get to keep the car.
7. Shop I shop around?
Yes! Some people recommend viewing at least 15 cars in your price range, and narrowing it down to 3 after that. Once you find the perfect car for you, don’t be afraid to negotiate. The sticker price is not the purchase price. Many sellers are willing to come down 10-15%, so be sure to use this to your advantage.
8. Do I need an expert opinion?
It definitely helps. It’s best to look at cars with someone who knows a lot about them. And, if you’re buying used, it’s especially helpful to have a trusted mechanic inspect it before you buy it.