Car Buying Cheat Sheet

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If you’re ready to buy a car, that means you’ve already done your research and you should be feeling confident. You’ve determined which car you’re interested in, how much you can afford, and the car’s typical selling price. Now that you’re ready, these tips can help you get the best deal and make the car buying process as smooth as possible.

Before You Leave

In addition to doing your research, taking care of these things before you head to the dealership will help you be even more prepared to get a great deal.

  • Check your credit score. If your score isn’t where you want it to be, you may want to wait until you improve your score. A better credit score will help you receive better financing terms.
  • Shop around for the best interest rate and shortest loan term you can afford.
  • Call the dealership to confirm your preferred car is still available.
  • Decide if you want any extras, such as an extended warranty, anti-theft features, paint protection, etc. Keep in mind that these features are high-profit items for the dealer, and you can always buy them later if you decide that’s what you want.

What to Bring With You

Think ahead to what you will need at the dealership and bring those items with you. Be prepared with the right documents and information.

  • Current market value of the vehicle. You can get this value from pricing guides such as Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, or the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA).
  • Proof of insurance.
  • Funds for your down payment. The recommendation is about 20% for a new car, and 10% for a used car. Remember, the more you can afford to pay upfront, the lower your monthly payment will be.
  • Information about incentives, rebates or special financing deals.
  • If you’re trading in: your current car’s title or loan documents and extra keys.

When You Get There

At the dealership, you will be greeted by a salesperson who will show you the vehicle you are interested in and allow you to take a test drive.

  • Evaluate the car very carefully. Make sure it’s in good condition, and meets your expectations.
  • Evaluate the salesperson. Do they listen to your needs? Are they knowledgeable? Do they make you feel comfortable? Can they answer all of your questions? Are they relaxed, but also efficient?

On the Test Drive

This is your opportunity to get a feel for the vehicle’s performance and features to see if it meets your needs and expectations. Do not skip this step!

  • A thorough test drive should last around 30 minutes.
  • Turn off the radio and listen to the car.
  • Include a variety of terrains, conditions, and speeds. Drive on backroads, highways, parking lots, even the interstate if you’re close enough. See how it performs with tight corners, parking, and backing out.
  • Take note of how it performs while accelerating and braking.
  • Pay attention to visibility, positioning, and seat comfort. Check how much of your seating you are able to adjust.
  • Check the roominess of the seats and cargo area. Will your backseat passengers have decent legroom? Is the trunk spacious enough to suit your needs? Are you able to put seats down or remove them? Test how easy it is to make these adjustments.
  • If you aren’t comfortable with your salesperson, ask to see a sales manager or come back at another time.
  • If you’re still undecided about the car, don’t be pressured into buying it.

Negotiating the Price

If you determine the car is right for you and you are comfortable with your salesperson, now it’s time to go into the sales office and make a deal. Try to stay level, and be ready to walk out if you feel pressured or if you are unable to reach a satisfactory agreement on pricing.

  • Ask the salesperson to name a price rather than responding to the typical starting point of “Make me an offer!”
  • Compare the dealership’s price to your numbers from the pricing guides you checked.
  • Make a counteroffer of $1,000 below the true market price you brought in.
  • You can say things like: “My research shows the market price is…” Or, “I’ve gotten offers from other dealerships that are lower.”
  • If necessary, increase your offer by $250 increments until you reach the true market price.
  • If the salesperson says they have to take your offer to their boss or someone else in the sales department, tell them your time is limited. You can say that you have somewhere else to be soon.

Closing the Deal

Before you sign anything, ask questions to make sure you know what you are agreeing to.

  • Ask for an “out the door” price and a breakdown of the fees.
  • Question the ancillary fees outside of the sales tax, documentation fee and registration costs.
  • Ask the dealer to remove any unwanted dealer-installed options such as alarms.
  • Take a picture of the deal sheet so you can have that during the next step.

Finalize Financing

You’re almost done, but not just yet! The last thing you’ll do is speak with someone else regarding finance and insurance who will pitch warranties and extras.

  • Say no to any extras that you don’t want, such as fabric, paint protection, etc.
  • Deflect the extended warranty pitch by saying that you will likely trade your car in before the included factory warranty runs out.
  • To easily compare loan offers, keep the down payment and loan length the same.
  • Make sure the numbers in the sales contract match the agreed-upon price from the previous step.
  • Review the prices in all the boxes and question anything unexpected.
  • If there is anything missing from the car or there are any repairs needed, get that in writing.
  • If everything is acceptable, sign the agreement and get your keys!

Let Robins Financial Credit Union walk you through the car buying process and show how you could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on your next vehicle purchase. With excellent rates, no hidden fees, and convenient payment options, Robins Financial makes purchasing a vehicle easy and affordable. Determine how much you can afford using our handy Auto Loan Calculators. If you’re ready to take the next step in the car buying process, apply for an auto loan online, over the phone, or request an appointment at one of our branches