Getting behind the wheel of a new car for the first time is a thrill. After years of driving whatever clunker you're leaving behind or trading in, you're finally going to get a newer and better driving experience. It's wonderful.
But getting to that point isn't always wonderful. Most people agree that car shopping can be a real pain: It's stressful, annoying, exhausting, and expensive. It's all too easy to get frustrated and make a mistake - a mistake that you (and your bank account) will probably have to live with for years.
That's why it's so important for you to get the car shopping routine right. We have a few tips for maximizing your value, protecting your future finances, and making the entire car shopping experience a little less miserable.
Developing your budget
The car that you ultimately buy will be the most exciting thing about this entire process - but it's not the most important. In a decade or so, there's a good chance that you'll be trading this new ride of yours in, and that will be that. But if you mess up your finances in the process of securing your new ride, that's something that you could have to deal with for much longer - perhaps even for your entire life.
This is no joke. Many Americans are falling behind on their car payments, and debt is a serious problem that could cripple your long-term finances and ruin your credit. So make sure that you do the math and make the right decision about how much car you can afford. Keep all of your car-related expenses in mind: On top of the down payment, you need to consider the insurance costs, gas, maintenance, and more. Come up with a maximum monthly payment and maximum overall price (both of them matter - don't let a low monthly payment trick you into spending too much overall). Then, no matter what, stick to this budget. Never go over it.
Should you buy your car used or new?
If your budget has you a little disappointed, don't fear. You may still be able to get the car of your dreams, as long as you're willing to buy used.
Whether to buy new or used is one of the oldest debates in car ownership. New cars are more expensive, and they depreciate the moment that you drive them off the lot. But buying new means that you can make sure that the car is cared for properly from the start, which could allow you to maximize your investment. Used cars may have been mistreated by their previous owners, and old clunkers could end up costing you more in maintenance and repair than you'd be saving on sticker price.
Consider your priorities. If you're buying used, be sure to check out vehicle history reports and, whenever possible, have your mechanic take a look at the ride before you buy it.
Making the most of the internet
Buying a car has never been pleasant, but it's getting a little better thanks to the internet. No longer do you need to head to a dealership, where a pushy sales associate will try to get you to buy something on the lot. Now, you can search a much broader inventory at once and do research at your leisure (just open up another browser tab!
And the dealerships will still be in play. Just use a search and sales site like carshopper.com and search for dealerships in your area - easton car dealerships, for example. Check out their inventory from the comfort of your home.
Research, negotiation, and getting the best possible deal
Knowledge is power when shopping for a car. Be sure to do lots of research. Check out resale values, safety ratings, and how much your insurance would go up if you bought this or that particular new ride. And learn how to negotiate, too. It's a valuable skill for car buying, particularly if you're shopping at a dealership.
Never be afraid to walk away, especially if you need time to do some more research. Keep your head, stay calm, and survive to negotiate another day. Eventually, you'll find the right deal and will be able to enjoy a great new car while resting easy knowing you've protected your finances and snagged the best possible deal.