Adulting can sometimes be hard. And overwhelming. And borderline exhausting. There’s figuring out how to ace your finals and deciding what to do with your tax refund to deal with, but few things are tougher to navigate than buying your first car. Since you’ve been working hard to save more money, forking over a large chunk of cash is nothing to joke about. To make sure that you get exactly what you want at a fair price, we caught up with Scott Chesrow, car expert at Vroom, the largest online retailer of pre-owned vehicles. Scott gave us seven insider tips for buying a car that’ll make sure you’re still happy months after getting the keys to your new ride.
1. Do your research on value and safety. Before you even walk into a dealership or call a used car owner, you need to do some serious digging. Scott says, “You should consult not only car manufacturer websites, but also independent sources like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Consumer Reports or Kelley Blue Book. They offer a number of research tools that let you compare costs, safety ratings and features, until you find what [car] works best for you.”
2. Have a clear idea of your needs and priorities. “For those tackling a two-hour commute each day, it might be best to opt for fuel-efficient vehicles. If you’re a city dweller and often squeezing into tight parking spots or parallel parking, a rearview camera is key. Defining your ‘must-haves’ will help narrow your focus and save you time when searching for your perfect car,” Scott advises. Hello auto-start, Bluetooth and power steering.
3. Set a budget and stick to it. We know, talking dollars isn’t always the most fun convo, but it’s crucial to setting yourself up for success. Scott agrees, saying, “When you’re buying a car, especially for the first time, you want to be very conscious of your budget and what you can realistically afford. You need to consider more than just the sticker price of the car. Your budget must factor in additional costs like gas, car insurance, your state’s license and registration fees and maintenance.” Those little costs — plus any unforeseen repairs — add up quickly, so don’t be tempted to go too far over your target budget, even if you find the perfect car.
4. Get a good deal on financing. Now that you have your budget set, it’s time to focus on the other pieces of the financial puzzle. “Research comparable interest rates for people with your credit score. Good and great credit (720+) means you should have a very good rate, somewhere in the 2-4 percent range. The biggest thing about financing is that usually dealers are packing the interest rate with their profit. So if they present you with a 5 percent rate, good chances are the bank will actually finance you for 3-4 percent, and they’re profiting on the rest.” So there should be some wiggle room for negotiation.
5. Check the vehicle history report. If you’re buying a used car, not brand new, make sure you get a full history of the vehicle. Scotts says, “At Vroom we won’t sell any car that has ever been in an accident. Always ask for a CARFAX report, an AutoCheck report, as well as the car’s title history. Many used car dealers don’t have high quality standards and might not tell you about issues in the car’s history that will need to be addressed with costly repairs down the line.”
6. Read the fine print. It’s easy to get caught up in the test drives and chrome wheels, but there’s lots of info in the details that you need to know. Scott advises, “Pay attention to what kinds of protection they’re trying to sell you, and actually read the fine-print. Some warranties may not be necessary or a very good deal. Tire protection is particularly notorious for only covering very specific and rare types of damage.”
7. Ask about the return policy. Returns? On cars? Yep. It’s a thing. Scott explains that “Sometimes it takes more than a short test drive to figure out if the car actually works for your lifestyle. For example, at Vroom we have a seven-day return policy, no questions asked. This is your first car, and probably your first big financial investment, so it’s important that you are 100 percent satisfied with your vehicle.”
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(Photos via Getty)