A couple is shown at a pre-owned car dealer next to a red SUV.

A New Buyer’s Guide: From the Best Car Brand to the Car Buying Process

The time has finally come – you’re ready to buy a vehicle and enjoy yet another perk and responsibility of adulthood. You know your budget (it’s strict), and you know where you’re going to shop (your local pre-owned car dealer), but you’re not sure where to start your search. Speaking of your search, you’re not really even sure what the best car brand is or what you can expect from the car buying process.

For starters, the best car brand is one that meets your driving and budget needs. While you’ll find die-hard Chevy and Ford fans, no one can truly say that one is better than the other. Well, they might say it, but there’s no official title or crown. Trust us on that.

It all comes down to your priorities and what you’re looking for in a vehicle. Since everyone has different needs and financial backgrounds, the best car brand will vary from person to person. That isn’t to say, however, that some brands are better at meeting certain needs. For example, you wouldn’t shop for a Porsche if you’re on a strict budget, nor would you shop for a Ram knowing you’re not in the market for a truck. Let’s break it down even further.

A grey 2020 Chevy Malibu is shown parked on a city side street.

Some of the Best Car Brands

Think about what your reputation means to you. Are you known for being reliable or responsible, compassionate, kind, creative, or funny? Now, think about someone who doesn’t have a great reputation. Is this someone you’re excited to spend time with or be around?

Just like you, automakers also have reputations. Ford is known for making transportation affordable to the masses thanks to automotive pioneer Henry Ford. Chevrolet is one of Ford’s biggest rivals and shares that same vision while also building its reputation for its ingenious engine designs like the small-block V8. Along with Stellantis, formerly known as Chrysler Fiat Automobiles, these automakers make up the “Big Three” in America and deliver some of the best-selling models like the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Tahoe, and Jeep Wrangler.

Foreign automakers like Honda and Toyota are also incredibly popular and are known for building exceptional vehicles that can log hundreds of thousands of miles with ease. You’ll see this firsthand when shopping for pre-owned models like the Honda Civic or Accord, both of which are gems on the used lot. The same can be said for adventure-ready models like the Tacoma and 4Runner in Toyota’s fleet. These models are known for holding their value, which makes them a great investment both on the new and pre-owned lots.

What to Look for in a Pre-Owned Vehicle

One of the great advantages of shopping for a pre-owned car is seeing how much further your money goes on the used lot. New cars are subject to rapid depreciation or loss in value from the moment they leave the dealership lot and for the next several years that they’re on the road. By buying a pre-owned model, you’re avoiding this initial loss in value and paying closer to what the vehicle is actually worth.

Now that you’re confident in your decision to shop off the used lot, what should you look for in a pre-owned vehicle? Once you’ve narrowed your search to a few models, you’ll want to closely inspect the exterior and interior of each vehicle. This means looking for rust spots and uneven body panels, the latter of which is a red flag that the vehicle has been in an accident and wasn’t properly repaired. Inside, look for unusual wear in the upholstery and make a note of any musty odors or wet carpet, which signifies water damage or a leak.

If you don’t find any significant issues with the vehicle’s exterior or interior, it’s time to take a test drive to see how it handles. Before you leave the dealership lot, be sure to check the air conditioner and heater, radio, navigation system, and other available features. You’ll also want to pay close attention to the sound of the engine and listen for rattles or unusual noises. Behind the steering wheel, make sure the driver information display is free of any warning lights, damage, or concerning issues. It’s a good idea to also check the vehicle’s mileage and gauges.

Test driving a few models is a great way to determine a clear winner or at least your top two picks. Don’t rush to sign on the dotted line just yet. Instead, take your time to do a bit more research. Ask the dealer for the vehicle history report to get a better idea of its owner history as well as its maintenance log, any title issues, and accident involvement. It’s a good idea to take a picture of or write down the VIN or vehicle identification number, which is a lot like the vehicle’s fingerprint. You can use the VIN to search for recalls or safety issues as well as determine its fair market value. This will tell you if the dealer is asking for a fair price and where you should start your negotiation.

A person is shown filling out paperwork at a pre-owned car dealer.

What to Expect: The Car-Buying Process

Believe it or not, shopping for a pre-owned car is a lot more involved than actually buying the vehicle itself. Once you’ve found the perfect used car for your budget and driving needs, the process is straightforward and simple. The dealer will provide you with the vehicle history report as well as a cost breakdown. This gives you a starting point to negotiate, which every dealer expects. That’s why most cars are priced slightly higher to account for negotiation with the customer.

After agreeing on a fair price, the dealer will typically hand over the paperwork to the finance department. The finance team will explain your payment options as well as any available warranties. If you choose to finance the vehicle, most dealerships work with a variety of lenders to help you secure the best rate based on your credit history. Securing this rate takes only minutes and starts the next round of paperwork – understanding the terms of your loan, the amount you’re paying, what you’re paying for, and how long you’re paying.

Signing on the dotted line finalizes the deal and puts you behind the wheel of your new-to-you vehicle. It also signifies the next step into adulthood–one that includes car payments, oil changes, and tire rotations. Welcome to the world of car ownership!

Are You Ready?

Buying a vehicle is an exciting rite of passage for many young adults, but it can also be overwhelming and stressful. This stress comes from having a limited budget to not really knowing what to expect from the process or what to look for in a vehicle. Fortunately, reputable pre-owned car dealers can make a world of difference in mitigating this stress and putting the excitement back into the car-buying experience.

Are you ready for a little excitement? It’s time to start your search for a pre-owned vehicle. That search starts by identifying your priorities and differentiating between your must-haves and your wants in a vehicle. From there, finding the perfect car brand is easy thanks to automakers like Chevy, Ford, Honda, Jeep, and Toyota, each of which has an exceptional reputation for delivering reliable, versatile, functional, and affordable vehicles that offer outstanding value mile after mile.