A computer searching for an online car dealer is shown in close up on a wooden table.

Buying the Perfect Car: The Easy Method

So, you’re thinking about buying a new car, but you are a little nervous about where to start. There are so many questions involved like should you buy from a private sale, a dealership, or an online car dealer? You may not have ever gone car shopping before – perhaps you inherited your first car from a parent or sibling, or a friend offered to sell you their clunker-with-a-heart-of-gold for a few bucks. Maybe your college graduation gift is getting ready to celebrate its 15-year reunion with you. Whatever the circumstances, the experience of car shopping can be very intimidating, even for seasoned drivers.

Many of us hold onto a car that’s far past its “Best By” date because the idea of buying a new car is so foreboding, we’d rather drive it into the ground than take time out of our day to visit a car dealership. But the truth is that buying the perfect car can be very simple. You just need to see the process from the eyes of an expert, with all the tips, tricks, and considerations for finding the perfect car.

First, abandon the notion that you need to go to a dealership. Online car dealers exist, and they can be very helpful for drivers looking to buy a new car. Not only do online car dealers take away the social anxiety and in-person awkwardness many of us experience, but it gives us the time we need to do plenty of research and make solid decisions. You aren’t ever put on the spot, and you can take all the time you need, whether that’s hours or months. With that in mind, consider these pointers for following The Easy Method of Finding the Perfect Car.

Budgeting First

One of the most intimidating factors of car shopping is what could collectively be called “The Financial Stuff.” Cars, trucks, SUVs, and vans are all similar in that they require money to own and operate them. The very first thing you should do when approaching a stage where you might start thinking about car shopping is to examine your budget.

Most financial experts explain that you should never spend more than 10% of your monthly income on a car payment. However, when you add in everything that goes along with owning a car – such as insurance payments, regular gas, maintenance, and repairs – those car expenses, when added together, can quickly reach up to 20% of your monthly income. Therefore, it’s important to take a look at your income, your budget, and where you’re currently spending and saving money before you start shopping.

A common “mistake” when car shopping is to buy more car than you can afford, and this can happen in many ways. You might not initially understand the taxes and fees that are involved with your purchase. The terms of the financing might not make the interest rates abundantly clear. You might think you qualify for a special deal or incentive that ends up falling through. Sometimes our eyes get bigger than our wallets when we start to add on optional features to build our dream car.

Regardless of how it happens, there’s an easy way to prevent it from happening, and that’s to examine your current financial situation and create a solid budget for your new car. Then, you can decide how much of that you can put towards the down payment and monthly payment on your new vehicle, as well as the additional costs of gasoline and insurance. In fact, some insurance companies will provide you with a free estimate of what it would cost for you to remove your current vehicle and add a new one, provided you have the year, make, model, and trim of what you might purchase. Gas, maintenance, and repair costs will be hard to estimate since those are constantly fluctuating, but looking at your current expenses can give you a feel for what you’re able to handle today.

A car key is shown in close up in front of a person signing paperwork.

Finding the Right Fit

Now that you know how much you can afford to spend on your new vehicle, it’s time to decide what vehicle you’re shopping for. In some cases, it’s very easy to pick out a body style to focus on. If you’re shuttling around a large family, a three-row SUV or van will make sense. If you do a lot of towing and stowing, a heavy-duty pickup truck might be the best solution. However, many of us have a range of options that would be appropriate for our daily drive and lifestyle. So how do you narrow down your options?

This is where an online car dealer can be extremely helpful. Seated in your favorite chair, wearing your most comfortable clothes, you can take as much time as you need browsing what’s available and doing your research. The internet is a very helpful tool for car shoppers, allowing you to read expert and real driver reviews, explore forums where drivers praise their favorites and trash the competition, and most importantly, look for a variety of vehicles within your price range that provide the power, capability, and features you need.

Many drivers “settle” for the first vehicle that kinda-sorta fits their requirements when shopping in person because they feel awkward, pressured, or anxious about making that big of a decision on the spot, in front of a crowd of other people. Regardless of whether you purchase your car from an online car dealer or prefer to do the buying part in person, experts agree that new car shoppers should take their time looking around in their area to compare and contrast a variety of offers before they make their final decision.

Narrowing It Down

So what are some things to keep in mind when you’re compiling a list of options to compare? The first thing to do is make sure that you set any price criteria in your search at a place at or slightly below your budget. While it is possible that you’ll be able to “haggle” your way into a lower price, remember that the price you’re searching for may not include the applicable taxes and fees, at least not on the initial search page. By starting on the low end, you’ll save yourself the heartache that comes with finding your dream car at a price you can’t possibly manage.

Also, compile a list of things you can and cannot live without. If you absolutely need a truck that can pull a 10,000-pound trailer, don’t allow yourself to compromise on that. Things like all-wheel drive, a powerful engine, or even simple things like power-operated windows can make or break the deal for many of us. Buying a new vehicle is a big investment, and the chances are high that you’re going to be spending a lot of time in your car. Before you get started, carefully consider what you need your vehicle to provide, then research a variety of sources and perspectives to understand how each possible vehicle stands up to your needs.

Lastly, you need to have a very honest and realistic talk with yourself regarding wants versus needs. There are very few drivers who would say “no” to a shiny convertible with unbelievable horsepower. But if you live in an area that’s frequently snowy, or drive through miles of mud and grit each day, or rarely drive above 55 miles per hour, it may not be the wisest choice for your daily driver. Though you are absolutely welcome to do what you wish with your money, this is an article about finding the perfect car, and that means purchasing without regret.

Take into consideration external factors, such as gas mileage and the price of gas in your area, weather conditions, how often you have passengers or large cargo, the size of your garage, or your ability to parallel park under pressure. All of these can impact how much you appreciate your vehicle. While there are many things you can compromise on when finding the perfect car for your budget, feeling safe and enjoying the drive should never be left out of the equation.

A person is shown smiling and holding up a car key from the drivers seat of a vehicle.

Are You Ready to Shop?

So what’s the secret to The Easy Method of finding your perfect car? To be blunt: do the pre-work. Many times, we car shop out of desperation, when instead, we should be coming from a place of preparation. This means deciding on a strict budget ahead of time – and adhering to it. You’ll also need to understand what type of vehicle you need and what you can and cannot sacrifice in order to get a vehicle that will be worth it for you to drive.

If you are in the enviable position of having a limitless budget, this will seem like a very easy task, but if you’re like many drivers, compromise is inevitable. Still, compromise doesn’t have to mean heartache and regret. Instead, take the time to thoroughly research each vehicle option to ensure you’re getting the best deal for your budget, whether you’re replacing your old car or buying something for the very first time.