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5 Tips for a First-Time Car Buyer

A car is more than just a set of wheels. It’s a way to get from point A to point B—work, home, the grocery store, the beach, wherever. Many of us even get slightly sentimental about our cars because we simply spend so much time in them, year in, year out.

Needless to say, buying a car is a very important choice that’ll affect your daily routine and your financial outlook. Especially if it is your first rodeo, so to speak, you’ll do yourself a huge favor by preparing ahead of time and taking the time to understand the process. This way, nothing will catch you off guard as you work toward signing your name on the dotted line and driving off into the sunset in your new chariot.

Everyone has to start somewhere. Here are five tips for a first-time car buyer looking to make a smart purchase that’ll tick all their boxes.

Know What’s Important to You

The first step is assessing what matters to you while still . For example, long-distance commuters will have good gas mileage at the top of their lists, while family-minded drivers will care most about safety ratings and passenger capacity. Drivers who will be using their vehicle for farm work, construction or home/yard tasks may care more about cargo capacity than comfort.

Only you know how you’ll be using the vehicle you’re buying. Make a list of the features and characteristics you need in a vehicle. Then think about what you want, jotting these notes down separately. These features will help you decide which type of car is best for you, and help you narrow down specific models. The more detailed your vision, the better research you can do.

Put Together a Realistic Budget

The only way to avoid blowing your budget is, well, to have one in the first place. Do your pocketbook a favor and sit down ahead of time to hash out the numbers. Understand exactly how much you can swing per month based on your income and financial obligations.

The dazzling vehicles at the dealerships will tempt you to spend more, but walking in with a written budget will help you stay down to earth, helping you limit yourself to doable monthly payments that’ll leave your personal finances intact.

Make Each Test Drive Count

Over half of people () test drive only one vehicle, which they then end up buying. This just goes to show test drives have the power to make or break the buying decision.

During a test drive, pay attention to how the car looks and feels. Does it steer smoothly? How responsive are the gas and brake pedals? Any weird sounds? How does this auto handle bumps? Is the interior comfortable? Any exterior damage? This is your chance to determine whether you could realistically see yourself driving this very vehicle.

Most importantly, use each test drive as a chance to ask any and all questions that pop into your head.

Figure Out Financing in Advance

Did you know dealerships are not the end-all-be-all in auto financing? That’s right, you don’t have to accept the payment terms offered by whichever dealership you visit. Some drivers pursue financing on their own, prearranging a loan from a lender if they can get a better interest rate this way. Others explore as a means to get approval and work on rebuilding their personal finances.

How you choose to finance your first vehicle depends on which interest rate you can get from which lender—which in turn depends on your credit score, and how much you’re able to offer up as a down payment. But these days there are options for buyers in every financial situation imaginable, so a little research goes a long way.

Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate

Car salespeople are well known for assuring buyers the price is as low as it can possibly go. But chances are there’s still some wiggle room. Know the vehicle’s worth. Avoid giving into the pressure to sign the deal on the spot; . When in doubt, act like you’re going to leave to motivate salespeople to get real with you.

These five tips will help you prepare to get behind the wheel of the right car at the right price.

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