Growing up in a large family meant that we shared almost everything – bedrooms, clothes, chores, and cars. Actually, we had so many cars in the driveway that a friend called it “Milo’s Used Car Lot.” As we made our way to work or school, we would just drive the car that was at the end of the driveway because the keys were always on the floor. Believe me, no one wanted to steal those cars.

Buying our own car symbolized freedom and movement into adulthood. It also meant that the car was more reliable and that it might even have a working heater!  However, there are quite a few things to consider before buying a car.new_car

New or Used?

Some people buy new cars for their reliability, warranty, and the security of knowing that the car was not in an accident or in need of repair. Also, new-car buyers like getting the exact model, features, and color they desire. Other people buy used cars because they know new cars depreciate the moment you drive them off the car lot. Both sides have merit, you just need to decide what you can afford, and what makes sense for your lifestyle.

Do Your Homework

Check out Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds for the cost of new and used cars, and to learn how much your current car is worth if you plan to trade it in. Both sites have car payment calculators and advice about financing. Use Consumer Reports for vehicle ratings, but you will need to subscribe to get the details. If you are going to buy a used car, get a free vehicle history report at CARFAX, and pay your mechanic to check over the vehicle for you.

Before you talk to a car sales person, decide which models interest you and what features you want. This will help you narrow your search.

Test Drive

Expect to test drive a lot of cars before finding the best fit, and heck, it’s just plain fun to test drive cars! Pay attention to potential blind spots, how the dashboard is arranged, and safety features. Above all, you want to be safe! Next, consider the bells and whistles, the comfort, style, and color. Cars, like people, have personalities. Find one that fits yours.

Play it Cool

When negotiating the price of a vehicle, always be prepared to walk away from the deal. If not, you will end up paying more than necessary. If you buy from a car lot, there is often a lengthy sales process that involves your sales person talking to the sales manager. They will try to get sticker price for the vehicle, but if you did your homework, you might get a much better deal. Come armed with print outs of the average price paid for that same vehicle, and walk away if they are not dealing.

If you know the exact make and model of the vehicle you want, it pays to shop at all the dealers in the area and compare prices. If you’re willing to travel a bit to pick up your vehicle, call car dealers within a 2-3 hour driving distance as well.

Do the Math

Expenses don’t stop after you buy the vehicle! They include a monthly payment if you took out a loan, tax and license, insurance, gas, and scheduled (and unscheduled) maintenance costs. If you bought a used car, you might need to replace tires or brakes. Owning a car provides freedom, but it’s definitely not free. Take good care of the vehicle (and don’t ever leave the keys on the floor).

Check out the other blogs in this series: 

College Skills: What to do if you are in an accident

College Skills: How to grocery shop