Whenever people trade in their vehicles at a dealership, a good salesperson always asks, "Why are you trading this in?" There are various answers, of course, but one of the most perplexing responses is, "It's not really what I wanted." It begs the question, "Well then why did you buy it in the first place?" Whether they know it or not, the most common "truth-serum" answer is that they just weren't prepared before they went shopping. Buying a new or used car is a very important event. It is normally a long term commitment, most likely expensive, and represents a place where you and your family spend a lot of your time. Just as most people don't get married or buy a house or go to a particular college based upon impulse, so too should car buying be treated with respect and given a proper amount of preparation. There are things that people can do on the internet, through reading magazines, by asking friends, and other avenues to prepare for car shopping. Here, we will discuss the internal, primal, directionally focused process of digging deep and asking a few important questions before embarking on the automobile hunt. 1) How many people will be riding (NOT how many people are in the family)? Consider your driving habits and future driving plans. You may have a family of 5, in which case a mid-sized sedan should work. But do grandma and grandpa like to ride to school events with you instead of driving themselves? Does little Timmy need to take four of his soccer teammates to practice sometimes? Are we going to fit all of the family and luggage when we head to the Grand Canyon this summer? 2) Will it fit in the garage? A Ford Excursion will not fit in 13% of the garages in the US. How big is yours? 3) How much can I really afford? Do a true, honest, forward thinking budget. Can you really afford $300, plus the extra gas you'll pay for in the new SUV, plus the full coverage insurance instead of your liability? If a car stands out, could you stretch to $450 a month, even though you only want to spend $375? People get credit problems through their car loans because of various reasons - divorce, loss of job, unexpected medical expenses, etc. Then there are others who simply bite off more than they can chew. 4) Who should I consult before shopping? Just about everyone knows someone who knows something about cars. Whether they are or have been in the car business or if they have a lot of experience buying, they are assets. If you are not one of those people, there is no shame in asking advice or looking for recommendations on dealers, makes, models, or any other aspect. There is also no shame in taking a "third base coach" with you. If Uncle Rick used to sell cars, he has an insight into the business and can help you sniff out tricks or scams at the dealership. Ask him to come along. 5) What options are "must-have" and what options are just nice? This is something that seems pretty simple, but often people will fall in love with a car, then discover later that it didn't have the side-curtain airbags that you swore 3 months ago you wanted to get. Make a list of what you need and what you want and bring it with you. 6) How long will I keep this vehicle? If you are one of the millions who trades cars out every 2-3 years, you will need to do some research regarding depreciation. You will want to seriously consider whether it is better to get a new one or a low mile used one. Those who keep their cars for 5 or more years need to worry less about depreciation and more about longevity and maintenance costs, thus their research will be completely different. Also, length of ownership will help you decide whether to take the low interest rate or the cash back incentive when considering new cars. That zero percent financing is very tempting, but if you'll be trading in 2 years, you probably won't save as much money as you would if you take the cash rebate instead. 7) Will children be coming of age soon? It isn't a common consideration, but for those with 13-15 year-olds, it should be asked. Do you really want your child practicing with their learner's permit on your Mustang GT? Also, will you need to add a vehicle for that very reason? It is something to consider in budgeting - are you going to be buying your kid a car in the near future? 8) Will it fit every driver? "That Mini Cooper sure would be nice, but will my 6'4" husband enjoy it as much as me if he has to drive it?" Again, not a common consideration, but it has to be taken into account if it applies. 9) What are my motivations? Actors need to know their motivations before taking on a role. Car buyers need to know their motivations before buying. If you get "the urge" to get a new sports car because your neighbor just parked her new Dodge Charger in the driveway, you should tread very carefully. Car buying can be an impulse decision. In many cases, these impulses lead us down the wrong path and create bad situations down the road (literally). If your motivation is that your current vehicle has problems or is old enough to start having problems soon, that is a good motivation. If you are expecting a child and need something bigger, that is a good motivation. If you changed jobs and need better gas mileage to commute, that is a good motivation. If you have lots of money and darn it, you want a new car, that is a good motivation. If your nemesis at work just bought a full ton diesel and you can't let him have the biggest, baddest truck in the parking lot, you should probably wait a few days and see if the feeling wears off before heading to the Dodge dealership. 10) How soon do I want and/or need a new car? From a money saving point of view, this is the most important question to ask yourself. Fight the society's trend towards "we want what we want and we want it now". If you want a new car, but you can wait a few months, order it. Most dealers and manufacturers will custom order one for you cheaper than if you buy it from the lot or have it located. For used car buyers, if you have time, hold out for the best deal. Search the internet diligently through the various classified sites and dealer websites and wait for that great deal to come along. Be ready to hop on it, though, because great deals are there, and then they are gone. *Bonus* Who deserves my business? Not all dealerships are the same. Some have a proud tradition of serving their customers and making a living off repeat and referral business. Others make so much money off each deal that they hope they never see you again. Several automobile dealerships, such as Oklahoma City Lincoln, have options where people outside of their immediate vicinity can make a purchase online and over the phone. Seek out these dealers. Sometimes, the closest one isn't always the best one. The same holds true for car classified sites. Automotive websites such as autotrader.com, usedcars.com, and cars.com put out a great bulk product, but aren't very selective in the dealerships they work with. Others, like Atlanta Used Cars, take pride in delivering high quality over quantity. No matter what, treat buying a car as if it was an important decision. It's one you'll have to live with for a long time. Happy car buying!
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