How to buy a car in 10 steps – and make it a great experience

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Buying a car can be a daunting task. People often devote large amounts of time, money and thought into purchasing their next vehicle. However, we think that buying a new car should be an exciting time for people! It often marks an important moment in one’s lifetime – whether it be a sweet 16, a new job, or finally saving up enough money for your own car. Some of you may have asked yourselves, “What do you do when you buy a car?” With research, and a bit of help from us, you can understand how to buy a car in a few easy steps.

Here are our 10 steps to buying a car.

1. Research vehicles

• Read reviews – Look at online car reviews from both experts and owners. While experts can give you a professional outlook on the vehicle and its features, an owner review may give you a more realistic outlook on how the car runs on a day-to-day basis. Both may be beneficial in the buying process.

• Look around – Look into a variety of vehicle options that fit your needs and financial capabilties. Consider a variety of makes and models on the market and also look into models planned for sale within the next year, as it may be worth your while to wait if they suit your needs. Compare and contrast all the options you have found, what you like about them and what they may lack. Stay open-minded during this step; you may be surprised by what you find!

• Look at both new and used – While some buyers may only consider their new-car options, think about used-car options, too. Many used cars in today’s market can be in such great condition that they are practically “as good as new.” Finding a used-car alternative may help you save a decent amount of money, so consider both dealership offers and private party sellers.

2. Car loan options

• Don’t underestimate. When looking into loan options, take into consideration how much you typically spend in a month, and how much money you will need to pay off the loan. You don’t want to find yourself making late or default payments.

• Take into consideration that the vehicle sticker price is not typically the full price you will be paying for the car. There are other costs involved in buying a car, including finance charges, and optional add-ons to consider, such as extended warranties.

• Preapproved loans – Getting a preapproved loan allows you to go into the car-buying process with an idea of what you can afford and what you cannot. It also enables car shoppers to concentrate of negotiating a good price for a vehicle, and make the car-buying process less stressful, advises the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. At RoadLoans, we accept applications for preapproved auto loans and offer approved applicants a fast and easy auto financing process.

3. Lease vs. purchase

You might want to weigh the pros and cons of buying vs. leasing as you plan for a new vehicle.

• Leasing – This option may be cheaper in the long run, but may also have limitations for your driving, like a maximum mileage allowance. Look into lease options and the cost of a lease, because if you defy the lease terms of the car you will probably have to pay for it in the end. Leasing is a great option for those of you looking to drive another new car in a few years, as you may be able to return the vehicle for another brand-new lease car. Leases can be great options for many drivers, but limiting for some. Contact multiple sources and see what best fits your needs.

• Purchasing – If you can afford to buy the car upfront, this is a great option. For many, who cannot do this, consider looking into loan options. See what different finance companies, banks, credit unions or dealers are willing to offer with monthly payments, fees, and interest rates, to see what best fits your financial situation. Purchasing a car gives you more freedom to do what you want with it, and allows you to possibly sell it later, but often entails more financial and personal responsibility.

4. Warranties and insurance

• Warranties – Ask about warranties and add-ons early. While this may be overlooked until later in the buying process, knowing upfront can affect your buying decision as these products may result in additional costs. Dealerships can offer things like extended warranties and paint protection and maintenance plans to keep your car in good shape. Some manufacturers even offer coverage through an extended contract covering car repairs. Manufacturers are often competing for your business, so they are sometimes willing to offer deals for great warranties and other benefits as well.

• Insurance – Car insurance is a neccesity for any driver. It can also be expensive, depending on factors like your driving record and car type. Look into your options before you buy. Most insurance companies can give you a price estimate based on your record and vehicles you are interested in buying. You don’t want to be stuck with a car with outrageous insurance payments and not be able to afford it.

5. Trade-ins and private sales

• Trading in – This may be a convenient option for many car buyers, but the downside is that trading in your current vehicle may not bring you as much money as selling it privately. With trade-ins, all you have to do is sign the vehicle over to the dealer, and collect the reward. You may not get as much money as you would if you were to sell it independently due to the dealer’s cut and price allocation. Look into resources for estimating the value of your current car. Many online databases can tell you the worth of your car based on factors like model, manufacturer and condition. Know your car’s value before you bring it to trade in.

• Private party sales – This option may bring you more money, but generally requires more work. Fortunately, you will get to determine your own price and personally manage negotiations with buyers. However, prepare to keep up with meetings, messaging, prolonged negotiations, car upkeep and advertising. A used car typically must be in good condition and must pass state required tests in order to sell for a decent price.

6. Find the right dealer

• Finding a great dealer can be a great asset, making your car-buying experience a positive one. While some car buyers may have a relationship with a trusted or well-known local dealer, others may not know their dealer options. If your local dealer can’t satisfy your needs, or if you simply don’t know any dealers, there are many online resources that can help you locate a dealer nearest you. RoadLoans has its own dealer locator resource that can help suggest top-notch dealers near you.

• Ask around – Talk to neighbors or friends about dealerships in the area. They may know of some great dealers, and can easily put you in contact with them. This is an easy way to get great feedback from local citizens.

• When purchasing a car from a private party, make sure the seller is legitimate, and look for professional opinions and reviews.

7. Get the best price

• Manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) – This is the price suggested by manufacturers that is legally required to be marked on each car, and it may be useful to factor it into your car-buying negotiations.

• Invoice price – The invoice price is what the dealer paid the automaker for the vehicle. Keep this in mind when negotiating because this is the lowest amount that a dealer can go while still making a profit. Negotiating down toward this price might prove a challenge, but keeping it in mind might help drive a harder bargain.

• Fair purchase price – It allows you to compare the vehicle price to the amount paid by buyers of the same type of vehicle in the current market. Many online resources, such as Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds, can give you an estimate for comparable pricing and average prices of your vehicle model and make in the area. You may use this, along with offers from other dealerships, to negotiate pricing.

• Use your market – Consider the following tips: Buy out of season. Buy an overstocked or mass-market vehicle with a customer cash incentive. Buy at the end of the month or at the end of the year, as these times can affect the dealer’s quotas and taxes. Buy right before a model remake is expected to come out. All these instances may allow you to negotiate a lower price for a car if it’s no longer within its prime market for sale.

• “What is the buyer’s order?” – The buyer’s order is not the final contract or agreement, it simply sums up what the buyer and the dealer have agreed upon for the price of the vehicle, including an exact description of the make, model, style and items like add-ons. This does not commit either party to sell/buy the vehicle, but allows them to come to a decision on pricing. It may be beneficial to get your dealer to commit to a price before you decide to buy, so you can compare it to other options and consider your own needs before buying.

• The bigger picture – Remember that the price tag of the vehicle is not the only cost to consider. Look at loan terms including interest rate, annual percentage rate and loan duration, and the effect of a possible trade-in or down payment on the loan. Also take into account insurance and warranties. While the price of the car might seem like the most important negotiation, these other factors will affect what you pay for the vehicle in total.

8. Test-drive

• When test-driving a car, there is a lot to take into consideration. Take a step back and inspect the car from the inside and out. Take a look at the seats, storage, safety features, tires, display and so on. Before you even begin to drive, get a good feel for the car and what it has to offer.

• While driving, take note of how it drives. Are you comfortable driving this car? Is the ride smooth? Does it accelerate well, and break properly? Is it easy to handle on local roads and highways? Test the display, see what it has to offer, whether it be radio, Bluetooth, or navigation. Get a feel for what it would be like controlling the car on an everyday basis.

• Ask questions; don’t be shy. Dealers are very knowledgeable on each car and can be a great source of help.

• For those of you buying a used car, think about getting a professional mechanic to come in and take a look at the car before purchasing it. Make sure everything is in order before you drive, and hopefully they can test-drive the car along with you to see if there might be any problems while operating the vehicle.

9. Take time to think

• After all the online research, contacting dealerships and lenders, and testing out the vehicle, the car-buying process may seem to drag on. Many people end up buying a car within only a few days of looking around. However, think about taking your time. You may be able to make the best decision and get the best deal if you wait, take a step back, and consider your options. Take time to really consider what buying this car means: How would you feel driving it every day, and what costs will you incur? This may help you really decide if this car is right for you. In this way, you’re more likely to go into the purchasing process with confidence and ease.

10. Delivery and walk-through

For those of you who have finally committed to buying a car, congrats! This is the last step!

• If your dealer offers delivery, whether it be to your home or to a dealership nearer you, this is always a great option to have. Upon arrival, the car should be clean, in good condition, and contain a full tank of gas. Check the car for any markings that could have occurred during transit, or potential problems.

• Finally, ask the salesperson for a final walk-through. This is essentially them showing you how to use the car. They will show you all the controls, how to hook your phone up to Bluetooth, and so on. This will help you learn about all the features your car has to offer, so you can make proper use of each one. Most people don’t look at the long user’s manual, so this is a great way to quickly learn about how the car works. If you don’t get a walk-through at the time of delivery, you might be able to set up an appointment at a dealership for an official walk-through later on.

Ready for financing? RoadLoans accepts applications for new and used car loans from consumers with all types of credit, including bad credit,* and offers approved applicants a streamlined auto financing process.

Apply for a car loan and get an instant decision.


* “Bad” or “Poor” credit generally is considered a FICO score around 600 and below by sources including the Consumer Federation of America and National Credit Reporting Association (reported by the Associated Press),,, Investopedia, and others. The Congressional Budget Office identifies a FICO score of 620 as the “cutoff” for prime loans. FICO scores are not the sole factor in lending decisions by and Santander Consumer USA.


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