Once I buy a house, I will also be in the market for a new car. My little Toyota has held up well over the last 12 years, but it’s getting to be time to buy a car built in the current century and with nice features like an MP3 player jack or remote locks. I’ve sort of been looking for a few years, which helped me establish my criteria. Here are my tips for determining your criteria before you visit a dealership.

Figure Out What You Need in a Car
The first thing I did was figure out what I wanted in a car. I started by thinking about the things that annoyed me about my current car. For example, the tape deck. I’d like an MP3 jack in my new car so I could plug-in my iPod during my commute. After trying to force a friend’s stroller into my trunk, I’d also like something with more cargo room. So that means I’m looking at a recent car and probably a hatchback. I also expect that gas prices will go up again eventually, so I’d like decent gas mileage and a lower carbon footprint.

Figure Out What You Don’t Need in a Car
Even more important to the car buying process is figuring out what you don’t need so that a dealer can’t sell you on a feature you’ll never use. I mostly drive on city streets and Los Angeles freeways, so I don’t need four-wheel drive. I also don’t need a seat-heater, a multi-CD changer, a major stereo, or the ability to go from 0 to 60 in a second. The ability to go from 0 to 60 in the time it takes me to climb an on-ramp would be nice. I’m also not interested in the fancy stuff like a moon roof or dual climate control. Although I’d like more cargo room, I don’t need to be able to tote around a soccer team.

Look at Other Cars on the Road
After determining that I either wanted a larger sedan or a hatchback, I started to look at other cars on the road and in parking lots. I peeked in the windows at the backseats, peered at the trunks, and checked out the dashboards. I noticed body styling, too. I don’t want something boxy. That narrowed my choices somewhat.

Settle on a Budget
Before you start eyeing an Aston Martin, sit down and figure out what you can really afford to pay every month. I don’t recommend leasing. Use an auto loan calculator to determine the expected payment for a range of prices. Now look at your budget. How much can you reasonably spare every month without reducing your savings goals? Remember that you’ll also be paying higher insurance costs when you get a new car.

Find the Cars the Suit Your Needs Online
Tomorrow I’ll review several car buying websites. For now, I recommend that you check a new car research site called CarZen.com. It allows you to select your criteria and price range and then shows you cars the fit the bill. It’s a very cool little tool. If gas mileage is a big concern, visit FuelEconomy.gov to compare gas mileage ratings for various cars with your current car. You may be quite surprised by the result.

Take Test Drives
Once you’ve narrowed the options, head to the dealership to take a few test drives. Don’t fall for any offers to buy now, just drive a few cars and then leave. You need time to let that test drive sink in.

Above all, don’t be the person who goes to the dealership with a vague idea and drives home with a new car. Most people who do that are back buying a new car a few years later. It’s better to take your time to figure out what you want, and then head to the dealership.


4 Responses to “Car Buying Tips: Establishing your Criteria”

  1. Kim on November 6th, 2008 4:17 pm

    Thanks for mentioning carzen. I have been wondering if there was a site like that for a long time. It just expanded the list of cars to look at when car shopping begins next month.

  2. Festival of Frugality | On a Quest To Be Debt Free... on November 11th, 2008 2:35 pm

    [...] presents Car Buying Tips: Establishing your Criteria posted at Sound Money Matters, saying, “Use these tips to figure out what you want before you [...]

  3. Bill on April 29th, 2009 2:41 pm

    If you love your car, be sure to check out this site.
    Get tips from experts on easy do-it-yourself maintenance to buying the perfect car.

  4. Hoopdi on June 15th, 2009 2:47 pm

    Great article. The customer should first decide what car is really right for them and not just start wandering into dealerships. One of the best points is that you should not buy a car on your first visit to the dealer.

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