What You Need
There’s a major difference between what you need in a car and what you want. You may want a Porsche, but that doesn’t make sense if need to haul around bikes. To save time, ask yourself these questions:Do I need a compact car, sedan, SUV, van, or truck?
Knowing the class of car and your price point will help you focus.Do I want a manual or automatic transmission?
Manual transmissions tend to be a little less expensive and some say more fun to drive.Do I want four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive?
All-wheel drive and four-wheel drive are basically the same and great if you live in areas where it snows and freezes often. However, an all-wheel drive power train costs more and is less fuel-efficient.Do I need lots of cargo room?
Consider what you’ll be carting so you buy something with enough space.
The word budget sounds scary, but you’ll definitely need a ballpark figure before you get in the game. Where to start? “Your car payment (price of the car plus gas) should be no more than 20 percent of your take-home pay,” says Philip Reed, consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com and co-author of Strategies for Smart Car Buyers. Also factor in insurance and maintenance, as well as the market value of your old car, if you plan on trading that in.
New or Used?
That is the question. In general, used cars (or preowned, as some dealers euphemistically call them) cost substantially less and have cheaper insurance, but they require more time and work on your end, and they carry risks. Lemon surprise, anyone? New cars are more expensive but assumed to be in perfect condition. Also, if you get a rebate or cost break, it may make more sense to go the brand-spanking-new route. Just don’t think of buying a car as a good investment. According to Reed, most cars depreciate 20 percent in value as soon as you drive them off the lot, and drop 30 percent by the end of the year.
Buy in Season
The end of the month is always a good time to car shop because dealers are anxious to meet their quotas. In the beginning of November, cars are often discounted because dealers want to get them off the lot for the new batch to be sold during the holidays, says Reed. Companies traditionally release next year’s models in late August and early September. Check out the “Future Vehicles Landing” link on Edmunds.com to get up-to-date buyer info. It’s important to see new features, updated models, and sizes for cars, and then to compare them to existing ones. Maybe the new features aren’t worth the extra money for next year’s model.