First Time Auto Buyer Guide

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When it’s time to buy your first vehicle, here are some steps to take and things to consider before visiting the dealer.

  1. Determine your budget
    Prior to visiting the dealership or searching online for the vehicle you want, determine how much you can afford to put down and what you can afford to pay per month. Be realistic about which vehicles fall into your price range and stick to your budget.
  2. Get Pre-Approved
    Getting pre-approved will help you to determine the overall price and can save you money. You can apply by phone, online or in person at any of our locations, where an Apple Loan Originator will be happy to help you. The overall price you can afford will be determined by your interest rate, the down payment and monthly payments you choose. You can also save money by avoiding the dealership’s high interest rates.
  3. Consider which options you need
    Before selecting your vehicle, you should know what you need it to do. Make sure the vehicle has enough room for your passengers and cargo, that there is sufficient head and leg room, etc. Also figure out what the bells and whistles are worth to you, so you don’t get sold a bunch of options you don’t need.
  4. Consult the NADA
    The NADA can provide you with the used car retail as well as the new car MSRP and Invoice prices of vehicles. Use this as a negotiating point. You will usually be able to negotiate at or below used car retail or MSRP.
  5. Know the value of your trade
    Check the NADA or KBB for trade-in and private party sale values. Determine whether you will trade your vehicle or sell it on your own. People who trade in their vehicles usually do so because it is more convenient and is an instant transaction. You usually get less money when you trade, however, which is why people often opt to sell privately. This usually involves more work for you as you have to pay off your own car, transfer the title, and verify funds from the buyer. Some people are also uncomfortable giving out their phone numbers and addresses online or in the paper.

Ready to go?

  1. Plan your trip
    Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to shop and go out on a full stomach. When you're tight on time or you're hungry, you're likely to spend more money and make a hasty decision. There will also be less pressure and you will have more negotiating ability if you go to the dealership during a slower time, usually during the late morning on a weekday. And if possible, plan to leave your children with a family member or sitter. Minimizing your distractions will help you to negotiate better.
  2. Consider price and cost
    Make sure that you are not so concerned with the price that you forget the cost. The price is just a number, but the cost is how much you actually pay for the car. For example, if you haggle a price of $19,999, but with tags, fees, interest, etc., you pay $27,500, the actual cost is $27,500. Make sure to look at the bottom line and don’t be afraid to ask what each fee is and whether it is negotiable.
  3. Be flexible
    You may not be able to buy your dream car. It may be out of your price range, or it may be impractical for how you are going to use it. Instead, you need to consider what is most important to you and be flexible about the rest. By being flexible, you also ensure you get a better deal because you will be buying based on need and reason and not on emotion.
  4. Test drive
    Forget everything you think you know about the vehicle because it is especially important that you test drive it before you sign on the dotted line. You are looking for performance as well as comfort. Make sure you feel comfortable in the seat, that all buttons are easily accessible, and that you do not have any blind spots that will make it difficult to drive or park the vehicle. You can print out our Used Car Test Drive Checklist to take with you on the test drive.
  5. Get a Carfax history report
    Ask for a Carfax history report before you buy any used vehicle. If there has been a major accident, the vehicle has been rebuilt or salvaged, or the dealership will not provide a report, it is strongly suggested that you move on to another vehicle.
  6. Negotitate
    All the work you have done up to this point will have been a waste of time if you are not willing to walk away. If you do not feel great about the deal because the final cost is too high or the vehicle does not have all the features you need, walk away. Regardless of how much time you have invested at the dealership, you must be willing to walk away from a bad deal. Either the dealership will negotiate what you want, or you will find it someplace else. If you are not willing to walk away and you make your decision based on your emotions, you are less likely to get a good deal.