Consider these three factors before purchasing a vehicle.
First, a car should be considered transportation, not a fashion statement. Since cars rapidly depreciate (the minute you drive them off the lot), you should first decide if you need a new one or whether a used one will meet your needs.
Next, consider the purpose the car. Is it for commuting to your job? Meeting the needs of a growing family? Will you frequently have multiple passengers? Will you need it for other purposes outside of your work, such as recreation or long distance travel? The answers will help you make a logical decision vs. an emotional choice and to not cave to pressure from salespeople.
Finally, understand the total cost of the purchase. The best approach is to pay cash for reliable transportation that will allow you to save more money or pay off other debt. If you have to borrow to purchase the car, crunch the numbers on the total amount of interest you will pay. If you plan on driving the car for many years, look for a dealer that offers special financing at lower overall cost than other forms of financing. Vehicles cost far more than the purchase price. Calculate the cost of insurance, maintenance and gasoline. Be careful not to “pre-pay” all of your gasoline savings by paying a premium for hybrids or other cars that get higher miles per gallon.
I prefer to purchase my cars used. I decide about six months in advance what I need and begin searching for one that is three or four years old and in excellent condition. This method allows me to go slow, compare models and act when I find a deal. I try to find a vehicle I can buy directly from an owner who kept good maintenance records. Always check the history of a used vehicle using CarFax, have it inspected by a trusted mechanic and ask for time to test drive it at highway speeds. The condition of the interior and the tires are usually signs of how the car has been treated by the previous owner. Be careful to avoid car scams that occur on e-Bay, Craigslist or other websites. Buying new from a dealer usually eliminates these concerns.
Learn to be content with what you have, whether it is the car you actually want or not. I once bought a car for $800. It leaked oil, water and even the air in the tires. I did not like it but it served its purpose to allow me to get to work while saving money for a better vehicle. In fact, it turned out to be the only car that I have ever owned that I drove for two years and sold it for the same amount that I originally paid to buy it.
Never fall in love with a car or you will fail to negotiate your best price. Before agreeing on a final price, train yourself to politely ask, “Is this price the best you can do?” Be prepared to walk away if the price is outside of your budget.