Buying a new car can be daunting. It’s a big expense and it is a big part of your life. It’s also exciting! So, between the nervousness and excitement of purchasing a new (or used) car it can be easy to forget critical details that in the end could wind up costing you money. Dick Hannah Dealerships has created a car-buying checklist to make sure you have the best and nicest car buying experience no matter where you choose to shop at. With this guide you’ll be driving down I-5, heading to Mt. Hood, or taking that family trip to the Oregon coast knowing you got the best deal on the car you wanted.
We can safely say that overall there are only two sections in the buying process: research and making the deal. This helps to break up the sometimes-overwhelming job of buying a car into two easy to manage doable tasks.
You’ve decided on what type of car you want to buy. Now comes the research part that helps you locate the vehicle you want to buy and strengthens your position when it is time to negotiate for the best deal.
If you are still in the step of deciding what type of car to buy to suit your needs then check out our guide to helping you make that decision here.
- Build Your Car. Go to the manufacturer website and click on the model you want and then use their “Build & Price” tool to view and decide on what options you want in your car. This could be anything from all-wheel-drive to a touchscreen infotainment system with navigation. This also works for used cars as well. View what options are available and then make a note of what you want and find a used car that has those options.
- Check Pricing. Using car sites like Edmunds, Kelly Blue Book, or TrueCar will enable you to find the car’s market value price. That means that you can find the average of what others have paid for the same car so you can have that in your back pocket when you start negotiating price.
- Check for Deals & Incentives. For new cars, head back to the manufacturer’s website and take a look to see what deals or incentives they are offering currently to purchase a new car. These can range from customer cash back, low-interest financing, and/or low deals on leasing. Often times these offers last the entire month and are nationwide so you have plenty of time to take advantage of the savings. Haven’t decided on whether you should finance or lease? Watch the video below for a brief rundown of the difference between the two to help you decide.
- Location, Location, Location. Search the inventory of local car dealerships to find the exact car, with the exact features you are wanting to buy. Write down the stock number or vehicle identification number (VIN) so you have it on hand when you arrive at the dealership, then you can avoid the “we have to find it” wait. If there are multiple cars you want to look at then write down all of the stock numbers or VINs. If you call or email to set your appointment be sure to share those numbers with them so they can have those vehicles ready and waiting for when you arrive.
- Check Your Credit. Credit scores and car deals go hand in hand. Checking your credit score before you head to the dealership will give you a much clearer idea of what kind of interest rate you would be able to get for a car loan from the bank. Check your credit score for free here. Watch our E-Learning Center video below to understand why your credit scores matter.
- Run the Numbers. You can easily estimate your monthly car payment using a car loan calculator which can be found on more than a few different sites. This gives you a basic idea of how much the car you can afford, the monthly payment and will act as a double check to make sure the car you want fits into your budget. It also helps to provide some guidance on the interest rate and down payment or trade-in value to shoot for when negotiating the deal.
- Get Pre-approved. Work with your bank or credit union to get pre-approved for a car loan before ever stepping into a dealership. You’ll know exactly the loan amount your bank will provide which of course helps to give you an idea of your price range, the down payment required, etc. Even with pre-approval, you can still use the dealership financing if they are able to get you a better rate than the bank you started with. Go with whatever option gets you the best rate.
- Gather Up the Paperwork. This is the easy part. You’ll need to gather up all these documents with you to the dealership when you are ready to buy:
- Pre-approved loan info
- Your driver’s license
- Proof of insurance
- Any funds needed for your down payment
If you are trading in your old car you’ll also need:
- The current title
- Loan information
Making the Deal
Now comes the second part of your checklist. People usually aren’t the biggest fans of haggling face-to-face in a showroom surrounded by strangers. If this is you then consider emailing the dealership’s internet manager for price quotes in advance or go through an online purchasing tool on the dealership’s website to have everything buttoned up so you can sign the paperwork and get on the road faster. BUT if you are one of those that think the best deal needs to be negotiated in person, here is a list of to-dos while in the midst of the negotiation, both online and in-person sales.
- Go for the Test-Drive. This is a must regardless of whether you have set up the deal before heading to the dealership or if you are starting the deal fresh on the showroom floor. Always go for the test-drive. You found the exact car you want through the research you did previously but once you’re behind the wheel of the car you might change your mind based on how you feel driving it. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t like the car! Your sales and leasing specialist will be able to help you find a car similar to the one you wanted and has the driving feel you are looking for. Let them know why you didn’t like the car you just test-drove and that will help guide them when looking for a new car for you to try out.
- Begin the Negotiation. Let the salesperson know you’ve looked up the average pricing of similar models sold on Edmunds, Kelly Blue Book, and/or TrueCar and ask for their dealership’s best price. If they won’t name their price then make an opening offer of at least $1,000 below the true market value you’ve found online. That will get the ball rolling. If you need some tips on negotiating check out our How to Negotiate the Best Car Price
- Unpredictability is your Friend. If the salesperson you are working with says anything like “I’ll take your offer to my boss,” don’t sit and wait at the table for them to return. Make yourself comfortable and walk around the dealership, look at other cars on the showroom floor, grab a cup of coffee in the waiting area, do anything to make yourself comfortable, and not nervously waiting to hear a response.
- Time to Make the Counter. If they come back and your first offer isn’t accepted, consider raising your price by $250, don’t feel like you have to start negotiating at their price. Continue with your first offer as the base and raise your price from there and be sure to take your time, don’t raise your price by $1-2K. Stick to those smaller increments. That will show you aren’t in a hurry and you aren’t going to settle on a price just because you want to get behind the wheel of your new car.
- Get the Out-The-Door Price. Before you agree to any deal be sure to ask for the out-the-door price that breaks down all of the fees and any extras so you aren’t surprised when the price is just a bit higher as you go to sign the paperwork.
- The Up sells are Coming. The salesperson is only the first stage of the sales process. Once you’ve negotiated an agreed-upon price then it is time to head into the finance office to draw up the contract. While the contract is being worked up, you’ll most likely be pitched all the extras, such as extended warranties, anti-theft devices, subscription services, pain protection, and more. Just make sure you are ready to say “no thank you” or buy these later. Most of these extras are available to buy for a short period of time even after you’ve already purchased the car.
- Review Your Contract. Make sure you check your contract for any add-ons you didn’t agree to or ask for. Usually, you won’t run into this kind of sneakiness but it is better to check than not. Make sure all the numbers line up to what you agreed on with your salesperson and the estimates you worked up yourself.
- Get it in Writing. If anything is missing, especially in used car purchases, like a spare key, owner’s manual, and/or any work that was agreed to upon the purchase of your new car, get it in writing. This is called a “Due Bill” or a “We Owe.” Get it signed by the manager of the dealership to ensure accountability.
- Finally, Make Sure the Gas Tank is Full. All new cars are sold with a full tank of gas. Check the fuel gauge before leaving the dealership and make sure it is full and ready to go. You don’t want to be driving home sporting that exciting “I just got a new car” feeling and then have the gas light turn on.
While every sales experience is different, we feel that this checklist covers the basics that can be used at any dealership for any transaction. The ultimate lesson here is the more prepared you are the better deal you can manage. Don’t be afraid to do an overabundance of research beforehand and make sure you are ready to start negotiating from the moment you contact the dealer. Check out the Dick Hannah Auto Blog for more tips and guides to help answer all of your automotive questions.