Looking to Buy a New Car, Advice Needed!!

Updated on August 15, 2011
M.L. asks from Spokane, WA
12 answers

We are desperate for a car. Most likely a used van. My car is 13 years old and my husband's is about 20 years old and neither have working air conditioners... and it is a HOT summer. We figured we would just fix the a/c but it would cost more than the car is worth. Since neither of us have never purchased a car before from a dealership (they are both ones we bought privately from family members) we have no clue how to start. What is a good finance option, what are good interest rates? Our last car loan was through USAA we got it through my husband's dad (he cosigned), but they don't live near us anymore. Do dealerships has private financing or can we still go through something like USAA? We would like to go to a place like CarMax, because they seem more dependable and we can trade in our old car (even though it won't be worth much). Any advice is greatly appreciated!!

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answers from Omaha on

If you are a member of USAA I highly recommend using their car buying program. We have gotten excellent deals and we negotiated the price online.

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Do you or your husband belong to a credit union? That's your best bet for a loan.
My best advice is to wait to buy a car until you have the cash to do so: sell the car privately (we sold O. in 1 day on craigslist!) and put that money plus whatever else you can scrape together and buy a car for that amount.
Car payments are a HUGE drain on disposeable income, so I would avoid it if at ALL possible.
If you cannot do that, finance the smallest amount possible. If the dealership uses Carfax, they will show you the Carfax report on the vehicles you're interested in buying.
Shopping for a used car is tough because you're not comparing apples-to-apples from dealer to dealer.
Here's what they'll do: give you wholesale value for your car and then charge you retail for the new O.. You lose. Better to sell your car outright even if it's for $500.
Used car shopping is tough and a lot of legwork.
Bottom line: spend ONLY what you are comfortable with financially, don't get sucked into the bait-and-switch...like if they start saying "For an extra 4100 per month you could get into a new vehicle.." walk away. Yeah, an extra $100 per month for the next SEVEN years!
Good luck. Hope you find something nice! :)

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

I'm an insurance agent in AZ. Before you buy, give the VIN to your insurance agent to quote the insurance. Especially if you have a couple different cars or vans in mind. There could be a huge difference in rates and this may help you decide. Good luck and congrats!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Go to your bank, credit union or back to USAA and find out how much of a car you can buy - kinda like a home....then you can shop on knowing how much you can get credit for - makes a HUGE difference...

You CAN try the dealership financing but you might end up paying more for it..

It also sounds like you might be needing TWO new cars (LOL!!)...go online and look around...you can go to CarMax and sit in the cars that you have narrowed it down to...you can go to Consumer Reports.com and get ratings on cars there...kellybluebook.com for the "prices" of the cars as well...I love consumerreports.com - seriously - they give you the good, the bad and the ugly....

Kelly Blue book will tell you what it thinks your car is worth...since Cash For Clunkers came out - some dealerships are paying more for used cars...

If you own your home and have equity in it - refinance it and use the money to buy the car for cash. It's not always the best thing to do - but if you plan to be in your home for at least the next seven years - it might work for you - then you can get two new cars and not be strapped for cash.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

Are you a member of a credit union? I would go first to your credit union or banking institution and get pre-approval for the financing. You will almost always get a better deal (assuming that you MUST finance instead of buying with cash).

Do diligent research on what you want to buy (not just style and comfort, but mpg, reliability, safety ratings, cost of ownership- which includes repairs, gas costs, value retention, etc) and have several vehicles that you think might work for you so that you can be flexible and not feel locked in to ONE SPECIFIC vehicle. You want to feel like you can walk away from a vehicle that you like, if they want too much $$ for it. There are "other fish in the sea"...

Go to KellyblueBook.com and Edmunds.com and print out the information (trade in values, purchase price, etc) for the several years/makes/models you like. Then go do some test drives. Do NOT make any deal with anybody the first time out. And tell them up front that you won't.
You can also use Edmunds to research your vehicle choices and to see what value (if any) your current vehicles may have as a trade-in or private sale.
NEVER tell the sales person/dealership how much you want to spend, or what "payments" you are looking to have. That is one of the first things they will try to find out and they will KEEP trying to find out. Don't share. Stay focused on the ACTUAL PRICE OF THE VEHICLE. (not $350/month but $18,376.00) That final number is what matters. The rest is just moving numbers around... You can get whatever payment you want (within reason) by extending the time you pay on the loan... and they know that. Try to keep your payment time under 5 years. A lot of places have now gone to 6 year loans! The vehicle prices went up too, but the "payments" didn't... you just pay it longer! That's a lot more money. But if you focus on the payment and not the PRICE of the vehicle, then you don't notice it, and that's what the dealership is counting on. ($375/month for 60 months vs. $355 for 72 months, is the difference between $22,500 and $25,560).

I also find that get pre-approved from your own financial institution helps YOU/ME stay more focused on the final price of the vehicle, not the payments. You already know the payments, pretty much, that way... so you just have to find the vehicle that costs under your pre-approved amount. (This of course assumes that you choose a loan amount that you can afford the payments on--you might be approved for more than you can afford... only YOU know if you can afford the payments).

It can be overwhelming. Try not to let it be. You really are the one with the power. Don't let them make you feel otherwise. And ACT like you are what you are....because in my experience, it makes a difference in how you are treated.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Houston on

I had the best car experience on my last car I purchase.

First before I began, I wanted to see what type of financing I would get if I was buying a less than a year old car with less than 20,000 miles. I went to LendingTree.com put in my information within one hour I had three lending offers with the interest rates. I chose the best called them and asked them what I needed to do when I found a car.

After that, I went to cars.com and ebay and found dealerships in my area with the car I was looking for with the mileage. I went test driving.

I found a car I liked and tried to get the price I wanted which was $2000 less than the asking. It was $21K and I wanted $19K. They did not move so I went home and got on ebay. I did thru ebay on the same exact car and they took the price.

I went to CarMax the next day. Sold them my car. Got a check. Went to the dealership where I bought my car. Wrote out the check from the finance company that I got from LendingTree.com and went home.

It was hassle free and was the best experience I had not dealing with any car salesman.



answers from Austin on

The best way to get the most for your money long term is to buy a car that is 2 - 4 yrs. old. Anything less than 2 years will drop in value too fast. Anything more than 4 yrs. is asking for trouble. You will end up paying car payments as well as paying for repairs and replacement parts.

As others have said, never negotiate on a monthly payment amount. If they ask what you can afford per month, just tell them that you will only talk about the total price. If you get pre-approved at your bank or credit union, they can tell you exactly what the monthly payment would be for a set price of the car, at their rate, that you can afford. Then shop around for interest rates, like going to USAA. Tell the officer what you would like to pay a month and they will tell you how much car you can get at their rate at what you can afford. With that info, you can compare with the dealer if they have a lower interest rate (not a lower monthly payment rate). It's all "smoke and mirrors" when they keep talking about monthly payments. Don't let them know what you can afford. They don't need to know what your top dollar is. You just want to know what price each car is going out the door (with tax, license, etc.).

Also, negotiate the price of your used car separately. Tell them that you are not decided on trading a car in or which one, whatever. Another sneaky trick is that the dealer will tell you is that they can give you an extra amount on the used car trade in but then they will secretly add it to the cost of the new car or give you a deal on the new car and then take it off what they will give you for the old one. AFTER you have negotiated the new car and you have the bottom line price, then say, oh by the way, what will you give us if we did want to sell our old car.

Never buy on the first visit or from the first dealer. Knowing that, you won't be tempted to get attached to the "perfect" car and buy into their scheme. Be willing to walk away and think about it. That forces them to give you their lowest price. When they say that they have to talk it over with the manager or whomever, tell them that you want the bottom line the first time. Then go home and look up the price on bluebook.com. They might try and show you a print out. Just thank them and go home and check for yourself. There is a small chance that the car will not be there the next day, but it just means you weren't supposed to have that car. Go to several places. It is nice to have several cars to choose from. Then you can compare total prices with features, age, mileage, etc. There are websites that give you monthly payments, etc., if you need to put in a lower total than what your top dollar amount was. Otherwise, just call the bank if they have a better interest rate.

Don't get sucked into the idea that you need a new car for all the safety features. They have been improving safety features for years, so a car that is 2 - 4 years old is going to have a lot of great safety features. The enormous difference in total price will remind you that you do not need to buy a new car that will have a high rate of depreciation immediately.

Don't take your kids. It is so boring for them and it will keep you from being focused. It takes a lot of time to deal with car salesmen. We buy fleet vehicles so we don't have to deal with the typical car salesmen anymore, but it has been a while since we have had to buy a car.

If you are a member at Costco, call them to see if they still work with dealers on used cars. You go in and work with a fleet salesman at selected dealerships. They have all the car brands. The cars have a set price (a lot less) and there is no haggling. Here's the price, take it or leave it. If you aren't a member, call anyway to see what the price would be at a dealership and it would probably be worth the $50/year membership. We also save a lot by getting our auto insurance from Costco's affiliate. We used to have our homeowners with them but we are renting now and they don't do renter's insurance.

Good luck. The more prepared you are, the less likely that you will pay more than what is fair. It is a good feeling to have several cars to choose from with a bottom line price for each so you can compare and make an informed decision.

Sorry this is so long.



answers from College Station on

There are lots of options when financing a car. The dealerships have the banks on speed dial, so to speak. Once they run your credit, they will make your options clear to you. But, you should go in there knowing what your credit is so there will be no surprises.

Credit unions usually have the best rates. Not sure on used cars. I have only bought new. You can check with your bank before you even go shopping to see what kind of rate they will give you as well.

Beware of hidden fees (like insurance and the like) and ask for a simple interest loan that you can pay off at any time with no penalties.

With model year end clearance sales, you may be able to get a great deal on a new car. My hubs did that this time last year. He got a loaded Ford Fusion at a great price and 0% interest. Don't rule out buying new. There have been lots of safety advances and tech features in the past 2 years and that would make me want to look at new instead of used.

Good Luck to you!


answers from Boston on

Do your research. Start with Consumer Reports which will tell you what the actual dealer cost is and how to negotiate. Usually you just offer a small amount over the actual cost without all the extras. CR will tell you what is necessary and what is not. You can sometimes find dealerships with a "no haggle" policy. The prices are lower but they are non-negotiable. Takes away the fear of fighting with them and getting sucked in.

You could search something like "auto bid" on line and look for services that take your specs and then submit to local dealers. We did that 4 years ago when we were looking for our Prius - we got a bunch of bids from local dealers and they were competing with each other. It was great.

The reason we looked for a Prius was gas mileage! 45+ mpg. So I think you should look for a hybrid given the costs of gas. August & September are good months to buy because dealers want to get rid of the new cars still sitting there from last August/Sept. to make room for the new models coming in. So there is room to negotiate. You might also get a good deal on a used car at this time of year when people trade in. If you aren't fussy about the color and so on, you'll have a lot of options.

Good luck!



answers from Austin on

If you can't do a finance through USAA, credit unions are also a great option. Much lower interest rates and then you don't have to deal with the hassle of an interest rate being a negotiating factor at the dealerships.

We recently bought a used car and saved a bundle. I had very specific parameters on what I wanted and searched every week through a 250 mile radius. I used AutoTrader, Cars.com and Craigslist to do my searches. Took a bit of time, but ended up getting exactly what we wanted. Ours was a Toyota certified used car and you at least have a bit more dependability and one year warranty with a certified used car.

Good luck!



answers from Houston on

If you had a good experience with USAA (made your payments on time, etc) start with them for financing. I've found them very easy to deal with online and by phone. You can finance through them even if you buy from a local dealership, and you will likely get a better rate. That way you can go to a dealership confident in how much you can spend and not get caught in their games of "what do you want to spend per month..." Never answer that question at a dealership!



answers from San Antonio on

I bought my car from CarMax. They took in my old minivan with a questionable transmission and I bought a 2006 Honda accord with 20,000 miles. I was a good experience. I would do it again.
They have a good warranty on their cars. Listen carefully to it and pay close attention to how it drives during your test drives and after you buy it.

My Accord had a strange sound coming from a rear wheel at highway speeds the first couple weeks after I had it. I took it in and they checked it out. Turned out to be a bad wheel bearing and they replaced it for no charge. And my husband told them to check all the bearings, and the brakes again, etc...and they did so gladly.

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