Auto Acquisition: An Eight-Step Guide to Conscientious Car Shopping

Auto Acquisition: An Eight-Step Guide to Conscientious Car Shopping

Shopping for a car can be a daunting task. With a bounty of new and used cars on the market, shoppers are faced with numerous considerations, from deciding which make and model best satisfies their needs and wants, to setting a budget and finding a trusted seller.

Whether you are looking for your first car or finding a replacement, being mentally prepared will make the process more manageable. Consider the following as items on your checklist as you search for the perfect new ride.

1. Set a budget

As with any major purchase, finances should have the most influence on your decision. You may dream of owning a luxury convertible, but you must be realistic about what you can afford. Not only do you have to consider the actual price of purchasing the car, but also recurring costs for maintenance, car insurance and gasoline, to name a few. You may be able to make small compromises - like choosing an older model or selecting from used or pre-owned cars instead of new ones - that will help you to get what you want and can afford. However, stick to the budget limits you set.

2. Narrow your options

Next, generate a general idea of what you need and want. Things to consider include the intended driver(s); how much and where the car will be driven; and what technical and safety features you prioritize. Build a target list of three or four potential cars that meet your needs and fall in your budget. Next, analyze and review them. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provide various safety data on vehicles - such as how they performed in crash tests and current recalls - that can guide you.

3. Conduct online research

The Internet is a powerful tool to find important information before you even step onto a car lot. You can read opinions and reviews from experts and owners about the type of car you're considering. Research organizations, such as J.D. Power, can give you valuable information on both the positive and negative aspects of different cars. You also should research the appropriate price range for the car you're considering., Kelley Blue Book, Consumer Reports and NADA Guides are good resources for that information. Researching beforehand will help you know what to look for in person so you can make the most informed decision.

4. Browse cars for sale

You have many potential sources for your car purchase, including private parties and car dealerships. The classifieds in your local newspaper should have advertisements. Via the Web, you can peruse used cars for sale on digital marketplaces, such as Craigslist, or virtual garage sales via local social media pages. If you want to go with a dealership, search their inventory directly on their company website, or stop by the car lot to browse. Get quotes from multiple dealers and let the salespeople know you're just looking.

5. See the car in person

If you haven't already, you should arrange an appointment with the seller - whether it is a private party, a franchised dealership or a used car dealer - to see your potential purchase. In person, check both the exterior, interior and under the hood. Ask several questions and test every electronic feature. You should take the car for a test drive, and drive exactly as you intend to with your personal vehicle. Also, feel free to have a certified and trusted mechanic check out the car before you purchase it.

6. Look at a history report

You can learn more about the exact car you're considering by consulting its history report. CARFAX and AutoCheck are two trusted agencies that offer vehicle history reports, which include past odometer readings, service records, ownership history and accident information.

7. Negotiate a price and arrange payment

Once you're ready to make a purchase, negotiate a fair price with the seller. Be wary of sales tactics and don't hesitate to make a counter-offer. Unless you have enough to purchase the vehicle outright, you will need to a get a loan for the car. The two primary methods are acquiring a direct loan from a local bank or credit union or going through the car dealership itself. The ideal car loan is three to five years, or you may wind up paying a king's ransom in interest. The bigger down-payment you make, the better off you'll be in the long run.

8. Read before you sign

Carefully look over any documents before you sign them. Ask questions about the contract and look out for hidden fees. If you're uncomfortable with binding contracts, have someone you trust look it over with you. After you've signed the agreement, make copies of the documentation - including the car registration - for your files. Immediately get insurance coverage for your new car.

When it comes to buying a car, take your time and do your homework, as it is likely to be one of your biggest investments. If you're looking for a car in the northern Iowa area, contact Brown's Guttenberg to browse online inventory, schedule a test drive or investigate financing options. Located in Guttenberg, Brown's is happy to serve all of Northeast Iowa and surrounding cities, including Dubuque; the Quad Cities; Cedar Rapids; Manchester; Waterloo/Cedar Falls; and Prairie Du Chien, Wis.