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How to Pick a New Vehicle

4 minute read

Joshua Williams

By Joshua Williams

You know you need a car. After that, it’s kind of a blur though. That’s fine. There are a lot of choices out there and many possibilities for the car of your dreams. It’s an opportunity, not a challenge.

Here are the first few steps to getting yourself a new car.

Make a Budget

Before you look at all the things you really want, you need to know exactly how much you can afford.

Make a list of all monthly expenses you have. With that number, subtract the amount you usually spend per month on social activities. With that number, round up an extra $50; this is to offset our natural tendency to underestimate. The remaining amount is what you have available for a new car. You should probably be saving some of that too, though, so subtract your monthly savings as well. Now plug that number into this nifty Monthly Payment tool, and you now have your upper limit.

This is the all-important ceiling, which you should not cross. You won’t be able to afford more than that, so stick to it.

List of Needs

You should physically list everything you absolutely need in a car to be functional. Questions you should ask yourself:

  • Do you need room to haul large items?
  • How many people are you typically transporting?
  • How is the available parking? Does your parking spot allow for a larger car?
  • Do you require a trailer hitch?
  • Do you regularly travel through hilly areas?
  • Are you able to drive a manual?

With these questions answered, you’ll have an idea of what you require in order to be satisfied with a purchase. This will help limit your choices once you actually begin your search.

List of Wants

This list will be more mental than anything. You can write it down if you like, but mostly it’s good just to keep in mind.

You should be asking yourself what would make your car rides more pleasant and, more specifically, what makes some car rides a challenge for you. Some general places to start:

  • How important is the stereo to you? Does an enhanced number of speakers matter to you?
  • Do you have an iPod, mp3 player, CDs, or tapes you wish to listen to in your car?
  • Is A/C important to you? Most every car comes with A/C these days, so it’s not likely you’ll pass this up, but keep it in mind. You don’t want to be the exception.
  • Would you like power locks, seats, and windows?
  • Do you want a sun/moon roof? Would you be willing to pay more for a convertible?
  • Does the speed of the car matter to you? Would you be just as happy driving 50 mph as 80 mph?

This list should provide you with an accurate checklist of which extras to aim for. Missing anything? Add it to the list. Nothing wrong with a long list. It makes it easier to have something to check the car against when you’re viewing.

Browse the Internet

It’s time to start looking. With so many websites out there designed specifically to ease the purchase of a car, it seems a shame to let them go to waste.

So make sure to check out these sites:

  • Autotrader;
  • CarMax, and;
  • Craigslist.

Make sure to narrow your search by area and by price. Bookmark any cars which meet your criteria and spark your interest.

Meet the Owner

This applies to private sellers and dealers. You will want to talk to them face-to-face.

Oftentimes, there is a bit of flexibility in the price presented. Without being offensive, make an offer below your maximum. You want to give yourself a little breathing room. Plus, if your offer is accepted and you spend less money, all the better.

Make sure you look at as many cars as you can. Take pictures and ask questions about each and every one. Look at your lists of wants and needs and compare them to the cars.

Sleep on It

After your mind is mostly made up on a car, take a short break. Some car salespeople will push you hard to make an offer and sign, but if the deal isn’t all that great and you have other options, the time is worth it. Think of yourself driving your future car and decide if you’re alright with how it feels.

That was an over-dramatization of the bond between man and machine, but you get the picture. Cars are expensive items and you need to make sure you’re satisfied with your purchase. With your mind made up, call the owner and begin the long and wonderful process of financing.

Now, once you reach the other side with the car of your dreams, please don’t hit me on the road.

Couple Picking a New Vehicle at Dealershipmartin-dm / Getty Images
Joshua Williams


Joshua is a freelance writer with years of experience blogging about business and finance, and a whole host of other things too. When he's not writing, he enjoys camping with his dog, a golden retriever named Oakley.


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