hether you’re a new driver or your old car has just bit the dust, there’s a good chance you might be looking for a car to get you from Point A to Point B. Buying a new car can be tricky, though, especially if you’ve never done it before or haven’t done it in a while. Whether it’s brand new or just new-to-you used, there are certain things you should look out for when you’re dealing with salespeople. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the car-buying process.

Think About What You Want and What You Need

These don’t always coincide, so keep in mind that what you need should always trump what you want, but you can usually also find some nice compromises in your search for a new car. The aspects of a car that you want and need will almost always come down to whatever it is you value most. Here are some things to think about:


In many cases, a good price would definitely be considered a need. Cars are expensive. Do you have a budget? You might be willing to go for a lower-cost new car, but depending on how you feel about some of the other things to look for while you’re buying a car, you might want to think about getting a used car that’s in good condition. There are pros and cons to each.

A new car could lack the overall safety that a sturdy older car might have. A used car is more susceptible to breaking down--and you won’t have a warranty to cover any repairs it will need. Whatever you choose, if you have a budget, think about which option will give you the best features for your dollar.


Safety is usually considered a need, but it isn’t always at the forefront of every car purchase, either. Do you have children? If you do, you might find yourself placing safety much higher on your list, which might either stretch your budget or make you consider a car that doesn’t necessarily meet your aesthetic standards. (The Dodge Caravan, anyone?) Whereas when you’re just buying a car for yourself, safety might take a backseat to other wants and needs, when you have children, it suddenly becomes much more important.

As technology has advanced over time, cars have become much safer overall--but you shouldn’t just assume that a brand new car will be safer than something from five years ago. Generally speaking, a brand new car is going to be safer than, say, the electrical nightmare that is an Oldsmobile from the 1940s, but it might still have some bugs that would make it less safe than a seven-year-old Subaru. Find out what it is that makes a car safe, and you’ll be able to determine for yourself whether the car you’re looking for meets your standards.

The red interior of a used car.
You may be able to customize the interior of your car if you’d like, but it usually comes with some extra costs.


Yes, many of us are a bit shallow when it comes to our cars. Personally, I’ve always been particularly drawn towards yellow Volkswagen Beetles with removable tops and black Jeep Wranglers--both of which have absolutely horrendous gas mileage. Your own aestheticism might not be as particular, but it can still play a role in the decisions you make.

Some people, for instance, hate cars that are too boxy. Some people prefer to have a car with a trunk that doesn’t protrude; others just don’t want anything too long because it might make parallel parking more difficult--which might rule out some vans, SUVs, and trucks. Some people are particular about colors. As long as you know what it is that you absolutely can’t compromise on when it comes to the aesthetic of a car, you should be able to find something that works for you.

Decide Whether to Buy or Lease

If you’re looking at used cars, your only option will be to buy the car. Depending on how you’re buying it--from a lot or from an independent seller--you may have the option to pay for it with monthly payments, which could alleviate the stress of saving up a lot of money and then spending it all at once.

If you’re looking at new cars, however, you might also have the option to choose between buying and leasing the car. Because 99% of people don’t have the kind of money to drop tens of thousands of dollars on a brand new car, both of these options usually come with some kind of monthly payment.

A lease will generally be a little less expensive per month than your payment for buying the car would be because you’re only required to pay for the amount that the car will depreciate during the leasing period. It does not, however, give you ownership of the car. Buying the car will give you ownership, but it will be a little more expensive in terms of monthly payments. There are pros and cons to each.

Ask all the right questions and you might be able to get the keys for your new car that very day.

Find the Right Car for You

Whether you decide on a new car or a used car, to buy or to lease, the next step is to go out and search for your new car. Any brand new car is something that you can only really find at car dealerships. Pull up to one and see if you can talk to someone about what kind of cars they have to offer. If you let them know you’re hoping to drive out of there with one of their cars that day, they’ll probably jump at the chance to talk with you.

Beware the Car Salesperson

Salespeople earn most of their money based on commissions--which means they are extra eager to make sure you drive out of their lot with a car that they convinced you to buy. That isn’t to say that all car salespeople are the sleazy, deceptive snakes that they’re often made out to be. But you should definitely keep in mind that they may not be telling you the whole truth 100% of the time you’re together.

Some of the details of amenities might be exaggerated in the hopes of convincing you to buy or lease the car. Both new and used car salespeople may also conveniently leave out some details about the car that might cause you trouble later down the line. Be prepared to ask them the right questions so that none of the essential question you might have about safety are left unanswered.

Generally speaking, most independent car sellers will be a bit more honest with you about what you’re getting. Take a scroll through Craigslist, and you’ll be sure to find some of the most honest descriptions about a car you’ve ever seen--sometimes too honest, but they can be entertaining!

Take the Car for A Test Drive

The test drive is one of the most important parts in any car buying endeavor. A test drive gives you the opportunity to really test how every part of the car works. How does the engine turn over when you turn the key in the ignition? How do the brakes work? The windshield wipers? High beams? Low beams? Do the windows all roll up and down as they should? Do the locks work properly? How does it steer?

These are all things that you should be looking for carefully as you drive the car around for your test drive. Any problem you notice is another opportunity to help yourself out in the next phase of your car buying process: negotiating the price.

With luck, you and the person or dealership will come to an agreement about the price of your new car that will suit you both.

Talk Down the Price

In most cases, car dealers will expect you to try to talk down their price--they’ll just hope that you don’t. Any flaw you can find in the structure of the car is another chance for you to talk down the price some more. Do any of the above questions come back with less than satisfactory results? Use that. Are there any chips or scratches in the paint? Use that. Dents? Use them. Anything that can help you negotiate a lower price is your friend in this case--but if you can help it, try to stay away from cars that will cost you a lot of money in the long-run.

Be Aware of Future Expenses

Cars aren’t just expensive when it comes to purchasing them. Over time, little, and sometimes big, expenses can add up to cost you more money than you might have anticipated. In the United States, it is required by law that you have insurance for all registered vehicles, and insurance can be incredibly expensive.

Gas prices, while usually manageable, can add up over time, so be sure that you’ve factored things like mileage and the price of gas into how they might affect your monthly budget. You may also be faced with the costs of repairs when something inevitably stops working properly within your car. If your brakes give out or you blow out a tire or, worst case scenario, you get into an accident, you’ll need to fix these as soon as possible if you want to even be able to drive your car.

Buying a car can be a big, sometimes daunting task, but for many people, a car is necessary just to get around. If you stick to these guidelines, though, you should find that it’s not nearly as stressful as it seems.

May 5, 2020