Buying a Car, the Easy way; Overview + Step 1

There are plenty of online and in-print articles, going into great detail about  buying a car.  Many of them give you all the little details on how to get the best deal, to really pull a fast one on the dealership.  The rest also go into great detail, and give you ways to get a good (but not great) deal on a car.  I’ve read plenty of them, and I can tell you this:  the ones I have read are all too complicated, or go into too great a detail, to be of much help to the average car buyer.  In the paragraphs below, I will tell you the easiest and simplest way that I’ve found to buy a car, get a pretty good deal, and drive away from the dealership happy.  I was going to do this all in one post, but I found it just too long for one sitting, so instead, I will be posting each of the steps individually, starting with the list of steps, and Step 1, today.

For the reading-averse, here’s a list of steps, followed by deeper explanations, still in easy-to-understand terms.

Step 1: Find out what your trade-in is worth (skip this step if you don’t have a car you want to trade-in, or are selling it in the open market).

Step 2: Create a “Short List” of 5 or less cars you are interested in.

Step 3: Test drive all of the cars on your list.

Step 4: Narrow down the Short List to your favorite car.

Step 5: Buy the car!

Step 1: Evaluating your trade-in.

First of all, this step seems to cause a lot of people problems.  Those that have more time on their hands, or are more patient, will want to sell their car on the open market.  You can sometimes get more money selling your car privately, and there are plenty of great resources out there to help you out, but I’m not here to rehash them.  Start by going to Kelly Blue Book and NADA Guides.  These two sites allow you to search for your vehicle by type, make, model, and given the options and miles you have on your car, will give you an approximate value for your car.  You want to concentrate on the Trade-In and Private Party values.   Definitely be realistic though – Kelly Blue Book (KBB) has different values for vehicles which are perfect and those with dings, dents, or mechanical problems.  You can expect a dealership to offer you 15% above or below the Blue Book value you find your car is worth.  Many people take the KBB value into the dealership and expect that amount.  Depending on your local used-car market, the wholesalers which work in conjunction with the dealer could place a wide variety of values on your car.  If you drive a very popular car in your area, and it’s not in the best shape, you can expect well below the KBB value.  Both NADA and KBB use your local market to make predictions on what your car could be worth, but neither is up-to-the-minute accurate.  In some cases, either site may be a month or more behind what the used-car market is doing in your area.  Now that you have a value for your car that you’d like to get, you won’t be surprised if the dealer is a little above or below what you think it’s worth.  Remember, your car is only worth what someone is willing to actually pay for it.

By John Suit


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