New or used, it’s best to be prepared

Buying a new – or new to you – car is an incredibly exciting time. Between choosing just the right set of wheels and pawing one’s way through a myriad of options, it’s easy to let the logical part of your brain get distracted. Toss in the bright lights of a dealership plus the exhilaration of getting a new set of wheels and you have the perfect scenario in which to make an ill-considered decision.

It’s worth keeping a few suggestions in mind when getting ready to look for a new vehicle. We’ve drawn on our years of experience in the field to create this guide, while also asking a few long-time industry players to chime in with their thoughts.

In short – do your research, take your time, and don’t be rushed into any decision. With that attitude, you’re sure to continue being happy with your new car long after the ink has dried on the paperwork.

Set a Budget

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One of – if not the – most important tips to remember when buying a car is to decide on a budget and stick to it. Failing to have a figure in mind permits customers to be seduced by a snazzier trim level or even an entirely different model than they had previously been considering. This is not to say one cannot change their mind – after all, it is important to get a car with which you are happy – but the chance of being snookered into spending more than you intended tends to happen more often to folks who have not planned.

In this vein, try to avoid talking solely about the monthly or bi-weekly payment and focus on the vehicle’s total cost. While it is absolutely true the payment amount is important for cash-flow purposes, it is far too easy to inadvertently spend more than anticipated if one focuses solely on payment and not on the big picture.

For example, let’s imagine you’ve found a vehicle you like and it bears an asking price of $24,995. Including taxes, a customer with excellent credit will be shown a monthly payment of roughly $520 per month for five years. If, through conversation during negotiations, the sales rep discovered that $500/mo is your mental upper limit, they may choose to present a payment of $499 per month over the same terms. While this may sound a lot more palatable, it actually represents a piddling $1000 off the car’s asking price.

SEE ALSO: What is Financing a Car? And What is a Good Financing Rate?

Negotiating on payment can open a customer up to spending more money in other way, as well. The seasoned sales rep will ask your monthly budget early in the negotiations, then may ask “up to…..?” as a follow up question. If you reply with a higher number, you’ve effectively given them the green light to try and sell you a more expensive car. Some bold reps will continue this line of questioning with “and if you really had to…..?” which could reveal your ultimate stretch price.

One last thing: don’t forget that a monthly payment is not simply the doubling of a bi-weekly payment – even though they are often thought of as such. For example, a $200 payment every two weeks actually equates to about $433 per month. How? Because there are 26 payments due annually in a bi-weekly schedule but only 12 due on a monthly note. Do the calculations to be sure.

Combined with a shrewd line of questioning, this quirk of math can cause a person to completely blow their budget. Consider the following conversation:

“How much are you looking to spend a month?”

“$400 is pretty good.”

“So, $200 bi-weekly?”


“Up to …. what? $210, $220 if you had to?”

“Well, maybe. For the right car.”

With that quick exchange, an alert salesperson just got you to move up from a payment of $400 per month to over $475 per month. On a 72 month loan, that represents the difference between buying a car costing $24,500 before tax to one priced at $27,000 – a swing of $3500.

Tips for Buying a New Car

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Now you’re steeled and loaded for bear in terms of price, it’s time to actually shop for a car. This is the fun part, especially if you’re in the market for a new one. The world is literally your oyster, with ample selection and colour choices and the ability to select a vehicle that’s optioned exactly the way you want it.

The smart shopper will make a list of competitive vehicles and visit the manufacturer’s website before ever setting foot on a dealer’s lot. Many of them have inventory tools, permitting customers to search for a specific make and model. The really good sites allow shoppers to filter results by colour and equipment levels, ensuring you the ability to find the precise rig you desire. Make note of the cars you like, their dealership stock number, and whatever price is being advertised for that particular machine.

Given the health and gathering recommendations during these times, dealers are increasingly willing to work remotely with customers, something that was not overly common in the Before Times prior to Covid-19 imposing itself on the world. Ask about socially-distant test drives, seeing the car at your home, and even completing the majority of paperwork in a digital manner. Out of necessity, your author purchased a brand new Jeep at the height of the pandemic’s first wave and was pleased to find himself inside the four walls of a dealership for only an incredibly short amount of time compared to purchases in years past.

Depending on where you live, there may be more than one dealer for the same brand in your immediate vicinity. Use this to your advantage. If both of them have a copy of the vehicle you want with the level of equipment you desire, there’s nothing wrong with visiting both of them to compare pricing and other aspects of the buying process.

Tips for Buying a Used Car

Photo credit: Joseph Sohm /

An advantage of choosing to buy a used car is, of course, they are generally cheaper than an equivalent brand-new machine. Nearly all mainstream vehicles suffer cataclysmic depreciation during their first two years of life. This means a one- or two-year old vehicle in good shape with low mileage may be just the ticket for those who want a late model car without the price tag.

If the used car you’re considering is still within its factory warranty period, make sure to ask about it’s In Service date. This is the date in which the car was first registered, an event which starts the clock ticking on its factory warranty. That 2019 model with three years of factory warranty may have very well been originally sold in May 2018, meaning the comprehensive coverage you so covet is on the cusp of expiring. On the flip side, it may have been a leftover model that wasn’t put into service until 2020, making its warranty valid until 2023.

Lightly used cars may be part of a Certified Pre-Owned program, an initiative where a new car dealer chooses to sell some used vehicles that are generally only a year or two old with very few miles under its belt. These machines often take part in a rigorous inspection program, meaning the car should be in top-notch condition when you drive it off the lot.

Other second-hand cars, such as ones sold by used car lots or being hawked by private individuals, should be inspected by a mechanic of your choice before the sale concludes. This task will reveal problems – if any exist – you may not have caught on your own. It is a great way to learn as much as possible about the condition of a used car prior to buying it.

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