What to Look for When Buying a Car

Deciding to buy a car is one of the biggest purchases you’ll make in life. It’s certainly an exciting purchase, but the buying process can be stressful and overwhelming. Whether you are buying new or used, the purchase will come with a huge financial impact. It’s crucial to approach the dealership armed with a firm understanding of your financial situation, available options, inspection criteria, and negotiating tactics. There’s a lot to look for when buying a new car, but we’ve outlined some initial steps that can help ensure you drive away in exactly the right car for you. 


It’s important to understand your financial situation before you step onto the car lot. Begin by researching the trade-in value of your current car and the available options for auto loans and financing. While most dealers offer financing through their offices, it’s a good idea to come prepared with a pre-approved financing offer from your bank or credit union.

Keep in mind that the goal of dealers is ultimately to make a profit. While you may be able to find a good financing program through their in-house office, it may not be the best option available to you. A good place to start is to check your current credit score for insight into the interest rates you may come across and to better understand your stance in negotiating. If financing isn’t your plan and you intend to pay cash for a car, it may be best to withhold that plan during the initial stages of the buying process. Dealers make much of their revenue through financing, so knowing that their potential revenue isn’t high may cause them to have less incentive to negotiate.

Additionally, don’t get stuck on the monthly payment. While it may be the simplest way to compare the price with your budget, it simply doesn’t provide the whole picture. For example, while an add-on may only cost an extra $10 per month, the actual cost you end up paying throughout the loan may be far more than it’s worth. 

Research Your Options

Try to have a clear understanding of the type of vehicle you’re interested in purchasing. Evaluate your lifestyle and find a car that is truly best suited to your needs. Once you have a good idea of the type of car you’re interested in, compare prices online. This is essential to effectively negotiate and avoid paying too much. 

Knowing the appropriate prices can also help you spot red flags when the prices of used cars are extraordinarily low. Commonly relied upon tools include Kelly Blue Book and TrueCar. Also, exploring the safety ratings of cars can allow you to compare which option may be best suited for you and your family. 

Understand the Past and Present of a Used Car

If you’re buying a used car, thoroughly investigating the history and present condition of the car is crucial. Searching for consumer reviews online is a great way to learn about the overall experiences people have had with the make and model you’re interested in. Once you find a car from an independent seller or a dealer, you should investigate the car’s history to understand how it was taken care of by previous owners. Online services like CARFAX are great resources that use the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) to provide the car’s entire history. You can also check the title online through the DMV.

When you see the car in person, there are some key components of the car’s present condition to take note of. You should thoroughly inspect the exterior, interior, and under the hood of the car. Exterior checks include examining the tires, body condition, and lights. Interior checks include inspecting the upholstery, controls, roof, and trunk. The parts under the hood provide a general picture of the car’s overall upkeep. It’s important to confirm the correct colors, smells, and levels of the fluids, such as the oil, transmission fluid, and brake and power steering fluid. Any signs of leaking fluids are generally red flags that the car needs repair. 

Additionally, the car’s mileage can also offer insight into the car’s condition. While cars with low mileage may be appealing, keep in mind that if a car has been driven too infrequently, then the rubber and plastic parts on the vehicle may have become dry and brittle. It’s ideal for a car to be driven regularly, so a used car with extraordinarily low mileage for its age may give an initial appeal that’s too good to be true. Overall, maintenance and accident histories provide a more holistic picture of how the car will perform under your new ownership.

You can also decide to have a mechanic perform a quality inspection to provide the reassurance you need to make a purchase. While professional inspections may cost $100 or more, potential repairs that may go otherwise unnoticed can cost much more.

The Test Drive

The test drive is a time for you to not only connect with your potential new car, but also gain some more valuable insights. Listen carefully to how the car starts and take note of any vibrations or abnormal noises. While on the road, make sure the brakes and transmission perform optimally. Use this time to help determine the condition of the car and whether this is the car you want to be spending your daily commute inside.

Take Your Time

Ultimately, this is an important decision, so take your time if you’re able to do so. Do your research and don’t rush the negotiation process. The more time you spend making sure that you buy the right car for you, the less time you’ll have to spend in repair shops down the road. As always, City Auto Repair is here to answer any questions you may have to help put you back on the road and your mind at ease.