7 Tips to Improve Your Car-Buying Experience

Next to buying a home, buying a car is about the biggest purchase a person will ever make. You can of course care about the color and those small touches that excite you, but your biggest concern ought to be finding the right car at a good price.

Here are seven ways to improve your car-buying experience

1. Sort out how much car you can afford

There's no sense falling in love with a sports car or luxury vehicle and then realizing it's well outside your budget. Before setting foot on a lot or scanning the listings, have as clear a picture as possible of what you can afford.

This might include first looking into getting an auto loan from an institution such as Gulf Coast Community Federal Credit Union. The cost of any vehicle will vary by make and model and features and year. One thing that's generally true, though, is that interest rates are lower on loans from credit unions than on those from banks.

2. Decide whether you want new or used

A new car is shiny and smells good -- and costs more. Meanwhile, a few miles on the tires or a ding in the paint job are a small price to pay for, well, paying a much smaller price overall.

3. Match any car with what you'll need from it

If you drive a lot, you probably want a car with good fuel economy. Have a large family? You'll need them all to have seats. However you plan to use a vehicle, whatever your specific needs are, make sure that what you buy will do the job. 

4. Shop at a trusted seller

Ask your friends and family where they bought their cars and whether any had a good experience. Be wary about buying from an individual, and if you don't know your way around an engine, seek out a friend who does or ask to have a mechanic look over the car. And never buy a car without a title. 

5. Take a test drive

You can't really know how you like a car until you drive it. Bring your driver's license, and maybe a friend, too, for their opinions or just to have numbers on the seller, who'll likely also be in the car with you.

6. Know all the costs

There's the car, but then too there are the fees: title transfer, license plate and registration fees, inspection, sales and use taxes, and more. 

7. Be prepared to negotiate -- and to walk away

The sticker price on a car is just a starting point. And when you consider that a dealer has to meet certain sales quotas, you actually have more power in negotiations than you might think -- they need your business. Educate yourself about what new and used cars are selling for and what kinds of local deals are out there. Some financial institutions beforehand can give you a sense of the current value of the car you're interested in, so you'll know if the dealer is trying to pull one over on you. Know, too, that if you are at all uncomfortable with the price or the seller, you can just walk away.

You're more likely to enjoy your car if it does all you need it to, and it didn't break the bank. Be prepared and take it slow. You'll be glad you did.

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