The majority of Americans commute by driving their own vehicles to fulfill their daily duties. Earning a driver’s license and getting your first car are adulthood milestones in American culture that symbolize maturity and freedom.
What the coming-of-age and parent-of-the-year fantasies often omit is the actual cost of owning a car. You may try to save by finding rock bottom car insurance or fixer-upper vehicles, but finding a cheap running car doesn’t ensure that you’ll end up spending less.
Whether you’re looking to purchase your first car, buying for someone else, or in need to quickly replace, here are a few reasons not to go with the most inexpensive set of wheels you find.
How to Shop for a Car
There is a trick to getting the best car deals that everyone in the automotive industry is scared of. The way to finding the best car deal is . . . research!
I hope you weren’t expecting me to pull a bunny out of a hat because the truth is a lot less magical. Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you should limit yourself to a rock and a hard place.
Sometimes we think we know our options, but there could be things you haven’t thought of. A list of ways to purchase or get into a car new to you is:
Pro: It’s a great option for building credit while saving money on the upkeep of a vehicle.
Con: You typically have no equity in the value of the car. At the end of the lease, you’ll essentially be in the same buying position you were before leasing.
Pro: It makes getting a newer vehicle more attainable, and it builds credit while making the overall purchase more affordable.
Con: It normally has higher interest rates, and the value of the car often depreciates before the loan obligation is met.
Pro: You get a car at a relatively low cost, and you’re instantly employed.
Con: You have to be an active driver. Otherwise, your monthly bill could be just as much as leasing a new model at a dealership.
Pro: You can buy a car for extremely cheap, and you could potentially turn a profit.
Con: This is a niche option that only applies to those already knowledgeable on auto machinery. Unexpected costs can outweigh the investment.
Pro: Large amounts of money upfront can make salespeople willing to take less, so discounts will likely be offered to close the deal.
Con: You probably won’t be in a luxury model vehicle. Paying cash could keep you from qualifying for specific tax deductions.
Pro: You can bargain and get a car for a meager price.
Con: Cars likely have issues that will require additional spending.
Costco or Sam’s Club
Pro: You get extra incentives as a store member and can easily compare deals.
Con: Pricing cannot be quoted online and are often higher once in person.
Cheap Car Etiquette
When looking for a low-cost vehicle, there are specific ways to ensure the quality of trade while also not annoying your salesperson out of a good deal. There’s an etiquette to everything, and car purchasing is no different. It can literally pay off to be positive.
What Not to Say When Buying a Car
You know your budget, so don’t be surprised when Carvana or Ford doesn’t provide the same luxurious perks as Ferrari. An auto salesperson’s goal is to get you in a car you can afford, which doesn’t always mean the nicest on the lot.
A list of phrases to avoid saying while low-cost car searching is:
- “I hate this”
- “It’s too basic”
- “What about color options?”
- “What’s the lowest you can go?”
- “I don’t know much about cars”
- “I just want to get from A to B”
While speaking with any auto sales representative, expressing how much you hate something makes working with you unpleasant. Also, being realistic about what you can afford only helps salespeople put you in something fitting for your lifestyle and budget.
You will always feel gouged if you express champagne wants with box wine budgets, so know what bells and whistles cost more and what you’re willing to do without. The same goes for only claiming you just want the basics.
Let’s leave Fred Flinstone to paddle the pavement and find the happy medium between what we expect, want, and need. Not all features are for comfort, and you want to make sure all of the safety checks for used trucks and cars have been thoroughly run.
Avoid asking insulting questions that directly ask for the lowest price. You may not be trying to insult someone, but this can be hurtful, especially if you’re dealing with a private owner.
What to Do Before Going for a Test Drive
Save yourself and your salesperson some time by helping to cut down on the lengthy car-buying process. Before you arrive, there are just a few things that can help you save money and ensure you drive away with the best deal possible.
Here is a list of tasks to complete before going in to buy:
- Set a firm price range.
- Know about two other models and deals you could get in your price range.
- Be pre-approved for financing if you need it.
- Figure out the vehicle’s real annual cost in addition to what it takes to get off the lot.
Hidden Costs of Cheap Cars
Have you found a deal that seems incredible? Take a closer look and be sure that the low sticker price is worth your money.
Some elements to pay close attention to are:
- Mileage – Anything over 50,000 miles will likely have a shortened life span and be the reason a price could seem like a dream. Maintaining a high-mileage vehicle may end up costing you more in the long run.
- Air conditioner and sensors – These can be costly to replace, so ask when the last time they were updated or checked.
- Vehicle history – Most dealers are upfront about providing used car history, but if they are shortening the conversation, be wary.
- Perk pricing – Look over every line that has a dollar sign on the invoice. Dealerships can add on fees for labor and preparation for sale costs that shouldn’t be your responsibility.
- Double-check – In almost every car-buying process, you can get the vehicle checked out by a third-party mechanic before purchase. Not all dealers will pay for the cost, but doing so could save you thousands of dollars later.
How much car can you afford?
Purchasing a vehicle can get confusing when all you look at is the cost of getting wheels off the lot. Talk to multiple dealers, look into various finance options, and discuss the kinds of cars that will keep you in budget with your insurance agent.
Buying an inexpensive vehicle isn’t a steal if you get robbed in other parts of the ownership process. Tailor your buying experience to what you need now and in the future.
A car payment of any kind should be used to help you get further in your life’s aspirations. That could mean spending a little more on an image or saving on luxury to save or pay off debt.
However, no matter how much you spend, or don’t, looking past the sticker will help you get the best deal instead of the cheapest.
Danielle Beck-Hunter writes and researches for the auto insurance site, AutoInsurance.org.