Adulting 101: Car Buying Basics

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Looking for a car sounds fun, but how do you avoid winding up with a clunker? Millennials, take note—here are four easy steps to make sure that new (or used) set of wheels will take you far.

Step 1: Price

First things first: Make a budget. When searching for a car it’s easy to get caught up on the price tag rather than the true value of the vehicle. Set a range of how much you’re willing to spend, then create a list of non-negotiable features. Basics like gas mileage play a primary role in the
price of a vehicle, so you may have to ditch those leather seat dreams to fit within budget.

Step 2: Features

When searching for a used vehicle, don’t get too distracted by a car’s external appearance—internal functions are much more important. “Mileage will give you a good overall look at the car, but brake safety, steering and suspension are all safety issues that need to be considered,” says Tom O’Brien, owner of O’Brien’s Auto Repair in West Des Moines. According to O’Brien, certain makes and models are significantly better for long term value. “Toyota, Honda and Volkswagen are particularly good vehicles because they typically don’t have issues that are too costly and their safety features all work well even after multiple years,” O’Brien says. It’s worth looking past a few cosmetic blemishes if it means potentially saving hundreds of dollars on repairs in the future.

Step 3: Comparison

Once you’ve found a solid vehicle in your price range, it’s time to get a second opinion. “Always bring the car to a trustworthy, independent repair shop to check the vehicle out before purchasing,” O’Brien says. Don’t trust what the seller initially says about a car’s history—they may try to lead you astray.

Step 4: Bargaining

When buying through any car dealership or private party, bargaining is the name of the game. Always do your research and compare the vehicle’s price on apps like True Car and Kelly Blue Book. They show your car’s market price and how much others in the area have paid for that particular make and model. After choosing a sweet set of wheels and haggling for a fair price, your car buying search is done—now hit the road.

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