Car buying used to be simple. If you could afford a new car, you picked the model and color at your favorite dealership, signed some paperwork, then diligently made payments and drove that car until it gave up from exhaustion. Or— a less expensive alternative— you saved some money and sought out a used car, selecting the best one, paying little heed to the brand or color. Those days are gone. With a vast inventory of new and used cars on the market, the ability of the internet to pinpoint the price and type of vehicle you want, a word salad of financing options for used vehicles, plus newer options like leasing and certified preowned, consumers have never had so much choice in where, how, and how much to spend on a vehicle.
Banner year in new cars
According to the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) 17.5 million new cars were sold or leased in the US last year. Of course, new car sales represent only a fraction of the estimated 264 million vehicles registered in the US. With that many cars in our garages and on our roads, it is no wonder there are so many options available. “A good salesperson isn’t going to just show you what they have,” says Jeff Straub, a sales associate at Yark Automotive Group. “Our job is to get a feel for your driving habits, your needs, and your future plans. It is critical to think through these basic questions before walking onto a car lot. I get people all the time who tell me that this is the last car they will ever buy. That puts us in a very different set of parameters than someone who, for instance, is looking for an efficient vehicle as a second car or commuter vehicle.” In the world of new cars it breaks down to buying or leasing. Straub always explains all options. “This is why it is so important to get a good feel for how the car is being used. Leasing has gotten easier and much more available. If a driver intends to keep their car for less than four years and has a good idea of their annual mileage, we can write a lease that will make sense.” If you don’t fit the leasing parameters, he explains, then buying is likely a better option.
Used and pre-owned
“Budget is a consideration,” says Straub. “In many cases this will put the buyer into a certified pre-owned or used vehicle.” The basic difference is that certified pre-owned goes through a rigorous dealership inspection and may, depending on the age of the vehicle, extend the bumper-to-bumper warranty.
Mechanics of trust
Once you have passed beyond that certification and into the used car arena, a second consideration comes into play: the mechanic. “Nothing reduces stress in the world of driving like trusting your mechanic,” says Roger Davenport, owner of K&R Auto Repair in Sylvania. “Cars today are complicated, which is why my mechanics and I obtain so many certifications. When you are spending that much money on something that you may not understand, trusting the person who is doing the work is everything.” If you are buying a car outside of a dealership or direct from an individual seller, Davenport recommends taking it to a certified mechanic for inspection. “We look at everything but the first thing we look for is rust. There is nothing anyone can do about long-term rust. A good mechanic will tell you what they can see on the horizon, including basic things like tires. “There Is nothing more upsetting and, frankly harder to deal with, than when I get a recently purchased a used car with issues that could have been detected. An inspection cannot, of course, eliminate all surprises but we can rule out quite a few,” Davenport says.
Financing is one of the most difficult issues in car purchasing. According to WalletHub.com financing through dealerships is one of your best options, with credit unions coming in second. Credit falls into play along with insurance costs on financed vehicles. However, both financing and leasing are necessary in today’s market, as the average cost of a new vehicle tops $34,000. Regardless of the type, place, make or model of your vehicle, it all comes down to budget. It is not enough to simply understand your “payment.” Before you sign any paperwork it is best to fully understand what you are signing. The more transparent the institution or dealership is with its certifications, financial partners, and, above all, customer satisfaction ratings, the better.