Paying cash for a car is always your best bet. However, it is not a realistic option for many. If you are shopping for a car and you are going to need to finance it:
(1) Remember when you are in the finance office that the dealer, finance person, and salesperson make money when you purchase things like gap insurance, extended warranties, service contracts, credit life insurance, etc. They do not sell you these things because you need them.
(2) Never fall in love with a car. Be willing to walk away from a deal. Shop around and let the dealer know you are shopping around. Keep your options open.
(3) Be firm. It’s your money! Don’t let a salesperson guilt you into buying a car just because they’ve spent time with you. Don’t let the finance office talk you into contract terms you don’t like or need. In fact, be a total asshole if you need to. It’s better than getting screwed.
(4) Did I mention that gap insurance, service contracts, extended warranties, and credit life insurance are not good purchases?
(5) Know what your trade is worth. Check with NADA or Kelly Blue Book. Sell the car yourself if you don’t get a good offer from the dealer.
(6) Patience pays. Wait for a good deal. Wait until you sell your trade. Wait until the dealer is trying to get rid of last year’s overstock. Wait until the manufacturer gets desperate and offers factory rebates.
(7) Do your research. Check reliability and owner satisfaction ratings from Consumer Reports. Some cars are notoriously unreliable and / or expensive to repair. You may look good driving a 10-year-old 7 series BMW, but can you afford to fix it when it breaks down?
(8) Don’t buy anything from David Stanley. Those guys are pirates. David Stanley may only have 10 percent of the dealerships in City, but more than half the complaints I receive concern his dealerships. Seriously, I wouldn’t say it publicly and risk getting sued for defamation if it wasn’t true.
(9) More research. Find out what other people pay for the same car. Some cars can be purchased with bigger discounts than others. However, sometimes there’s a reason for that. See number 7 above.
(10) If you are a naturally nice person and want people to like you, you are a wonderful person who has a heart and your friends and family probably adore you. And you might be horrible at buying cars. When you go to the car dealership, take a skeptical asshole-type friend with you. Preferably someone who knows something about buying cars. Then thank them afterward for helping you avoid getting screwed.
(11) Know what your credit score is before you enter the dealership, and shop around for interest rates. The dealership gets paid more to stick you with a higher interest rate. Manufacturers often offer very low financing, but only on certain models at certain times of the year. Again, patience pays.
(12) Know your limits. Don’t get talked into buying a more expensive car than you can afford, and don’t get talked into higher payments than you’ve planned for. Keep in mind the cost of insurance, fuel, and maintenance.
I could write a novel on this topic, but these are things that really stick out in my mind. Happy shopping!