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How to Prepare Prior to Visiting a Car Dealership

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Four Things to Do Before You Go Check Out a Car in Person

When it comes to buying a new or used vehicle, the process isn’t exactly easy. In fact, sometimes it can be downright stressful. However, there are ways to simplify the car buying process if you do your homework beforehand and know the right questions to ask – both about yourself as a buyer and the dealership as a seller. If you’re thinking about purchasing a new or used vehicle in the near future, here are the steps that you need to take to make sure that you’re adequately prepared before stepping onto the lot.

Related: Ongoing Expenses To Think About When Buying a New Car

Step #1 – Research Cars Online

Thankfully, the internet has made shopping for cars a breeze. No longer do you have to step onto a car lot and aimlessly wander around hoping to come across your dream vehicle. You can do the majority of the legwork right from the comfort of your own home from your computer or smartphone, and we highly encourage this because it’ll cut down on your overall shopping process.

The best way to start out is to determine an overall budget that you have set aside for the vehicle. Most car-buying websites will allow you to set that range in the search criteria. After that, you can narrow your search down even further by the type of vehicle (compact, sedan, SUV, truck, etc.) and vehicle attributes (color, drivetrain, features, etc.). Ideally, you want to get your search down to about two or three cars that you feel meet your needs and fit within your established budget.

The dealership is obviously going to provide information about all the cars you’re looking at, but it behooves you to take things a step further and research the specific year, make, and model of the cars you’re looking at. Pay attention to things like customer ratings and if the car has any common problems that customers are complaining about. The situation you want to avoid is having those problems become your problems, so do your homework and research any cars you’re keen on purchasing thoroughly.

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Step #2 – Research the Dealership

Let’s say that you’ve found one or two cars that look great. You’ve done all the required research on the car and everything looks good so far, but your research process isn’t over just yet. Now you need to look into the dealership. After all, this is what is ultimately going to determine how smoothly your car buying process is going to go. Check the dealership’s star rating and actually take the time to read the customer reviews. If you see customers complaining about cars malfunctioning within days of buying them or bait and switch tactics – back off and look elsewhere. There are sure to be plenty of other dealerships in your area that provide a pleasant car-buying experience. In fact, some buyers research the dealership as their first step so they know the experience will be stress-free and easy.

Step #3 – Figure Out Your Down Payment and Know Your Trade-In Value

There are two major bargaining chips that you’re going to come to the table with when buying a car. The first is down payment money – the more the better. Having down payment money means that you’re not going to require as much for the financing portion, so try to save up if you can. You’ll get hit with less interest in the long run.

The second bargaining chip you’ll have is your trade-in. You can either have the dealership determine the value for you, but that means you’re taking their word for it. What we recommend is taking the time to determine the value of the car yourself with Kelly Blue Book. This is a highly reputable site in which you’ll enter in all pertinent information about the car (mileage, features, damage, defects, etc.) and it will provide you with a dollar amount of the car’s value. Again, the dealership will likely do the same thing, but you should do the work yourself to ensure you don’t get taken advantage of. Print off this report and have it with you when you visit the dealership. It shows the salesperson that you’ve done your homework and that you’re prepared.

Related: How to Protect Yourself From Auto Insurance Fraud

Step #4 – Arrange Your Own Financing

Most dealerships have arrangements made with lenders so that buyers can secure financing, however, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get the best deal on interest rate and term. When it comes to purchasing a new or used vehicle, it actually makes more sense to go to your own bank or credit union beforehand to arrange your financing. Chances are, because you have an established history with them already, they may be more inclined to provide you with more favorable loan terms compared to if you went through the dealership’s lender.

Provide all the information that you have regarding the approximate amount of the loan that you’re going to need (surcharges and fees included) and have them draw you up a preapproval letter that you can take to the dealership. This is also your opportunity to review your credit report with your bank or credit union.

Start Shopping for Your New or Used Vehicle Today!

Now that you know how to prepare to visit a car dealership, all that’s left is for you to start the shopping process by looking online. The best way to get started is by searching the terms “used cars near me” or “used car dealerships near me.” That will give you a wide selection of new and used vehicles for you to peruse so that you can begin narrowing down your search. You can also begin to narrow down which car dealerships you want to work with based upon their star rating and reviews.