Need New Car? Here’s the Car Buying Checklist You Need

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Yes, buying a new car is stressful. Even more so if you’re a woman.

As if the process wasn’t intimidating enough. I get it, trust me. And that’s why you have to walk into that car dealer prepared and armed with the right knowledge. Keep reading, we’ve got the car buying checklist you need. You’ve got this, girl!

Related: Wonder how car dealers make their money?

2020 Nissan Sentra

Photo: Dawn Gibson-Thigpen

Simple and to the Point

Aside from buying a home, buying a car is one of life’s major purchases. But let’s keep it simple and to the point, as we like it. Being equipped with the right information will make you a smarter and happier shopper.

Related: Yes, You Can Buy A Car At Costco, And Here’s How to Get the Best Deal

Yes, Ma’am. You Can Do This

This first step to buying a car is to realize that you don’t need anyone’s help to make this happen. You’ve probably been buying stuff all your life. You might even consider yourself an A+ shopper. Don’t make this different just because the thing you’re buying has four wheels and a motor.

I’ve planned my visit to a car dealership around a guy’s availability. As a single woman, I was afraid to go into a car dealership without “some guy who knew about cars” because everyone knows car salesmen take advantage of us poor damsels who don’t understand words like torque and suspension.

I’ve stood by and watched a car salesman only make eye contact with my coworker’s husband as the two of them had a conversation about what features needed to be the car was buying with my money that earned.

I’m not in that place any longer and you don’t want to be in that place. You can do this. Keep reading.

Car Buying Mistakes

Photo: Shutterstock

Plan Your Car Buying Before it Comes Urgent

Sometimes, life has a way of interfering with these plans but try to put yourself in the position where you are proactive in your car buying versus reactive.

We recently traded in our 2003 Hyundai Santa Fe for a new model. Our 2003 was a great car and it served us well for a lot of years. However, during the last five years of ownership, it began to have problems and the minor repairs to keep it on the road started to add up.

My husband and I agreed to make one last repair and start car shopping. Since we were not in a situation where we needed transportation, this eliminated the “gotta buy it now or else” mentality that had driven our first few car purchases as a couple.

Related: Why Your Car Shopping Should Be Done at an Auto Show

Car Buying Research

Check Your Credit Score

Even if you’re going into car buying with the “I don’t have good credit and I know I’m going to have to suck up some less-than-desirable financing terms,” still check your credit score especially if you’re going to use dealer financing. The “Oh gee, I’m not sure exactly what my credit score is…oh, is that 580 score bad?” line is going to make you look like you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re setting yourself up to get taken advantage of all around.

Even if it’s ugly, know that credit score and clear off any inaccuracies before you begin your car buying journey in earnest.

Determine your Budget

How much can you spend on a car? It’s best to have an overall dollar amount in mind as well as what ballpark you want your car payment to be each month.

When determining your car buying budget, have a range of spend in mind. This will give you more flexibility and buying power when you’re deciding what to buy.

Related: How to Negotiate a New Car Deal: 10 Ways to Tip the Odds in Your Favor

Girls Night Out Chicago Auto Show - Going To An Auto Show Is One Of The Items On Our Car Buying Checklist

Photo: A Girls Guide to Cars

Go to an Auto Show

I personally think every female consumer needs to go to an auto show at least once every two to three years. If you do this, you’ll have an idea of what is out there, how much costs and what features are available on the new models. Plus, you can browse all the cars you want without the pressure of a car salesperson.

An auto show will give you the opportunity to look, touch, and sit in the cars. You can ask questions of the brand reps present on the show floor who are NOT trying to sell you a car. This is a great place to learn and the price of admission to an auto show pays for itself when it comes to the car buying know how you’ll gain.

Do. Your. Homework.

Research different models and see how they rack and stack with the features that are important to you. Do you need third-row seating? Is off-road capability important to you? Are you going to travel in this car? Is storage space something you need a lot of?

If you know you want a mid-size SUV, research mid-size SUVs across the different auto brands. What’s the big difference between the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Toyota Highlander? Pricing is going to be a big determining factor but compares the list of features across the brands. Get an idea of what’s available and what is a “gotta have it” for you.

Buying A New Car (Like This Red Acura?) Check Out Our Car Buying Checklist.

Photo: Jill Robbins

Three Little Words: Vehicle History Report

If you are buying a used car, make sure you get (and read!) the vehicle history report. This is exactly what it sounds like. Think of it as a background check for your car.

The vehicle history report will give you information such as title history – how many times it has changed owners and whether it has been in any accidents. You can also get information on what the odometer reading should be and information on the car’s maintenance history. Your car dealership or lender should provide this. If not, you can order them on your own from sites like Carfax or AutoCheck.

Know What You Want

It’s OK to have an answer like “the car has to look good.” Obviously, there’s got to be more to the answer but it’s OK to want to love the way your car looks or even to have a car of a certain color. A car is something you use daily and you want to be happy when you look at it and not think something like “Ugh, that gawd awful brown” every time go get in your car to go to work.

Seasonal things or lifestyle things might factor in. A buyer living in Texas might place importance on a separate rear seat vent (because boy does it ever get hot here) and a buyer living up North might want heated seats Wnd mirrors.

Know what is important to you and know what models have those features. Yes, this level of research takes time but it will pay off in the end.

Get Financing Pre-approval

Having financing locked in will make you a more empowered car buyer. Talk to your bank, credit union or an auto finance company program Capital One. That said, don’t rule out dealer financing. Sometimes, they have better incentives than what your bank or credit union will offer.

Compare Car Ratings

Compare safety ratings and prices across different models. Compare things like maintenance costs and how much it costs to replace tires. Consumer Reports is a great tool.

But, don’t discount the super-scientific method of Facebook polling. Once you’ve decided what you’re interested in, ask your Facebook circle. You’ll get a ton of information and opinions to consider.

Know What You Want When You Walk Into a Dealership

Before you set one foot into a car dealership, know what you want and how much you want to pay. We went into a Hyundai dealership to buy a certain model – which we’d thoroughly researched and agreed on.

Then we saw the 2020 Iron Man Edition Kona. It was completely impractical for us in all ways. It didn’t have enough room and it had specialized custom paint that required hand washing. But, it was COOL and we love anything Marvel! It temporarily swayed us because of the cool factor. Fortunately, we stayed our course.

I’m not saying you can’t change your mind. But if you go into a car dealership not knowing what you want, you’re not going to make the best purchase. And, if you get distracted by something like “OMG I didn’t know I needed THAT but now that I’ve seen it, I NEED it” go back to square one. Leave the dealership and crunch the numbers and do the research. Then go back, armed with info.

Know the Value Your Trade-In

Again, this is going to require a little bit of research on your park. Knowing the Kelley Blue Book or NADA value of your car is a great starting point. Walk into the dealer with a solid idea of what you expect to get for your trade-in.

Also, consider selling your old car outright. If you think you can make a better deal for yourself by handling that part of the transaction independently of your new car purchase, why not? Just be sure to factor in any costs associated with being without a car for a short period of time. If you’re a two car household and you can suck it up for a couple of weeks and save a few hundred dollars, consider it.

Shut Up and Drive

Do a proper test drive. Don’t let the dealer dictate what you want in a test drive.

Want to test your prospective car’s limits on the highway? Do it. In town driving? Take your time.

The bottom line, this is your prospective new car. Don’t consider whether or not you’re wasting the car dealer rep’s time. Do your very best to simulate how you’re going to use your new car on a test drive.

Blonde Woman In Front Seat Shows How Women Can Be Smart About Car Buying

Remember, YOU are in the driver’s seat. Your purchase, your money, YOU are in charge. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Don’t Be Afraid to Walk Out

A car dealership isn’t doing you any favors by selling you a car or giving you a good deal on a car. A really great sales person might give the illusion that they’re doing you a solid or putting themselves into an undesirable position by giving you such a great deal and…well, that is their job.

There are other car dealerships and the deal and the car you’ve got your eye on isn’t the only game in town. If at any point in the negotiations or car buying process you think things aren’t swinging in your favor or in your best interest, don’t be afraid to leave and go somewhere else. Or to leave and think things over. Of course, the dealership is going to do everything in their power to convince you not to leave before committing to a purchase. Again, that is their job and only you are operating with your best interest in mind.

We had an advertised “Zero percent financing” turn into “Oh, but not for that model” once we were down to the final details of dealer financing. We have nearly perfect credit and we’d chosen that dealership because of their heavy advertisement of zero percent financing. We walked.

Consider Alternates to Car Dealerships

I’ve had many friends recommend Carmax, Carvana or buying a car through Costco. I don’t have personal experience with these car-buying venues. Consider checking these options out but, of course, do your research.

Black History Month

Photo: Canva

The Most Important Item on Your Car Buying Checklist: Never Forget Who’s in Charge

YOU are! It’s your money and your time. You’re not required to be on anyone else’s timetable except your own.

You get to not only ask the questions but you get to demand the answers. If you need to take a day or a week to consider whether this is the right purchase or the right way to proceed for you, don’t let anyone else pressure you into going at a different speed.

Remember, there are lots of cars out there. Take the time and find the one that is right for you.

Does Car Buying Still Stress You Out?

Think of car buying like any other big project. Be methodical about it and thoroughly follow all the steps in this car buying checklist. Taking the time to thoroughly research and consider all your options and not being in a hurry to make a purchase are big keys to your car buying success.

You got this!

Need A Car Buying Checklist? We'Ve Got You Covered.

Car Shopping

Need a new car? Whether shopping for a new car or a used car we recommend using our car shopping service

Tire Shopping

Need new tires? We recommend Tire Rack

Car Repair

Need to get your car repaired? We recommend Repair Pal. Exclusively just for Girls Guide to Cars readers, call (877) 323-1708 to speak to RepairPal Car Genius for FREE automotive repair advice and if needed to find the right shop for you!

Jill is the oldest mom with the youngest kids pretty much everywhere she goes. She has a 29-year-old daughter... More about Jill Robbins