After dreaming about it for years, praying for patience, plastering it all over my vision board, working hard to save & increase my credit score – I can finally say it.
You guys! I bought my first car!! A 2020 Toyota Camry XSE – woohoo!
This may not seem like a big deal to others, but it was a huge milestone for me & I couldn’t be more proud of myself.
So a little back story…
10 years ago, my parents surprised me with my first car. A brand spanking new 2012 Ford Focus. And although I was immensely grateful – it just never felt like mine. I knew how blessed I was to have parents who could afford to do that for me (especially because I was absolutely not in a position to purchase a car myself back then) but there’s something special about being able to do it for yourself. Or maybe that’s just the independence in me talking lol.
My Focus was great. But over time, it started to have problems & recalls. Not to mention, once I became a mother of two, it no longer suited all three of us. I needed something bigger, more reliable, and well… cuter lol.
I knew that in order to do this I would need to save & work on my credit. It took some time & a whole lot of patience. There were so many times when I wanted to just say FUCK IT & go buy a car that day. Ultimately, I knew I had to be ready. I had never purchased anything this big or had a car payment. I told myself I would keep saving and working on my credit until my car either completely gave up on me or there came a point where the cost to fix the car was more than it’s worth.
Well March 2020, that time came. I had already put $1,000 into the car the month prior so that it could pass emissions. Then I ended up having transmission issues that were more than triple what my car was worth.
Even though I was excited to kiss my little Focus goodbye I was also nervous because I had no clue how to even go about buying a car. Plus, I’d always heard horror stories about car salesmen being pushy and ripping you off. All I could picture was Harry Wormwood.
Anyone who knows me knows I google EVERYTHING. So, of course, I ran to the internet & searched “first-time car buying tips.” They had a few articles that popped up but they either came from car dealerships or finance companies who sounded like they were just trying to make a sale. And although I’m sure they are credible, I really wanted to read something from an actual person. Someone who was willing to share their experience & what they learned along the way to help first-timers like me.
I couldn’t find anything like that so I decided to be that person. So here I am, sharing 11 tips I learned during my car buying experience to hopefully help prepare you for yours. Good luck & happy car buying!
Before I get into this post, I want you all to know that I am not a financial advisor & I am definitely NOT a car buying expert. I’m just a blogger sharing some things I learned to potentially help someone out there who is just as lost as I was.
Tip #1: Know your credit score beforehand
Unless you are buying your new ride in cash, your credit is going to play a major role when buying a car. Knowing your credit score beforehand will give you a general idea of how much you’ll get approved for & what your interest rate will look like. Or, it may be a great reminder that you need to fix a few things to help raise your score before you actually make the purchase.
Oh, and FYI – creditkarma.com is not 100% accurate. Who knew?! I learned this the hard way. I was so shocked when I found out my actual credit score. It wasn’t a HUGE difference but enough to catch me off guard. The best way to find out your true credit score is from annualcreditreport.com. There you can request a free copy once per year from each of the three credit reporting companies.
Also, side note, I highly recommend you know your own score because some car dealerships will try and deceive you. This brings me to tip #2…
Tip #2: SAVE!!
If you have some time to prepare before you need to purchase a car, SAVE!!!!! I can’t stress this enough. I had been preparing for this purchase for close to two years. Each month, I pretended like I had a car payment & put that money into savings. Because of this, I was able to put down a bigger down payment and trade my Ford Focus in which lowered my monthly payments. Acting like I had a car payment before I actually had one also helped prepare my mindset for the additional expense.
Tip #3: Get a preapproval & financed through a bank
The first time I went into the dealership, I let them pre-approve me through their lenders. They came back with really high-interest rates & I’m pretty sure they lied to me about my credit score. Before I went back, I got a preapproval from my bank instead and it was MUCH lower than the rate the dealership was trying to give me. Dealerships are known for scamming their customers – especially first-time car buyers. This is why I recommend getting a preapproval before you step foot on the lot. When you walk in let them know you already have preapproval and you don’t need them to check your credit.
Storytime: When I went back to the dealership for the second time & I let them know I would not be using their lender because I got approved with my bank at a much lower rate. They suddenly decided they could offer me a lower interest rate. How convenient! Once I did the math it was only going to save me roughly $3/month. I’m big on honesty so I declined their lender. I’d rather pay a little more and stay with someone who didn’t initially try to rip me off.
Tip #4: Do your research
I had my eyes set on a Jeep Wrangler. It was my dream car. I had it on my vision board and my Pinterest board so you know it was serious lol. I even followed a Jeep Wrangler account on Instagram and shared pictures of the most badass Jeeps to my story. Every time I drove past a Wrangler, even the kids knew, “that’s mommy’s favorite car!” I had never driven one before but I just knew I wanted one.
But sometimes what you want, is not what you actually need.
When it came time to buy a car I did some research & found out that Wranglers were not the best family car. As a mom of two & a fur baby – I needed something designed for families.
I say all that to say, before buying a car, ask yourself what’s the most important quality for you. Is it reliability? Safety? Comfort? Cost? Appearance/style? Then do some research and find out which car brands are the best option for you.
Tip #5: Estimate the total cost of the car
A car payment isn’t the only expense you should consider when purchasing a new car. You also have to think about the cost of insurance, maintenance, gas, etc. Because my Ford Focus was paid off, I was only required to have liability insurance which was super cheap. But when you are financing a car, lenders will require you to carry full coverage insurance. I recommend calling different insurance agencies to get an estimate based on the car that you want. It also wouldn’t hurt to find out the average cost of new tires, oil changes, and gas so you know what to be prepared for. The cost of my tires increased by $80 (per tire), and both my gas and insurance doubled.
Tip #6: Bring a wingman (or woman, of course)
Having someone with you when you are buying a car is a game-changer – especially when it’s your first time. The more knowledgeable they are about cars, negotiating, and asking the right questions the better. I brought my dad along with me and I couldn’t thank him enough. He understood the terminology and didn’t let them bullshit me. He also helped me negotiate and rationalize when I wanted to walk out the door with the first car I saw lol.
Tip #7: Take the car for a spin
Just because you like the way the car looks doesn’t mean you will like the way it drives. You want to make sure you feel comfortable behind the wheel and that you know how to operate it (at least the important parts because I am still learning new features about my car). I test drove my car & loved everything about it. It was comfortable, the visibility was great, it was smooth and I felt like a million bucks!
Tip #8: Ask for the car facts/history (used cars only)
This applies to used cars only. They should give this to you at the dealership, but make sure you ask just in case. When shopping for a used car it’s important to make sure you identify any potential problem areas before you buy. You want to know the number of previous owners, if the car had been in any accidents, etc.
Tip #9: Don’t make any rash decisions
The first time I went into the dealership I immediately fell in love with the first car I saw. It was everything I wanted and more. However, it was a little out of my budget. I wanted to walk out of the dealership that day with the car but my dad talked me out of it. He told me to think about it since it was not in my price range.
I went back a few days later ready to make the purchase but the car was gone. I was super bummed but the salesman that we were working with happened to show me another car that just came in that day. It was the same model as the car I originally wanted but cheaper, with fewer miles and a fire-ass red interior. Sold! I am so glad that I waited a few days because I got a much better deal and car in the end. Don’t be in a rush. Take your time if you can & explore your options. If you find a car you love, wait a day or two, and if you’re still thinking about it then go back and get it. If it’s gone that’s because there’s something better out there for you!
Tip #10: Always negotiate
Never pay the asking price. Even if it’s in your price range. Always ask them to go lower & ask more than once. From my experience, they can & will go lower. It was super nerve-racking at first but I was actually able to negotiate about $2000 off their asking price which was super exciting!
Tip #11: Don’t make any plans the day you buy
Who knew buying a car could be such a long process? I have never signed so many documents in my life. It took up more than half of my day so make sure you don’t have any other commitments.