If you're a recent college graduate, you might be thinking of buying a vehicle. Shopping for a new or used car can be fun, but can also be a little intimidating. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you embark upon your car-shopping adventure.
What’s your budget? The first step to smart car shopping is setting a budget for yourself — and if post-grad life is the first time you’re away from home and supporting yourself, this could be a new concept. To make sure you aren’t spending more than you make (and thus racking up debt), you want to take careful stock of what all of your expenses are and consider how much cash you have to spare to spend on a car. Though you may be tempted by models out of your price range with all the latest features, you should set a budget before you start shopping and be sure to stick to it.
What will a car cost? When you’re setting your budget, it’s important to remember that a car will cost you more than just the sticker price. You’ll also have to insure it, pay for gas, pay for maintenance, and pay for repairs. Costs for all of these can vary depending on make and model — some will recommend using higher quality fuel, others will have higher repair costs and thus higher insurance rates — so be sure to keep that in mind when you’re shopping.
Before you make a final decision, it’s a good idea to check with your insurance company about what it will cost as well as doing some research on repair and maintenance costs for that particular model.
Can you get a deal? Many car dealerships offer discounts or other incentives to encourage recent grads to buy. If you’re buying a new vehicle, be sure to keep any potential discounts in mind as you weigh the cost.
Do your research in advance Once you’ve figured out how much you can afford, it’s time to start looking at models. Whatever you need a vehicle for, you’ll want something that suits your needs. If you’re commuting to work every day, you may want something with good gas mileage (or a hybrid) to keep your ongoing costs down. When you find a model you’re happy with, be sure to check for similar models from other manufacturers — many make cars in the same class and prices can vary wildly between manufacturers.
Can’t afford new? Buy used! Though you may want to buy a brand new car with all the bells and whistles, a slightly older vehicle may fit your pocketbook more easily. Most cars depreciate rapidly, meaning their value drops the moment you drive them off the lot. Though that’s bad news for new car owners who want to protect their investment, it’s good news for used car buyers who can get a significant discount on cars that are a few years older. When buying used, though, you want to be sure to give the vehicle a thorough inspection to be sure you aren’t getting a lemon.
There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to buying a new or a used car, so be sure to weigh your options and do the math to be sure the vehicle you’re looking at is the vehicle that makes the most sense for you.
How will you finance your car? It can be difficult for recent graduates to finance a new car purchase due to lack of credit history (though a car loan can be a good way to build credit for the future). Still, you may find some financial institutions, dealers, and even manufacturers willing to offer special student rates for recent graduates. If you can’t find any deals and are having trouble being approved for a standard loan, talk to your parents about co-signing for you, which can help give your credit the boost it needs.
Whatever you do, take the time to shop around for financing before you decide to make a purchase. Though a dealer will offer their own financing, it won’t necessarily be the best deal — but you won’t know that unless you’ve taken the time to compare offers and check rates on auto loans from different lenders.