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How To: Buy A Car Without Losing Your Cool

Man in car being handed car keys

November 12, 2019 Topic: How To

Car shopping: exciting or terrifying? Truthfully, it can be a little bit of both. If you’re lucky, you know exactly what you want and where to find the best deal. But if you’re like most people, you don’t even know where to begin. The internet is a great place to start your car search, but the resources available are exponentially endless, and the resources of value are buried below useless information.

Luckily, reliable websites like Edmunds are dedicated to sharing everything you could ever want or need to know about vehicles. They’ve even broken it down into a few easy steps for you to follow.


The best place to start is choosing the features you want and determining which vehicles have them. Be sure to read reviews from experts and owners.

Car Loan

If you’re able to purchase your new vehicle with cash, lucky you! You can move on to Step 3. If you’re going to need financing for your vehicle, the next step is getting pre-approved for a car loan. Preapproval gives you an idea of what you can spend on your new car, also helping you finalize your decision. You’ll want to complete this task when you’re within two weeks of being ready to purchase, otherwise, you’ll have multiple hard inquiries on your credit history.

There are several places to find loan applications; you can check your bank or credit union’s website or third party lenders, and then compare to the dealership’s financing options. To begin the preapproval process, you’ll need to have your employer and salary information on hand, as well as any debt you’re already carrying.


If this is your first purchase, or you won’t be trading in an older vehicle, move on to Step 4. Before you go into the dealership, you’ll want to have your trade-in value established. There are a number of factors used to determine your trade-in value, and it will likely fluctuate from place to place, but establishing an estimate of what your current car is worth will help you set realistic expectations. You can do this online at places like or Some dealership websites may also offer online forms you can fill out.

An alternate solution to trading in your car is to sell it yourself. You can have your vehicle appraised by places like CarMax.


It’s likely that you’ve narrowed down your search to a few similar models. You’ll want to look at each of these cars and take them each for a test-drive. You can check the inventory on dealership websites before you arrive, but it’s also a good idea to call ahead and make sure it has not recently been sold.

Ask the salesperson if there are any dealer-installed options. Add-ons such as all-weather floor mats or theft-protection packages can easily add up in price.

It’s a good idea to make an appointment for your test drive, and if possible, choose a time earlier in the week and/or in the morning when the dealership is likely to be less busy.

Price & Warranties

You’ve made your final selection and you’re ready to buy! There are two great ways to get a price quote on the vehicle you’ve chosen.

  1. Call, text or email the internet sales department of three dealerships that have the car you want. Ask each for a total selling price, including additional accessories that may already be installed in the car. You’ll have three competitive prices for you to choose from, and you can also take the best quote to other dealerships to see if they will be willing to beat it. This is also a great way to go if you plan to lease.
  2. Websites like can give you a locked-in price based on what other people are paying for that same car in your area. Be sure to ask the dealership salesperson to provide you a written breakdown of the out-the-door price, including all fees and taxes.

Now is a great time to speak with your dealership about any products or services they may offer once you’ve purchased your car. These might include paint protection, maintenance plans or extended warranties.


Once you’ve decided that the price, financing, and fees look right, it’s time to finalize your purchase. You can either purchase your new car at the dealership or have it and the paperwork delivered to your home. Whichever you choose, be sure to carefully review your contract and make sure all numbers match the out-the-door breakdown you were given.