To Car Shopping

For those that know me, they can tell you that my addiction to new car smell runs deeper than any soda, sugary candy or carbo-loaded snack. Last spring, I purchased my fourth car — the third straight off the lot, brand new. Before you whip out those Shannon Beador judgy-eyes, know that I am one-hundred percent aware of the depreciation that happens as soon as you start the engine. 

I know, it's probably not the wisest (or most economical) decision that I've made... repeatedly; but you know what? I feel that I work my ass off, and if I'm commuting ninety miles a day — my butt's going to be wedged in some fancy leather bucket seats in a car that I want. So there. Also, for having as much love for automobiles as I do, you'd be surprised how much they hate me. A detailed write up of my love-hate relationship for the VW brand at another time. 

Why should I care?

Sorry, rant over — Congratulations! You're going to buy a new car! It's an exciting time in anyone's life — but especially for you, my twenty-something millennial. You may have slaved away in that retail job, got a signing bonus on your new corporate gig or even saved your way to this point — whichever way you did it, give yourself a pat on the back for making it happen. I'm most likely going to mention a thing or two that you may not have thought of, but don't worry, this post features built-in Xanax. 😘

Here are my 7 tips for car shopping like a pro:

Know your financial situation (DON'T JUST GUESS)

When it comes to a loan of any sort, your credit is going to have to be in order. It's wise to download an app, such as Credit Karma, so that you know what your credit score (and report) look like prior to applying for a loan. Your credit will affect factors such as loan eligibility, interest rate and likely, and even how much time you'll be sitting in the dealership. 

In addition to using the knowledge of your score as a bargaining chip in negotiations, you can even use it to leverage a better interest rate with loan pre-approvals. If you're aiming for a pre-approved loan from a financial institution outside of the dealership, speak with a lender from your local bank branch, credit union or even your credit card company. Bank-backed auto loans are extremely common, credit unions typically have the best rates and credit card companies love giving out money. Scope out the one that feels best to you. 

Consider the time of month (and year)

Car dealerships are like traffic cops — except opposite. (Same-same, but different - for those that saw The Interview) Essentially, they both have quotas — but rather than screwing you over and giving you a ticket to hit said quota, car salesmen are more apt to giving you a better deal at the closeout of a month, quarter or year. It's also wise to think about holidays that fit into these time periods, as dealerships usually offer extra incentives.

Another thing to consider — outgoing model years are usually priced better than the newer model. Typically, the following year's model will hit the showroom in the fall (on some occasions, however, this will be earlier in the year.) If the outgoing model is everything that you want and more, there's no shame in the buying-game to get a better deal. 

Check out dealer websites prior to visiting

This is a biggie guys — always shop a quote before visiting the dealer. Yes, you're likely going to be added to an email list that receives numerous mailers — but you never know what deal you'll find online. While visiting dealer websites, check out the current offers section — it's here that you'll find special interest offers, internet-only deals and a little information about your salesperson.

Some dealerships will even try to one-up another, so do your research ahead of time. I urge you to even expand your search area — you may end up traveling a hundred miles — but if you save $1,000 (or even $500) off MSRP, isn't it worth it? That'll pay for your tint job — or your Wine of the Month Club for the year. 

Utilize online tools

While you're online — hit up these two websites: KBB is going to be a lifesaver when it comes to appraising your vehicle (whether you sell privately or trade-in at the dealership.) Note though, that even the price quoted for dealer trade-in will not likely be met. That being said, most dealers will get you close to that amount. Be sure to clean up your car, maybe pay a little extra cash for the hand-wash before trade-in and you'll likely get a higher amount. This tool honestly saved me THOUSANDS on this car. Don't tell the dealership, but it was actually the salesperson that showed it to me. You basically outfit the make, model and trim of the car you're looking to buy (all the options too) and it shows what other people paid for the same car. I think this shaved about $3,000 off MSRP when I bought my car. It's worth the five minutes, trust me. Just print out the sheet and show the dealer once you've started talking numbers. 

Negotiate add-ons

This is another area that's often overlooked — the accessories! Depending on how kind you are to the salesperson, they may go an extra mile and add-in some accessories or brand swag fo' free! In another car I purchased, they threw in the all-weather rubber floor mats. In this car, I got the roof racks and back-up sensors at no additional cost. I may have bribed the guy with a bottle of Patron; but hey, it was worth spending $40 on a bottle to save $600. The two phrases I feel that I am constantly repeating (that's more fitting in this instance than the bedroom) are: everything is negotiable AND it never hurts to ask. 😏

Don't fall for (ALL) the gimmicks

Some add-ons that dealers push are worth it and others aren't (at least in my opinion.) One that I always splurge on is the extended warranty. I personally love it because I drive about 30,000+ miles a year, so the standard warranty only covers me for about five minutes of drive-time. 

I typically stray from the car washes, details, paint protection or pre-paid service. I actually think the pre-paid service could be nice, but I've never actually taken the bait. If you have, let me know if it's worth it. As far as the others, you can take your car to get clay-barred (or do it yourself) and even purchase a paint protecting film for a decent price. But hey, if you want it all, you do you boo. 

Negotiate your interest rate

Last, but certainly not least — after you've settled on your price, you'll be passed off to someone in finance. You'll want to schmooze this person from the second you walk through their office door. Try to think natural charm, not creepy bar-guy schmooze. This is your new BFF for the next 15-20 minutes and also the person that you'll sign your life away to. 

I had the best finance guy during my last transaction. We bonded over ACDC and I was able to shave off 1.5% off of my interest rate in our short time together. Be upfront with these folks and let them know when something sounds too high. They'll likely ask a dollar amount that you want your payment to be, always shoot lower than your target and meet in the middle. Again, never hurts to ask. (This may be another one to consider on your BevMo trip)


So there you have it kids — you'll have the keys in-hand soon. I hope these tips are helpful when you purchase your new baby. My parting wisdom: make a killer playlist and buy something with a sunroof. There's no better feeling than cruising into the sunset with your favorite song cranking out of the speakers and the wind in your hair. Best of luck — let me know how it all works out! 🚙💨