Shopping for a new car can feel daunting and stressful, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

The remedy for these feelings includes research, list making, test driving and wheeling and dealing with the car dealer.

Here’s my 8-step guide to buying a new car (especially if it is your first!) with confidence:


Step 1 – Do some research 

Prepare to spend hours educating yourself on the segment (i.e. sub-compact, SUV, minivan) that best suits your needs and which automaker makes what model in the category. Once you have this knowledge under your belt, car shopping becomes a game of compare-and contrast.

So do your homework! However many hours you devote, it will be a drop in the bucket compared to the time it took you to earn the money you’re about to spend, on a product you can’t really return.



Step 2 – Make a List 

List the needs the vehicle must fulfill. How many people will it need to move?  How much cargo?

Should it have a high stance, for easy entry and exit? Does it need a 3rd row for little kids?

Now stick to your list!

Because adding an item here and a package there adds up quickly. Buying a car without sticking to your list is like grocery shopping when you’re hungry. Except with more zeros.


Step 3  – Do more Research 

Comb a variety of sources while looking for a common thread.  Study reviews, blogs, newspapers and TV reviews to see if you keep coming across, “the Kericar is great, except for this one thing…” That might be a sign to move on.

When it comes to schooling yourself on pros and cons, Kelly Blue Book and Edmunds are great, free resources.

Lastly, car guys _love_ forums.  Don’t be shy to ask a question! Be brief and exact, and you’ll probably get a great response.


Step 4 – Narrow down your choices to 3 vehicles 

Now take all you’ve learned, and narrow your shopping list to 3 different vehicles, ideally from different manufacturers.

This is your test drive list.



Step 5 – Test drive three cars

Conduct the three tests back to back, so the road and weather conditions are consistent.

If you travel every morning with a giant coffee, bring it.  If it’s essential that two sets of golf clubs fit in the trunk, there’s only one way to know for sure. Where will a big purse be stored, and will it tip over while cornering?

If you can, test it on both city and highway roads. Also, take it to a parking lot to test the rearview camera, and try folding the rear seats flat.

Bring a pad and pen to take notes of your impressions, because they’ll soon become hazy in your memory.

It’s okay to return for a second test drive too. Don’t be shy: it’s a big decision!


Step 6 – Choose the trim level  

You’ve now picked one of the three vehicles, it’s time to choose which trim to buy.

Vehicles usually come in four trim levels, denoted by some confusing acronym like Kericar GL, GX, GLX, and GSX.  The higher the trim level, the more features in the car.

For example, GL would be the “base model” and GSX would be “fully loaded.”

A vehicle’s best value is usually found in the second trim.

Think of the top trim like an extensive kitchen renovation – granite countertops and stainless steel appliances are nice, but not a guarantee of recouping your investment when you sell the house.


Step 7 – Talk to the dealer

All that research you conducted?  Bring it with you, and start the negotiation off strongly by demonstrating you’re prepared and educated.

Stick to your list!

The excitement will start to kick in, and if the salesperson’s doing their job, they’re heightening that excitement. It will seem necessary to abandon your list, and the new car smell will intoxicate you.

This is how buyers end up in a vehicle stuffed with features they’ll never use, but pay for monthly.

Be firm. Be resolute. Be willing to walk away. Listen to your gut.

And always remember: the novelty wears off long before the payments.


Step 8 – Choose How to Pay 

Lease: pay a monthly fee, give the car back when the lease is up.

Finance: pay a monthly fee, keep the car and own it. It’s like the dealership is loaning you the money, like a bank.

Ask your bank and accountant which model best fits your income and needs.

Congratulations on your new car!

You get to buy a new car maybe a couple of times in your life, so enjoy the experience.  And let me know what you buy!