Before you buy a new car, make sure to ask yourself these 12 essential questions. They’ll likely save you money, time, and headaches as you’re going through the new car buying process.
A long long time ago in a city far far away, I picked out my very first car. I was 17 and about to go to college. I’d only ever really driven around my little suburb of DC and wanted a car that was cute. My mom talked me into getting something practical as well, but I really just wanted something cute that would fit at least four of my friends. Oh and I wanted a car that was manual, some sort of superiority complex about being able to drive manual when not everyone could.
I was such an idiot.
Or not. Back then, that car was perfect for me. It got me back and forth from school, to work, and even on a handful of last-minute road trips to California. It was the perfect fit for my college self. And it was definitely cute.
Thirteen years later, I still have that car. And just like I’m no longer that college girl just needing to get myself to school and back, that car is no longer the perfect fit. Kind of the opposite actually.
And now we’re on the hunt once again for a car that’s the perfect fit for our life now – married ten years, living in the suburb of a large city, and driving around with at least one car seat in the backseat and a stroller in the trunk.
This time we’re doing things a little differently. Instead of looking for a car that’s cute, we’re looking for the car that’s practical and meets our family’s needs. And bonus if it’s cute.
To narrow down our car buying process, I put together a quiz of 12 questions for my husband and I to answer together. These questions can help you narrow down the hundreds of options out there. Plus, who doesn’t like taking fun quizzes with your significant other? It’s much less embarrassing to be on complete opposite sides of the coin at home discussing these questions than at the dealership trying to be discreet as you try to choose your answer.
12 Questions to Ask When Buying a New Car
Do you want a monthly car payment or are you going to pay cash?
I put this first because really the rest of the questions hinge on this one. If you’re going to pay cash, that might limit your options more so than if you were going to finance a car. We’d originally discussed paying cash for our last car then found out that our financing interest rate was going to be so low that we were better off investing that cash than paying for the car outright. But I know some people don’t want any debt, so start here.
If you do decide that you’re okay with a monthly car payment like we did, make sure that you are qualified to get auto financing. Capital One’s Auto Navigator website (or mobile site) allows you to pre-qualify for auto financing right on the site without impacting your credit at all. It’s easy and can give you the peace of mind that you’re eligible before you actually go shopping.
How much can we afford?
Once you’ve decided if you’re doing cash or credit, sit down and have a frank conversation about your current budget and how much you really can afford. If you’re financing your car, you’ll likely have a payment for 3-5 years, so keep that in mind as you’re coming up with a number. Keep it comfortable, not stretching, and you’ll be fine.
If you’re as clueless about auto financing as I am, hop over to Capital One’s Auto Navigator where you can play with different financing amounts and how much your monthly payment would be depending on term length, car price, etc. It’s super helpful to have concrete ideas of what a car will cost rather than just ballparking it in your head.
How big of a car do you need?
Think about your current family and your expected family. Don’t buy a two-door car if you know that you’re planning to start a family soon or already have a carseat to put in the back seat. And if you have kids that are getting to be elementary school aged, keep in mind you might be the carpool mom or the cool car driving your kids’ friends all over town. I’m not saying you need a minivan, but maybe look at options with a fold down back seat for more space.
And I’m not just talking about people. What stuff do you transport in your car? Do you like to do DIY projects and need room in the trunk for the treasures you pick up on the street? What are you bringing with you and where’s it going to go?
How will you use the car?
Is the car a commuter car that you or your spouse will be driving on highways daily? Is it just going to be used mostly around town? Do you go on a lot of longer road trips with your family? Or are you a soccer mom who’s carpooling kids around your neighborhood?
Write a list of how you’re currently using your car that you’re replacing or how you will use the new car. That’ll help determine the features you need in your car.
Are you tech savvy and want your car to be?
One of the biggest perks of newer cars is all the technology. Compatibility with your phone, safety features telling you when someone’s in your blindspot, and even things like holographic displays in your windshield with your speed so you don’t have to look down. Think about if those types of things really matter to you or if you aren’t ever going to use the bluetooth hookup or built-in navigation system. Definitely helps you narrow down which options are really a perfect fit for your family.
What’s the weather like where you live?
I know this one sounds a little strange but stick with me. If you live somewhere that’s hot most of the year like Phoenix or Texas, you’re going to be more concerned about things like dual air conditioning controls and air circulation. And if you live somewhere that gets really cold in the winter, seat warmers and 4WD may be more important to you, whereas for me in Texas, I couldn’t care less about seat warmers. Now seat coolers, I’m in.
Do you go on a lot of road trips?
I mentioned this briefly in #5, but it really deserves its own line. If your car will be used for a lot of road trips, think about things like actual outlets in the cars (to keep your kids plugged in), seats with a bit more leg room or that recline, a trunk that has room for suitcases, a radio/music display that’s easy to navigate, etc. If you’re mostly using your car for commuting to and from work, those things probably don’t matter as much.
What type of body style are you looking for?
Typically you either want one of three things – a five seat sedan, a truck, or something bigger. If you only need seats for five people, a sedan could be a great choice. If you need seven, forget the sedan and decide whether you want a crossover/small SUV, a full-size SUV, or a minivan. If you aren’t sure what the options are, there’s a full list on the Capital One Auto Navigator site.
I personally know that I hate driving full-size SUVs and minivans. I’m just so short that driving a large car like that gives me more blindspots than I’d like. Our small SUV is perfect for now, and once we have more kids, we’ll probably look at getting a crossover that has the third row option in the back to give us seven seats when we need it. So figure out what you like and go down that path looking for your new car.
New or used?
This one is likely dependent on how much you can afford and how up to date do you want the features. If you can afford to buy something brand new, go for it. But buying something that’s a couple of years old OR something that’s 15 years old is fine too. It’s all about what you can afford, what you need in a car, and how long you want your car to last. If you buy a 15 year old car, obviously it’s not going to last nearly as long as a brand new 2017 version.
What are my options?
This is where I would put together all of the information you have already and do your internet research. Look at what cars are available that could possibly be your family’s perfect fit in terms of size, technology, temperature, price, and features. Put together a list or spreadsheet of all of the options that work, and I recommend looking at and test driving them all. There have been so many car advances lately that it’s hard to knock something off the list just because of a brand name or a review on some site. It’s all about what works for you and your family.
Once you have your list of possible options, finish asking yourself these questions.
Who do you want to buy from?
Some people don’t like being fed sales pitch after sales pitch at a dealership, especially if you’re buying a used car. Decide if you want to go the dealership route or want to look for individuals selling their own cars. It’ll help narrow down your search, especially if you’re looking for something used.
If you want to look at a dealership, make sure to check out the car search on the Capital One Auto Navigator site. It allows you to filter your searches by the different options (make/model, used/new, body style) you’re looking for and see which dealerships have those cars in stock at their location. Or if you haven’t nailed down the car you want yet, just search by price range and see what’s available nearby.
Where can you find as many of the cars to test drive at once?
If you’re going to buy through an individual, this question is moot. But if you’re planning on going to a car sales place or dealership, try to find a couple of places that are near one another. I had a hard time remembering days later what the first car I drove felt like compared to the second later on in the week, so we ended up wasting a lot of time going back and forth and driving the same cars over and over again.
I’ve found a lot of times dealerships are located near one another, so take advantage of that. The Capital One Auto Navigator site can help you with that, just search by your zip code and it’ll give you a list of all places that has the car you’re looking for. Everything all in one place rather than searching a ton of different dealership sites.
What’s the one thing you wish you would’ve asked yourself before buying a new car?