6 easy steps for buying a car

Whether you are looking at new or used cars, buying a car is a big purchase. Taking the time to understand how to buy a car can save you a lot of money in the long run.

How to Get the Right Car


When you’re ready to buy a new car, you might be tempted to get behind the wheel quickly. But buying a car is a big purchase and you’ll want to make sure you’re ready.

Taking the time to plan, prepare, and understand the car buying process can save you a lot of money in the long run.

With a little patience and preparation, you’ll save money, be more confident in your purchase, and get the car that’s right for you.

Here are 6 easy steps you can take to get the car you want.


1. Think about how much you can afford

Buying a car should make your life easier and more enjoyable, not add more stress. But that’s what can happen if you buy a car that you can’t afford.

If the payments are too much each month and you find yourself struggling to keep up, you’ll probably regret buying a car in the first place.

To prepare for buying a car, you can establish an emergency savings fund and how to set up a budget. You can also use this helpful calculator to figure out how much car you can realistically afford.


2. Keep your credit healthy

Your credit score plays a big part in determining which car loan you qualify for and will affect the interest rate lenders will offer you. A higher score means better rates.

You can make sure your credit score is healthy by:

  • Getting free copies of your credit report from each of the three reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Be sure to look for any errors and dispute them.
  • Paying all of your bills on time. Make sure to keep your credit balances as low as possible.
  • Tracking your credit score. SF Fire Credit Union members can check their score for free each quarter.


3. Search for the right car

Think about how and where you’ll be using your car. Do you have a short or long commute to work each day? What kind of terrain will you be driving on? Do you live in a city or a small town?

These factors will help you determine which make and model best fits your needs.

SF Fire Credit Union members have access to free Auto Buying Services that help make the process easier.

AutoSmart lets you take the wheel. You can search for participating dealers, find the right car, and even apply for your loan. All from the comfort of your couch.

With Autoland, a consultant handles hunting for your perfect car, negotiating the best rates, helping you with the loan application, and can even arrange to have the car delivered right to your door.


4. Think about new vs. used cars

There are pros and cons to buying a new car vs. buying a used car. A big factor to consider is your budget. Most likely, a new car will have higher monthly payments.

However, with a new car you don’t have to wonder about the vehicle’s history. And you’ll enjoy the full benefits of the manufacturer’s warranty.

Remember, though, the value of a new car depreciates quickly. Which means that, if for some reason, you decide to sell the car in a few years, you’ll lose money on your purchase.

Used cars may be a better fit for a smaller budget. Do your research on the car, though. Take it for a test drive, get it inspected by a mechanic you trust, and request the vehicle’s history.


5. Get financing first

Make sure you’re pre-approved for a car loan before you start shopping around. Knowing how much you can afford will help you narrow down which cars you can realistically purchase.

Plus, a pre-approval letter gives dealers and individual sellers more confidence in the sale.

SF Fire Credit Union members can use the QuickApply tool in Online & Mobile Banking to get speedy pre-approval wherever they are.


6. Don't pay too much for your car

If you’ve picked out the right make and model for you, that’s great! But do your research and see what it’s actually worth.

Look at Kelly Blue Book, True Car, or Edmunds to find out the market value of the car.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate with the seller. And remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

If for any reason, you’re not happy with the deal, walk away. You know your budget, you know what you want out of your new car. If you compromise just for the sake of getting behind the wheel, you might have buyer’s remorse in a few months.


One of the most important things with any big purchase is to walk away happy. If you take the time to plan, prepare, and understand the car buying process, you can be more confident in your decision.

And if you ever need advice on buying a car, don't hesistate to contact us. We're always here to help. 

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