I finally bought a car! After relocating from Washington, DC to Houston, Texas in August 2014, I finally bought a car. Yes after living 10 months in the big ole’ suburban city that it’s known for it’s traffic, my East Coast city girl behind took the plunge on something that I was initially overwhelmingly fearful of doing. Besides being spoiled by public transit in New York City for close to eight years, the idea of simply walking into a car dealership was intimidating. Car marketing is rarely holistically targeted at women. And even when it is there is almost a man in the ad. We are told to call a brother, father, boyfriend, or husband, to help us with picking out a car and interfacing with the car salesman so as to not be bamboozled. And I here I was in Houston all alone without a guy who I trusted to hold my hand through the process. And that bothered me. Not because there was no guy around, but because I was impeded by the idea that I needed a man to do something for myself. So I set out to help empower women and more specifically my community of #SmartBrownGirls as car consumers, taking you along for the ride with me as I made my first car purchase.
So here are some quick tips to help ease the process and resources so that you can find the best deal for you that I learned after buying my 2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco.
1. Identify your needs, wants and budget.
You can’t do research without knowing what your looking for and even when you make it to the dealership, you’ll have a much better time and (should have) a better customer service experience. I recommend defining what you want out of your car and why, so that you know what your non-negotiables are. This will help you especially if you have a restricted budget. Three things to take into account are:
Locale – The weather and climate of where you live, will impact if you need AWD (all wheel drive) or FWD (front wheel drive). Is it a big city with lots of highways, a rural area with unpaved back roads or a bustling city with super tight parking spaces? Getting a huge truck in NYC might be a bad choice, but great if you live in Texas. Do you have a garage to protect your car from the elements? Various elements of the locale can play into your choice for a car.
Leisure/Work – How far is your work commute and most of your social activities, will impact gas/mileage needs. Do you participate in a lot of social or community events? How much cargo space do you need? Road tripping? Tall friends? You want the car to fit into your lifestyle.
Growth – How long do you want to keep this car for? Are you looking to start a family soon? How much do you care about the aesthetic of a car?
For me, I’m located in Houston, so lots of driving means I need a car good on gas. Mild weather means FWD is fine and a garage to house my car, will help to preserve the car for longer. I work from home, so I could be more focused on how the car plays into my social life and I definitely wanted a car that was sleek to match my aesthetic. I absolutely had to have beige interior with the safety tech pac (rear view camera, navigation + blind spot alerts). Growth wise, I’m career focused at the moment, but I’m also an entrepreneur so I need a good buy that will last, regardless of how my finances play out in the future. It’s my first car and if I can keep it long enough to hand off to an offspring in 30 years (I kid, I kid) that would be nice.
2. Research, research and research…
Not just the car, but research the WHOLE process. Have Google and your phone ready. You need to research:
- the Car – the trims offered, price it’s sold for in your area, warranties, user experiences, ratings/reviews
- Financing options – I have decent credit but I called up my credit union and bank to get an idea of how they review credit applications. I looked up the going rates for people with a similar credit score to mine. And read up on what options were available to me. Also how different car companies work with car consumers for financing. Where Honda might be stricter on requirements, Ford might be easier.
- Warranties – are they worth it. There’s plenty of reports on what’s standardly offered at a particular franchise of dealerships, which are worth it and which aren’t.
- Car insurance – in order to get approved for a car loan, you must have proof of insurance. Call around to all the companies that are available in your area for the best rate.
3. Understanding your options for car insurance.
This one threw me for a loop. I’ve had car insurance under my parents before, so I thought it would just be a matter of calling all the majors (Geico, Nationwide, State Farm, Allstate) to get a quote and I would pick the best offer. Nope. Since this was my first time buying a car and I hadn’t had car insurance in over two years, the quotes I got from Nationwide, Farmer’s Insurance, Geico and a few local Texas companies were astronomical at over $300/month. State Farm came in at right around $150/month for full coverage.
And yes, you need to read the fine print and pay attention to all the details of your car insurance. Don’t be swindled into comprehensive coverage when that’s now what you want or need.
This should be higher on the list. But setting the absolute top on your budget might fluctuate after you realize what you actually need on your car. But don’t forget to include the TTL (tax, title and license). Most state tax on cars is around 6%, title is about $120 and license is $75+. Top that off with the cost of warranties. Since I bought a brand new car (which was surprisingly cheaper than buying used) I added the extended warranty (+$1600) on the car. Where the MSRP on my car was around $24k, with TTL and warranties that brought me to around $28k.
5. Cash or financing?
Most of us will need to finance some portion of our car purchase. Financing means getting a car loan to cover the cost. This is where my biggest fears came in. I have student debt and my credit is just decent. But I didn’t want to be stuck with a double digit interest on my car loan, nor did I want to go applying for all these loans that would deny me and then negatively impact my credit score further. Best tip: apply for all your car loans within a week of buying your car. Apply with your bank, local credit unions and insurance companies to see who can offer you the best rate before you walk into the dealership. Then see if the dealership can give you a better (fixed) rate on a loan.
I called Wells Fargo, Lake Michigan Credit Union, State Farm and applied for a loan at the dealership. Wells Fargo offered 11% interest on the loan, LMCU 6%, State Farm, 5.5% and finally the car dealership came through with a loan from Chase for 4.5%. I went with the loan from the dealership
Fortunately when it comes to buying cars, there are plenty of websites to help you find information on any car. I’m extremely happy with my purchase. I loved the Hyundai Sonata when I test drove it with DriveShop, and now I love my Eco trim even more! Being well researched and knowing what I wanted help me have an awesome experience at North Freeway Hyundai.
Have any questions, leave them below and I’ll be happy to answer!