Skip to main content

Have you ever bought the wrong car? Did you feel like the salesperson was leading you by the nose, and you seemed powerless to change direction? Buying a car can be difficult but also rewarding. When you find the right vehicle that meets your needs and gives you some of what you want, you’ve basically struck gold. Pick up your proverbial pickaxe and go mining with these ten tips that will help you through the car-buying process to find the perfect car.

1. The first step in buying a car is to understand your needs

Woman Smiling After Buying a Red Car
Woman Smiling After Buying a Red Car | Wiki Commons

Your needs are not your wants. This can be hard to understand, but you should list what you need the vehicle to include, not the desired features. Some of the items to consider when assessing your needs are:

  • Number of passengers
  • Type of driving; highway, city, off-road
  • Fuel economy desires
  • AWD or FWD
  • Must-have features; connectivity, seat material, climate controls
  • Safety features
  • Cargo capacity
  • Child seat anchors
  • Towing level
  • Parking; garage or driveway

2. Next, figure out your car-buying budget

A white Polestar3 SUV
Polestar3 SUV | Polestar

How much can you afford to pay every month? Will your car insurance increase? What are the maintenance costs? Will you pay cash for the car or finance it? As a rule of thumb, your car insurance shouldn’t be more than 15% of your take-home pay.

3. Will you lease or buy your next vehicle?


  • Pay less per month and can choose a higher trim level
  • Driving a new car with the latest tech
  • Most repairs are covered under a factory warranty
  • No trade-ins hassles at the end of the lease


  • You own it and can sell it when the payments end
  • Modify the car to fit your tastes
  • No mileage penalties
  • Keep the car beyond the loan and live without payments

4. When buying a car, consider several models in the same class

Silver Wagoneer Jeep SUV fording a river in front of a herd of cows for a promo photo.
2023 Wagoneer | Stellantis

If you’ve identified the type of vehicle you should drive, you’ll find several choices offered. Even if you have some brand loyalty, now is the time to set it aside and consider several vehicles in the same class. The Edmunds Car Comparison tool can help you learn more about several vehicles.0

5. What is the cost of ownership of the vehicle?

The cost of ownership includes the depreciation and expected resale price. If you lease your vehicle, this isn’t something to consider, but if you buy, you should research the expected resale price of the vehicle you want to buy.

6. Where is the car being sold?

2023 Chevy Silverado 1500 price
2023 Chevy Silverado ZR2 Bison | Chevrolet

Part of the car-buying process is finding the vehicle you want to drive. If you’re looking for a rare classic, you might need to drive across state lines to find what you want. On the other hand, when you want to drive a pretty common vehicle, it should be easy to find in your area.

7. Buying a car includes scheduling a test drive

Try to narrow your list of vehicles down to three models. Once you do this, schedule a test drive of all three on different dates. An appointment ensures the car is waiting for you when you arrive for your test drive. If it’s not, cancel the appointment and take your business elsewhere.

8. Take the test drive and give the vehicle a complete review

2022 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
2022 Mercedes-Benz C-Class | Mercedes-Benz

Some dealers attempt to control the test drive by telling you where to go. Be upfront with the dealership and let them know you want to give the vehicle a complete test before committing to buying a car. Some locations offer overnight test drives.

Use all of the features, drive in traffic, drive on the highway, go over speed bumps and railroad tracks, and park the vehicle in tight parking lots. You’re evaluating whether or not this vehicle works for you; the test drive is your chance to try it out before buying.

Don’t commit to buying a car right after the test drive. Give yourself at least overnight to make the decision.

9. Compare and select the right vehicle

After you’ve driven at least three vehicles, compare them and give each one some pros and cons. You probably already have a list started. Find a way to choose the right car without allowing your emotions to enter the equation. This is one of the most important aspects of car-buying when you want to find the perfect vehicle.

10. Complete the car-buying process

Full view of the 2023 Kia Forte fuel-efficient car
2023 Kia Forte | Kia

Now, it’s time to end the experience of buying a car by heading to the dealership to purchase the vehicle you want to drive every day. You can drive home happy knowing that you made your car-buying decision in a practical manner.

Next, check out the new 2023 Honda Pilot Trailsport, or watch this video below with more tips on buying a car.


Your Next Road Trip Should Include 1 of These 5 Small American Towns