Before heading out to the used car dealership, there is information you need to take with you to make the experience successful. Know exactly what you want and how much you can spend as you shop. Don't have buyer's regret the next day by purchasing a car that doesn't meet your needs and is too expensive for your budget.
What features will make you buy a car?
Make a list of features you want in a car. Brainstorm and put down everything you can think of. From an advanced audio system to chrome wheels, it's all relevant. Include performance features, too, such as the miles per gallon that you want the car to get. Then take that list and divide it up into two different lists: must haves and would like to have.
The must-haves list are those items on which you will not compromise when considering a car. This is key to avoiding buyer's regret. Think hard about the features that you have to have. For example, if a black car is something you must have, you won't look at anything but a black car, regardless of how much the sales person presses you to look at the same model in white. You could literally give this list to the sales person and ask them to show you the cars that match it.
The would-like-to-have list are the features that would add to the enjoyment of the car for you, but they aren't a decision factor, unless you're comparing two identical models. For instance, if seat warmers is on this list and you find two cars that meet your must-have list, but one has seat warmers and the other doesn't, your decision is easy. This is the main purpose of both lists, to help you make a choice when car shopping.
How much can you spend on a car?
The financial obligation behind a car is more than just the monthly loan payment. Get together estimates of all of these items and then you'll know what the true monthly cost of a car will be:
Insurance costs - Talk to your insurance agent and get estimates for several models that interest you. Get all of the discounts you can, where appropriate. Most companies give discounts for such things as age, low-mileage use, good driving records and having multiple cars on the policy. From this bottom line, get the monthly payment estimate from the agent.
Fuel costs - Newer, high performance cars require higher octane gasoline than older used cars which increases your monthly fuel bill. If you're looking at cars with high miles-per-gallon ratings, your costs may go down from what you currently experience. A change in the amount you drive is another factor. Come up with a monthly fuel amount that you'll expect with different car models.
Maintenance costs - Plan on taking your car in once each year for regular maintenance. If you live in an area with extreme weather conditions, or you put a lot of miles on the car, you'll want to take it in more frequently. Estimate the costs of these trips to the dealer's service shop for a year and calculate a monthly figure, if you plan to hold money back each month for maintenance.
Now you can estimate the real cost of owning different models of cars that you're considering. With that, you can see what your budget will allow so you don't buy a car that's too expensive for you.
With this data, you have all of the critical information you need to shop for the right car for you at a used car dealership. You'll be happy with your choice the next morning because you'll know that it has the features you wanted at a price that you can afford.