Couple talking to a car salesman.

Buying a car is a major purchase, and one that can cost more than you’d like if you don’t have the information that you need each step of the way. Below are some major points and tips to keep in mind during each phase of your car-buying journey so you end up with the perfect car for you and your budget.

New or Used?

There are pros and cons to either a new or a used vehicle. In almost every case, a new vehicle is going to cost more than a used vehicle. In addition, a new vehicle might cost you more in insurance and registration fees for the first few years. But sticker price isn’t the full story—new vehicles are often covered by warranties that protect you from any major repair bills during the first few years whereas older vehicles are more likely to need costly repairs. The bottom line is there is no bottom line. You need to weigh your options carefully to determine what’s best for you and your budget. Car resources like Consumer Reports and Kelley Blue Book provide ratings on both new and used cars so you can make the most of your purchase.

How Much Can You Afford?

First, determine what you want versus what you need. While you might prefer to have an SUV for those trips to the ocean, if you only take those trips 3 times a year it might save you a bit to buy a sedan and rent an SUV when needed. So, sit down and really think about how you’ll use this vehicle, because having that in mind when you shop can help you to zero in on those features that you’ll actually need and use most (and ditch the ones you don’t need that drive the cost up).

Next, figure out what your budget can handle. If you haven’t created a budget, you can learn all about how to do that here. You can also use our calculators to easily figure out how much car you can afford, what your monthly payment would be, and more. This additional up-front research will mean fewer surprises down the road. When you’re doing your calculations, don’t forget to factor in auto insurance and registration, which might vary based on whether you purchase a new or used vehicle.

Maybe you already have a car payment on the car that you’re looking to replace—if that payment amount feels comfortable, use that to gauge how much you can afford with your new vehicle. If your current car payment is too much, and that’s why you’re looking to replace it, consider a refinance. With a refinance, you can get a new loan for the current amount left due on your car. If you’ve paid off several thousand dollars on your current vehicle, a refinance will extend the payoff term but will reduce your monthly payment. If you refinance with Rivermark, there are no pre-payment penalties which means you can pay more than the monthly amount without worrying about any repercussions.

Financing Your Vehicle

Once you know how much you can afford, and the type of vehicle you need, you’ll need to determine how you’ll pay for your new car.

Get pre-approved: if you are pre-approved, it’s a huge benefit to you as you shop. Knowing exactly what you qualify for will help you to hone in on the vehicle that fits your budget. You’ll know what the highest monthly payment will be based on the amount of your pre-approval. But, buyer beware…just because you’re pre-approved for an amount doesn’t mean that you can afford the payment. Be sure to do your research ahead of time to really figure out what monthly payment you can afford, and then stick to that number. Getting stuck with an auto loan payment that’s too high for your budget is never fun. You can get pre-approved easily with Rivermark by applying online. Rivermark financing is great, because rates are low and there’s no early-payment penalty. That’s another benefit of being a Rivermark member—we’re member-owned and not-for-profit, so the profits that we earn are turned back into better rates, products, and services for our members.

Rivermark also offers help if you’re a first-time buyer. We can help you through the entire process, so get in touch with us if you’re looking for some extra help so you get the best vehicle for the price you can afford.

Find Your Vehicle

Hopefully, you have the luxury of taking your time in finding your next vehicle. If that’s the case, then take a few trips to the dealerships just to browse, take notes, and test drive several vehicles. If you’re uncomfortable having a salesman tag along you as you browse, let him or her know that you’re just looking. That way, you can take your time and jot down the vehicles and make notes on the features of each without feeling pressured to make a purchase. Then, when you get home look up the invoice price of each vehicle, which is the amount that the dealer paid. Make sure that all of your features are included in that invoice price! When you go back to the dealership, you can negotiate up from the invoice price rather than down from the sticker price. Armed with the invoice price as well as a pre-approval, you can get the best deal possible for your next vehicle.

If car shopping seems like just one too many things on your already full plate, you can take advantage of the car buying services that Rivermark offers members. With Auto Solution, you can find your vehicle and a great deal, without haggling or working with a car salesperson. 

Need a new set of wheels?

Rivermark offers competitive Auto Loans to help you get on the road. Don't wait – start your journey with us today!

Learn about Auto Loans