The Girls’ Guide To Buying A Car

Buying a car is a stressful experience for anyone, especially for a twenty-something woman on a limited budget. Women are less likely to negotiate and therefore less likely to get the best deal. Let’s change this by becoming educated and confident consumers who stand strong at their bottom line.

I recently got a great deal on a used car that I love. The first time I bought a car I did not research or negotiate at all. The second time I bought a car I was better educated and negotiated hard on my trade-in and got a good deal.

I was fully prepared and I want to make sure you are too. Based on my experiences, here is what you need to do to get the best car for the best price.

1) Determine Your Budget

How much do you comfortably want to pay for this car?  What can you afford to put down as a down payment? Are you going to finance? Are you going to trade-in your current car? Calculate the total that you want to pay for the car. You may also need to think about other costs that go along with the car from insurance to emergencies like losing keys and needing the help of a service such as Fast Keys, budgeting for tires, and maintenance costs.

2) Determine Your Wants & Needs

What kind of car are you looking for? Decide whether you want used or new. Do you need a sedan or SUV? Does it have to have 4WD? Are you a stick shift girl or do you absolutely need an automatic? Figure out what features you want vs. what features you absolutely need. I always use Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to look for the best-rated cars in crash tests, reliability and resale value.

3) Narrow Your Search

Research to determine if your budget is realistic. Use Edmunds to see your dream car is in your price range. If you can’t afford the car you want, you might need to lower your standards a bit or reconsider your budget. Maybe look for a car that’s a little bit older, smaller or has more mileage or save up more money. Keep in mind that you might be able to talk 15-20% off the sticker price but you still have to pay taxes, fees and registration etc.

4) Search For “The One”

Search online for cars for sale that meet your criteria. (I like to use or If you don’t want to haggle, you can go to Carmax to purchase your car, but be prepared to pay more; Cars were $2-3K more expensive at Carmax than other dealers during my search. If you’re thinking of purchasing a car on Craigslist, check out this guide on how to avoid getting scammed.

5) View The Car In Person

When you go see the car, check underneath the hood, and make sure of finding the license plate number to get more information about the carMaybe bring a friend or family member with to get their opinion. When you go to a dealership, make sure to have a goal for that day in mind. For example: See the car, ask questions, collect information, test-drive or buy. Keep your mind focused on your goal. Don’t let a salesperson talk you into buying that day if you are not ready. Sure, you can be pleasant, but if you’re there just to look, make sure you have an “out” or a reason to leave so that you don’t get sucked into something you’re not ready for.

6) Ready To Buy? Do The Numbers.

Calculate the following and write them down:

  • Find the Fair Purchase Price on Kelley Blue Book to determine what you can expect to pay for that particular vehicle. Fair Purchase Price is not the same as the sticker price or the MSRP. Fair Purchase Price reflects the price consumers typically are paying for this vehicle. Another way to figure out how much you can expect the dealer to let the car go for is to find the amount the dealer paid for the car by finding the trade-in value on Kelley Blue Book then add 20% to that number.
  • Do you have a trade-in? Find the value of your car on Kelley Blue Book. Do you have a clunker? If the car you are looking to trade-in is no longer running consider selling it to a company that purchases junk cars. If you happen to be selling a car in San Diego you can try this cash for car service.

Decide on:

  •  Your least acceptable offer or your bottom line (the most you want to pay). This would include:
    • The highest down payment you are able to put down.
    • The lowest trade-in value you are willing to accept (if you have one).
    • The highest amount that you can finance.
  • Your most desired offer (the least you want to pay) This would include:
    • The lowest down payment you want to put down.
    • The highest trade-in value you want to receive (if you have one).
    • The lowest amount that you want to finance.

7) Prep For Negotiation

Here are some tips to get you ready for the negotiation process:

  • Bring your notes for reference, including the following numbers:
    • Fair Purchase Price
    • Trade in Value for the car you are purchasing and the value for your trade-in (if you have one)
    • Your most desired offer
    • Your bottom line (including taxes, fees and everything)
  • Negotiation is not always about the money.
  • If you can’t get the price you want for the car, or for your trade in, you can try to negotiate other things like free oil changes into the deal.
  • Cash is not always king. I thought that I would sway a few dealerships with a cash only deal but they were not impressed. A lot of them prefer financing because they make more money that way. I did save a lot of time bringing in cash because there was less paperwork.
  • Find leverage: Has the car been on the lot for a while? Is it the end of the year or the end of the month? Does the car have a minor imperfection that might make it difficult to sell? You may be able to use any of these factors to get a good deal.
  • Ask a friend to come along for some extra confidence.

8) Making The Offer

  • Try to negotiate as close to what the dealer paid for the car as possible.
  • You can usually negotiate around 15-20% off sticker price; often the cars are advertised as cheaper online but then you can’t talk them down as much.
  • Start with your most desirable offer and go from there.
  • Use your leverage if you need to.
  • Talk in terms of your total sale and stick to it. Salespeople like to talk in terms of monthly payments but you don’t get a big picture view of your deal that way.
  • Be okay with walking away from a deal. Remember you’re not here to make friends. You don’t have to please the salesperson but you don’t have to be a bitch either. Just be able to walk away from something that doesn’t meet your needs.
  • The very first thing you’re going to need to do if you purchase the car you’re interested in is find the right insurance package, as it’s essential that you can get full coverage before you sit behind the wheel. Running the risk of having an accident or experiencing difficulties due to a fault or any other issue on the road when you do not have the right insurance could leave you in hot water, as you won’t have any means to continue your journey or fix your vehicle (unless you’re willing to forfeit huge amounts of money in the process). Insurance is a manageable monthly payment that keeps you safe and sound when you’re driving your new vehicle, so unless you would like to spend hours searching for the most affordable car accident lawyer when you make a mistake on the road, there’s no time like the present to get a good insurance package.

Share your tips for buying a car in the comments or by Tweeting us @LitDarling!

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