Car-Buying 101: How to Get a Perfect Car This Holiday Season

When you’re in the market for a new car, you experience a whirlwind of emotions.

Maybe you’ve made it through a car accident and feel pressured to get a new set of wheels before your insurance stops paying for a rental. Perhaps your son or daughter just turned 16 and is getting surprised with their first car wrapped with a big bow on Christmas morning. Or, it could be the case that you’re just doing a little holiday shopping for yourself, buying a new vehicle to treat yourself for a successful fourth quarter at work.

Whatever the case is, the emotional process can range from urgency to nervousness, excitement to confusion. There’s so much to consider when making such a large purchase that you need to make sure every box is checked—but where do you even start?

We’re here to help with a checklist to run through as you browse for cars this holiday season. By following our guide on car-buying 101, you can feel confident about your ultimate selection and jingle all the way into the New Year with a smile on your face, rather than beads of sweat dripping across your brow!

Did you set a budget?

As much as we could all wish that money didn’t matter, unfortunately, it does. You might already have an image of the “perfect” vehicle in your mind, daydreaming of a vintage racecar zipping across town, but the truth is that no car will be perfect if it doesn’t fit into your finances.

You don’t want to drain your bank account or blast your budget in pursuit of a car you’ve lusted after, but can’t comfortably afford. Be realistic about what’s in your means, set a price tag, and stick to it.

That doesn’t mean you need to settle for anything entry-level, though! Here are a few tips on how you can save money on a shiny set of wow-worthy wheels:

  • Increase your down deposit. The more money you put down upfront, the more you save yourself in interest throughout the course of your financing.
  • Improve your credit score. Poor credit history will lead to higher APR charges because it increases your perceived risk. If your score is low, take the time to improve your credit before you’re forced to agree with unfavorable loan terms.
  • Consider your options. When car buyers have stars in their eyes, they’re more likely to obsess over the newest model in the lineup. But around the holidays, you can score an impressive deal at used car dealerships that want to push last year’s inventory off the lot in time for new releases.
  • Trust your seller. Whether you buy from a private party online or from an on-site salesman, you need to make sure you can trust your car dealer. Salesmen are known to be unscrupulous in their quest for commission and might try to talk you into a higher price tag.

Did you think long term?

When you rush any decision, you tend to have tunnel vision focused on your immediate need. But such an expensive investment demands careful deliberation—the perfect car should be able to last you well over a decade, ensuring you get your money’s worth out of your purchase.

Think through the following list of features and prioritize them according to your needs:

  • Size. Sedan or SUV? Large cargo to fit the soccer gear, or compact enough to squeeze into parallel parking spots on the curb? Would you prefer a two-passenger truck so you know your teenage driver isn’t driving their friends around town?
  • MPG. How far is your commute? How often will you be driving? You don’t want to buy a major gas-guzzler if it’s going to be seeing a lot of mileage.
  • Safety. If you’re shopping for a family car, safety features are paramount above all else. Advanced technology now offers collision aversion, lane sense, automatic breaking, and more. The holiday season tends to come with inclement weather patterns, so you should keep traction and performance in mind if you live in a rainy or snowy region.

By the end of your research, you’ll need to rank entertainment features, available paint colors, ideal tire sizes, and a long list of things that would be nice to have, but aren’t necessarily essential. Use this list as your starting base before heading to the best car dealerships and then narrow down your decision from there!