Car Buying Tips For Savvy Older Drivers

October 7, 2011
2011 Toyota Avalon

2011 Toyota Avalon

No disrespect here, but older drivers can sometimes use a little help in figuring out the whole car-buying process, and being happy with the results. With that in mind, we offer the following tips to the oldsters among us on how to navigate buying a car.

(1)         Do your research. You wouldn’t head out on a journey without knowing where you’re going, would you? Well, when you’re in the market for a car, the same thing holds true. Help yourself avoid a lot of frustration over different makes and models on the dealer’s lot by doing your research ahead of time. The easiest place is to go online and check manufacturer’s websites, independent third-party sites such as Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, and also newspaper and car magazine sites. Gather car brochures (you can also download these online at most automaker sites), read auto reviews in newspapers, and narrow down the list of what makes and models of vehicles appeal to you. Don’t worry if you are torn between a mid-size or large sedan, such as the Chevrolet Malibu or Ford Taurus or Chrysler 300 or a crossover SUV, like the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain or Ford Escape at this point. Just get your field of consideration narrowed to less than five vehicles.

(2)         Know your credit score. Before you get too excited about that luxury sedan with massaging seats and all the latest safety technology, including blind-spot intervention, forward collision warning, adaptive headlights, lane departure warning and so on, not to mention all the other luxury amenities possible, you need to figure your budget. Get copies of your credit report and pay the little extra to find out your credit score. This will let you know exactly where you stand for obtaining a loan. The higher your credit score (800s are best), the easier it will be to secure a loan with a lower rate.

(3)         Weigh and balance. Now it’s time to sit down with your spouse or partner and discuss the pros and cons of the various vehicles on your list. Do either of you have any difficulties getting in and out of a vehicle? If so, you will probably be more comfortable buying a car or crossover with a low step-in height. Do you need to stow a wheelchair or require adaptive devices to be fitted to a vehicle? If so, there are certain vehicles that are more appropriate for such installation than others. Check out the interior specifications as well. Is there sufficient legroom for driver and passengers? How adjustable are the seats? Are the gauges large and easily visible? For now, you’re discussing these things. Later on, you’ll test them out when you sit in a prospective car purchase before buying.

(4)         Ask your friends. What cars do your friends drive and how happy are they with them? There’s nothing like the strong recommendation of a friend, or family member, for that matter, as long as they’re in your age group, to help possibly steer you in the direction of one vehicle on your list over another. If others have been satisfied with their sedan or crossover, it’s more likely that you will be too. That is, if all your other considerations have been met.

(5)         Get competitive quotes. Once you’ve decided on the vehicle that’s just right for you, whether it’s new or used, cast your net and get competitive quotes. The quickest way to do this is to use the Internet to obtain quotes from a number of dealers. It’s quick and easy and you can do it right from home. No need to be in the face of a salesperson until you’re ready. Remember, you are the customer. Use that to your advantage. If you have two dealers that are in the ballpark of what you want to spend, play them off each other. It’s called strategic negotiating and it can save you some cash. There’s another point to be made here, and that has to do with an ad that seems too good to be true. Dealers may advertise a low price on a particular model, but only have one in stock, or there’s some other nuance of the deal, such as it applies to a low mileage lease or you have to have excellent credit. Read all the fine print before you get too excited over an advertised “sale.”

(6)         Shop for financing. Now is the time to shop for your financing. You already know your buying power, having checked your credit score. Leverage your existing relationships with your bank or credit union to see who can offer you the most competitive rate. Also check out the captive finance arms of automakers. What you want to wind up with is pre-approved financing that you take with you to the dealer to finalize your car purchase. You can always listen to what the dealer has to offer, but you won’t be pressured to take it because you already have your financing in order. If it is a better deal, but it most likely won’t be, then you can take it.

(7)         Find out what your insurance will cost. It’s also an excellent idea to check with your insurance company or agent to find out how much you’ll be paying to insure the vehicle you want to buy. A quick insurance quote doesn’t take much time at all and can save you headaches and money afterward. Some cars have higher theft rates than others, whereas certain safety devices can qualify you for various discounts. Know what your insurance will cost for the car before you buy it.

(8)         Take a real test drive. Always take a test drive in any vehicle you are strongly considering to buy. Bring your spouse or partner with you so that you both can weigh in on how the car works for your wants and needs. While you are out on the road, pay attention to how well you can see through all the windows, how comfortable the seats feel and whether they are supportive and adjustable enough for you. Can you clearly see the gauges? Are the control knobs easy to operate. Have all the operating details of systems such as Bluetooth or SYNC or various safety technologies thoroughly explained to you by the salesperson. Are you comfortable with them and feel you understand them? The point is to make sure this is the right car for you and you can only do that by sitting in it and driving it.

(9)         Negotiate the vehicle price first. Get down to the basic price of the vehicle you want to buy. Don’t worry about anything else at this point. You’ve already got quotes, so maybe you can use one of these documents to have the salesperson give you a better deal at this dealership versus the competitor. If you have a trade-in, deal with that after you’ve nailed down the price on this car. Don’t mix the two transactions. That will just muddy the waters and confuse you. Don’t agree to any add-ons. You really don’t need them. This includes things like underbody rustproofing and extended service warranties.

(10)      Take the time to inspect all documents before you sign. Never, ever sign a purchase agreement or sales document without first reading through every line. There’s no rush here. The car isn’t going anywhere and once you sign the paperwork, you’re committed. So take all the time you need to thoroughly read everything. If you don’t understand something, ask to have it explained. If there’s a charge for something you dispute, get it clarified.

Remember, you have all the power in your hands as the buying consumer. Use your gray hairs to your advantage (even if they’re artfully shaded). The best deal is the one that leaves you feeling the most satisfied with your purchase. And you get there by taking things step-by-step.

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