Every city has unique types of car-buyers. Since Gainesville is home to a sizable amount of high school students, college students (especially at the University of Florida), young families, and hardworking individuals, much of the population comprises first-time car buyers. Of the Gainesville community, a significant portion is in the market for used cars — we know this because we sell a lot of them! Whether you’re looking for a used car in Gainesville or a new car elsewhere, you can get the best deal on the right vehicle with the following seven tips.
The Money: Budgeting & Financing
Our list of car-buying tips breaks down into three categories: money, cars, and process. While these aren’t necessarily listed chronologically or in order of importance, these first two items (the money-related categories) are foundational to car buying.
Most people would love to purchase a high-powered sports car. But can they afford one? It’s tough to enjoy a vehicle when you’re unable to comfortably pay for it. So here’s how to budget appropriately for first-time car shopping.
1. Create A Realistic Budget
The key word here is realistic. Whether you’re a Gator with student loans or a working professional juggling childcare costs, you don’t want a vehicle purchase to negatively impact the rest of your life. Conversely, if you budget correctly for the vehicle, you can maximize its benefits.
When you finance a car, you should have a strategic plan. One option is to make a bulk payment for the full price, as long as you have that amount of savings. But more often drivers make large down payments and then finance the rest with loans. Some also use trade-in vehicles as either partial payments or full down payments.
As a first-time buyer, you probably don’t have a vehicle to trade — but it’s good to know this is an option for future purchases — which means you’ll need to make an up-front cash payment. The average down payment on a car is 20 percent or more of the total vehicle cost. So whatever savings you have for a vehicle, your maximum budget ideally should be five times that amount or less.
2. Determine Your Monthly Payment Threshold
Unless you’re buying a vehicle in one payment, you’ll need to finance it with a car loan. You can obtain a loan from your preferred bank, or take advantage of the financing options at the dealership. As a Buy Here, Pay Here dealership, Paul West Used Cars has relationships with multiple lending institutions so drivers can find the best available rate.
Loans are calculated in terms of months and interest rates. How much you can afford for monthly car payments determines which financing structure works for you. Taking out a 48-month loan, for instance, means you’ll have a lower interest rate but higher monthly payments, while the opposite applies for a 60-month loan. As a rule of thumb: the longer the loan period, the more you’ll pay in total, but the less each month.
The dealership’s financing professionals can break down the cost estimates for a car, as well as discuss warranties, registration fees, and other costs that factor into the vehicle’s overall price. If you have any questions, don’t be shy about posing them. You always want to have a complete understanding of your financial obligations before signing the contracts for your first car.
The Car: Features & Specs
Once you’ve figured out what you can spend on a car, it’s time to decide which is the best vehicle in your price range. The following feature and spec considerations can help with your search for a car.
3. Identify Your Transportation Needs
The first step to identifying the right car is figuring out for which purposes you’ll mostly use the vehicle. Do you plan to drive back and forth to work or campus; travel hundreds of miles each week on the interstate; tow a camper-trailer into rustic campsites?
And how about your driving style: are you a light driver looking to conserve fuel with an efficient hybrid vehicle; or do you have a need-for-speed and want a car with quick acceleration? Answering these questions will help to narrow your choices for makes, models, and trim levels.
In general, the SUV is one of the most popular models in America: it’s spacious for a family, economical for a commuter, yet rugged enough for city streets and country roads. Another hot seller here in Gainesville are trucks with V6 or V8 engines that produce enough towing power for almost any job.
Meanwhile, some first-time drivers are less concerned with family-sized interior seating or large engines with workhorse-level torque outputs. Instead, they are looking for a safe, reliable, and — if possible — sleek vehicle, such as a newer model sedan or coupe, to suit all purposes.
There’s no right car for everyone, but there is a right car for you based on your specific transportation needs. Knowing what those are will make for an overall smoother find-and-buy process.
4. Figure Out Your Wants
Unlike transportation needs, which are essential, you’ll also have personal wants. These are those aesthetic or entertainment preferences that matter less to how a vehicle functions and more to how it presents itself to the world.
Since you’re working with a finite used car budget, you’ll have to negotiate your wants between two categories of vehicles: 1. older and higher-end and 2. newer and more economical.
A Buick Lucerne is an example of a vehicle from the initial category — Buick is a manufacturer of mid- to high-class vehicles with luxury features and upgrades. Meanwhile, a Hyundai Sonata is an example from the secondary group — Hyundai makes lower-cost vehicles with practical features.
Both the Lucerne and Sonata are sedans of comparable size and power. However, the price of a 2009 Lucerne would be equitable to a 2014 Sonata. In this example, the Lucerne is less modern, but it also has leather seats, robust suspension, and other comfortable details. Meanwhile, the Sonata has cloth interior and is lighter weight, yet it has fewer miles and thus less wear-and-tear.
You’ve got to decide which features are most important to you. We’ve found most first-time buyers trend toward newer cars that are economical as well as those with updated technology features, such as Bluetooth and touchscreen consoles.
5. Do Your Research (It’s Easier Than You Think)
It’s good to know your transportation needs and wants. It’s even better to know how to compare and contrast your preferences and requirements with the available cars for sale in your area. Fortunately, the Internet has made car-buying easier than ever.
Paul West Used Cars lists online our entire pre-owned vehicle inventory. Each listing has its own page with images and an overview of specs and features for that make and model.
We understand that not everyone speaks car talk. That’s why our expert staff are available to answer questions online, on the phone, or in person here in Gainesville. We’ll define strange words, such as EcoBoost (a turbocharged engine from Ford); explain whether a four-, six-, or eight-cylinder engine is right for your driving habits (do you prefer speed or fuel-efficiency?); and show you how to flex each feature of a car (from folding rear-row seating to rearview backup cameras).
The Process: Buying A Car
So you have a budget and a car in mind — maybe you’ve narrowed your choice to a category (mid-size sedans) or a model (2013 Toyota Camry); either way, once you choose the vehicle you want, it’s time to complete the buying process, which consists of the following two steps.
6. Find A Local Car Dealer
With your choice of car in mind, you have one question to ask yourself: “where is the nearest used car dealership in Gainesville that has the vehicle I want?”
Gainesville has its share of automotive dealers. However, few offer the same variety of pre-owned vehicles for sale as Paul West Used Cars. Whether you’re looking for General Motors (GM), Ford-Lincoln, Honda, Toyota, or other vehicle makes, we maintain a vast inventory of used cars, trucks, and SUVs. What’s more, we sell them at competitive prices.
7. Take A Test Drive
At long last, you’ve found the right car at the best price. Before you sign the contract on the dotted line, you should take the car for a test drive. Some first-time car-buyers are experienced drivers who’ve always leased their vehicles. Others are new drivers who haven’t much road-time under their belts. Either way, when it comes to a car you’ve never before driven, you can’t assume your past driving experience is a substitute for getting in the driver’s seat and putting your hands on the wheel.
From the turning radius of the wheels to the resistance of the pedals; from the height of the dashboard to the visibility of the side and rear windows; from the tension of the shocks to the sounds of the engine at high RPMs, each car has a unique feel to different drivers. The exterior design might attract your attention, and the interior seating might satisfy your needs, but a test drive is the only factor that reveals whether a car is truly suited to your driving style.
Buying your first car is a milestone in your life. It’s important to get it right. We often hear that experience is the best teacher. But who wants to learn about cars by making mistakes when buying them? The answer is nobody. That’s why Paul West Used Cars created these seven tips for first-time car buyers. Even if you’re a complete neophyte in the car world, following these steps will guide you to the right vehicle.
To see a wide selection of pre-owned vehicles in Gainesville, including cars, trucks, SUVs, and more, come to Paul West Used Cars. We have Buy Here, Pay Here financing, as well as a friendly, knowledgeable, and never-pushy team of car lovers to help you pick the right vehicle. Contact our used car dealership or visit our lot today!