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5 Steps to Buying a Car

Most people looking to buy a car walk into the car dealership and experience a range of emotions – excitement, anticipation, and fear.


While the car-buying process can be excruciating, today the process inflicts far less pain, thanks to technology. In fact, you don’t even have to visit the dealership to shop around anymore.


Which leads us to Step 1 in the car-buying process:




If you’re looking to buy a car, but you’re not sure what you want, you might need to make a list of features you want or need. Do you have pets or children? A compact might not be the best choice.


buying a carDo you prefer buying a car from a certain manufacturer? Many times, you can visit the manufacturer’s website to discover packages and options available.


If you visit, Kia even lets you build your perfect vehicle online, tells you the price, and even breaks down what your monthly payments and down payment will likely be, based on your credit history.


In short, there is no excuse for showing up at the dealership without having a good idea about what you want or need. Technology has made this step of the car-buying process a no-brainer.


Get Pre-Approved


When buying a car, few things sting worse than to show up at a car dealership thinking about the fully-loaded SUV you’ve had your eye on for a while, only to find out you qualify for their base model subcompact with manual transmission.


The solution? Get pre-approved.


Why is this so important? Because you want to know how much car you can afford before you set foot on the dealership. It’s best to get pre-approved through either a bank or credit union.


You can then show up at the dealership, ready to buy a car, without the fear of unwelcome surprise, and compare the interest rate you’ve been approved for with the interest rate of the dealership. Surprisingly, many times the dealership can make you a better financing offer.


Know How Much Your Trade-In is Worth


Just like getting pre-approved, you must know the trade-in value of your vehicle before you go to the dealership. Brace yourself for a shock, because this part of the car-buying process can be a real eye-opener – your trade-in is probably not worth nearly as much as you think it should be.


Still, if you’re planning on buying a car, it’s best you know this up front.


One of the easiest and most accurate ways to assess the value of your trade-in is to use the Edmunds app on your smartphone. You can simply sit in your car and check off the things that affect the value of your car.


If you use the app, be honest. Remember, the point here is to avoid surprises when you show up at the dealership ready to buy a car. If you rate your car “outstanding,” but the dealership says it’s only “fair,” there’s an excellent chance most dealerships will rate it the same.


If you would rather not trade your car you might consider selling it. The best way is to go to CarMax, have them appraise the car, and make you an offer.


Their offer is good for seven days.


After the appraisal, you can take your car to the dealership and see if they will beat the CarMax offer. That way, you can choose to trade it or sell it to CarMax.


Locate Your Car and Sales Professional


This part of the car-buying process might surprise many would-be car shoppers, but it is crucial if you want to get the best deal possible. How do you locate the best car sales pro, and why is it so important that you do?


First, let’s focus on the how.


Using this method, you will actually make two trips to the dealership – the first one is for recon, the second is to actually buy a car.


During the recon phase of the car-buying process, when you drive up to the dealership, you will undoubtedly see a huddle of 5 or 6 people just outside the front door. When one of them approaches you, simply say, “I’d like to see the General Manager.” At this point, he or she will escort you to a desk located on the sales floor, but typically in some distant corner.


Pay attention while you’re walking. At the various phone/computer-equipped stations located along the windows and other locations are professionals of a different breed. You should see at least two or three of them.


Typically, they will either have a phone to their ear, be plugging away on their keyboard, or will be servicing a customer. Your mission is to buy a car from one of these.


When you reach the General Manager, introduce yourself, and ask him/her one simple question: “Who is your top producer?” He should give you a name, and that name should be one of the pros with either a phone to his ear or a customer at his station in the process of buying a car.


When he gives you the name, ask if the top producer is working today. If he says “Yes,” and points you to one of the pros manning the phones, you’ve hit gold.


You may then choose to introduce yourself to this top producer or, if he/she looks busy, tell the GM you’ll call to schedule an appointment. If, on the rare occasion, the top producer is not on the phone or with a customer, introduce yourself, briefly tell him/her you’re in the process of buying a car,and ask for their business card.


The question you might be asking yourself is, Why is finding the best car sales professional so important?


Let me ask you another question: What image comes to mind when you hear the term “Car salesman?”




Unfortunately, even today, that image is sometimes well-deserved.


Many people who call themselves car salespeople view selling a car as a one-time deal. Once the customer signs on the dotted line, the job of the salesman is over. Whatever concerns the customer has beyond that point is the GM’s problem.


Top car sales professionals, however, view this in the exact opposite light. To them, the sale only begins when the customer purchases the vehicle.


These sharp, enthusiastic achievers understand that the customer who buys a car from them today knows hundreds of other people. Many of these other people are in the market for cars of their own. Today. Right now.


These top professionals understand that by treating their customers the way they would like to be treated (not only during the sale but after the sale as well), their customers are going to share their experiences with others.


This is how the top producer came to be in that position. There is no other way.


And this is why you only want to deal with him or her.


Your next step after leaving the dealership is to begin your car search in earnest. Hopefully, the manufacturer you choose will have a website similar to the site I mentioned earlier, where you can build your car online.


Keep in mind, however, that the more options and packages you choose, the less likely the dealership will have that particular vehicle on the lot. If that’s the case, you can either order the vehicle with all the options, or call your top producer sales pro and ask him/her which vehicles are on the lot.


Here is yet another reason to work only with the top producer: Some dealerships will tell you whatever they think you want to hear, just to get you in the door.


They do this because, statistically, if they can get you inside, they have an 80% of selling you something else, even if the vehicle you were calling about is not on the lot.


Top producers, however, do not get where they are by deception. Their customers keep coming back and telling their friends to buy a car from them for one reason: They trust them.


And so should you.


The Sale


You’ve called your top producer to verify the vehicle you want is on the lot. You ask him for an out-the-door price.


Before rushing down to the dealership to buy a car, you should check with to make sure the price he quoted is competitive. If it’s not, call him back and voice your concern.


If the price is competitive and it meshes with your pre-approval, all that’s left is to schedule an appointment to purchase the vehicle.


With your trade information and pre-approval in hand (along with a couple of bank statements, pay stubs, and your driver’s license), you head back to the dealership. Since you’ve researched and been pre-approved for an auto loan, there should be very few surprises.


Take the vehicle for a test drive, have the sales pro point out how to use all the bells and whistles and, if you’re satisfied, head back to the dealership to talk numbers.


If you used a tool like that on the website, you already have a good idea about what your down payment and monthly payments will be. This might fluctuate a bit depending on factors such as employment history and other credit issues, so be sure to factor those in as well. Credit score is only one (albeit a strong one) indicator financial institutions look at when issuing loans.


If, after reviewing the offer the sales pro presents to you, you decide to proceed with buying the vehicle, you will be escorted to the Finance and Insurance Office to sign the contract and purchase any additional products, such as extended warranty, etc.


When you’re finished with the Finance and Insurance Office, it’s a good idea to have the sales pro give you a tour of your vehicle, especially if you’ve purchased one with lots of bells and whistles.


While he or she might have touched on those during the test drive, many modern vehicles have so much technology a little additional training couldn’t hurt. Yes, it’s all in the owner’s manual, but nothing beats hands on training. Plus, you might learn short-cuts not mentioned in the manual.


At this point, you will begin to see why this top producer has so much repeat business. You should feel he genuinely cares. If you don’t, rewind this article back to before you signed the contract.


Otherwise, enjoy your new car.


Joey McGuire is currently a Kia sales consultant in Nashville, Tennessee. His goal is to educate consumers about various aspects of the car-buying process to make their next purchase a seamless, enjoyable experience.