It’s a well-known fact that after a house, a vehicle is probably the biggest purchase you will ever make.
Unfortunately, while your house might gain value over time, your car eventually will turn into a nearly worthless hunk of metal, plastic and upholstery.
Rather than pour oodles of cash into your next purchase, use these eight tips to spend as little as possible on a vehicle that will safely serve you for years.
1. Buy used … usually
You knew this would be the first bit of advice, right?
Of course it is. How could it not be when Edmunds reports that the average new car loses 11 percent of its value as soon as it’s driven off the lot? That means your $20,000 car is suddenly worth less than $18,000.
So it almost always makes sense to buy used. Wait two or three years, and you can often get a much cheaper car that is almost as good as one fresh off the assembly line.
However, if you’re planning to get a car that’s only 1 year old, a new car may be cheaper in some cases after dealer and manufacturer incentives are factored in.
2. Do your homework
Regardless of whether you’re buying new or used, do your homework first. Research the going price and available options for the cars you’re eyeing.
Of course, Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds are good places to start, but don’t stop there. Those sites approximate a car’s market value. But in the end, capitalism rules. Supply and demand dictate actual prices.
Cruise Craigslist and browse the online ads to get a feel for prices in your area. You want to have a good grasp of local prices before you set foot on a dealership lot and get talked into a “good deal” that really isn’t a deal at all.
Speaking of homework, make sure you’re doing an apples-to-apples comparison when shopping around.
I’ll go ahead, risk looking the fool and confess to this mistake: I recently bought a Toyota Sienna with an LE trim but had been comparing it with vehicles with an XLE trim when doing online research. It wasn’t until after I got the vehicle home that I realized my mistake.
Although I still got a good price, it wasn’t the totally awesome deal I thought I had negotiated.
3. Embrace high miles
It used to be that a car with 100,000 miles was living on borrowed time.
How times have changed. Today’s cars are built to last 200,000 miles or more. So why are you freaking out about buying a used car with 110,000 miles on it?
For many models, the price starts dropping through the floor once the mileage goes north of 100,000. By saying no to these high-mileage cars, you’re rejecting a lot of good deals.
Not every high-mileage car is a good buy, but if you find a reliable make and model, you can get good quality at a low price.
4. Time your purchase right
There are two facets to this piece of advice.
The first is to buy on the right day. As you might guess, the end of the month is often a good time to buy a car, particularly if salespeople are trying to meet their quotas or qualify for a monthly bonus.
However, the very best day to shop could be Dec. 31. The salesperson wants to make a deal before the end of the year. Plus, there may be fewer car shoppers, meaning more incentive for sales reps to close a deal.
Be aware of seasonal trends in your area, especially if you’re buying from a private party. Four-wheel-drive trucks may be in demand in the winter but cost less in the summer. Meanwhile, convertibles and some jeeps might be cheaper in the fall.
And you might want to avoid shopping in the spring if possible. When tax refunds start hitting bank accounts, there could be a lot more shoppers in the market, and that could drive prices up.