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Here’s the script for the “How To Prepare For Buying A Car” video above:

Buying a car can be a very involved process with potentially a dozen people or more working to put everything together.

There are several factors entirely out of your control, so to make sure that your experience is as smooth as you can make it, you’ll want to understand the most about how to prepare for buying a car.

I’m including a trip preparation checklist both above and in the additional resources section so you can make sure everything’s in order.

Step 1 then is to plan to spend 5 hours at the dealership.  I’ll tell you flat out that if you expect to go and buy a car just like going into a grocery store, you’re way off.  From walking into the dealership and driving out with your car, the very fastest you can expect to accomplish everything would be about 3 hours…if the dealership has nothing else going on!  If you get out sooner, awesome!  Just don’t expect for a second to get in and get out.

Even with my experience level and paying for my last car in cash, it still took a little over 4 hours to drive away.

So eat first and bring something for the vending machines to get refreshments if things drag on.  Your stress levels will go through the roof unless you plan on spending at least 5 hours there.  Know that trying to bring your children to a dealer for a purchase will result in a challenging situation.  For everyone’s sake, please find a babysitter, if possible.

Step 2 in learning how to prepare for buying a car is to get your documentation in order.  To buy any car and drive it away, you will need to bring your driver license.  The dealer will be filing your state-mandated forms such as odometer disclosures, title information, registration, and more, so they need to make sure you are who you say you are.

how to prepare for buying a car

The dealer will want to see your proof of auto insurance because all states mandate minimum liability coverage.  Teaching you about auto insurance is beyond the scope of this course, but I can tell you what a dealership wants to keep it simple for you.  If you have a car or are trading one in, all the dealer will want is a copy of your current ID card.  You will then have a few days, depending on your insurance provider, to call and add coverage for your new vehicle.

If you don’t have valid and current auto insurance coverage, the dealer will require you to call an insurance company and set up coverage for the car on site.  Setting up new coverage can take up to 30 minutes over the phone.  You’ll need to know the Vehicle Identification Number on the car, and if you’re financing, you’ll need to know the lender’s name so that the insurance company can add them as the lienholder.  Your insurance agent will then fax your proof of coverage to the dealer, and you’re good to go.

To wrap up the documents you’ll need, bring some form of payment.  You can make down payments with cash, checks, and credit or debit cards.  Even if your plan is to leave the dealership without making any kind of down payment, you may need to purchase insurance coverage before driving away, so at least bring a card.

You should find your target car on the dealer website, print out the listing if possible, and bring it with you.  We’ll go over why later.  Also, bring a cable to connect your phone because, during the test drive, you’ll want to treat the car as though you own it.

how to prepare for buying a car documents

Additionally, if you are financing and have any credit challenges, you will need to bring proof of income and potentially proof of residency.  That means recent paystubs and some type of utility bill or lease agreement.  If this is you, on your financing app, don’t wing it with the income because the lender won’t.  They will determine what you make per year based on your paystubs, not what you write on an application.

Finally, the hotly debated question for those wondering about how to prepare for buying a car…When is the best time to visit a dealership?  Were I to take a poll, I would hear all kinds of different answers.  The last day of the month would probably win because dealerships measure success and calculate sales bonuses based on monthly numbers.  Others would say the weekend because all hands are on deck, and you should be able to expect faster service.  You want to know the real answer?  It doesn’t really make a difference.  With the way that you’ll learn to negotiate in future lessons, the deal will be the same that you’ll get any day of the week.

There is one unique caveat, though, that will help you to save a significant amount of money on a new car.  If you can find a new car on a lot that is one model year older than the current year, you will receive a larger discount, especially if it has aged for a few months.

For example, say that the year is 2020, and the 2021 model years for your choice of car are filling the lot.  Just one thing though, they have the same exact car you want all shiny and brand new on the lot, but it’s a 2020 model year.  There may be only minor differences, but you’ll likely save hundreds or thousands of dollars on manufacturer incentives alone.  The dealer is also itching to get it off the lot as well, so you will have additional leverage.

Ultimately though, I’ve seen people get amazing discounts at the beginning of the month, just as I’ve seen other people end up paying full retail at the end of the month.  Dealerships exist to sell cars all the time and are happy to get one off the lot at any time.

When learning how to prepare for buying a car, the only thing that you can control is your own preparation, so to make for the smoothest trip, just make sure that you have plenty of time to spend at the dealer and that you have your required documents on hand.

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