McMinnville Auto Sales LLC

Car Buying Checklist: What You Should Know Before You Buy A Car in 2024

How to buy a car: 14 steps to ownership and free checklists

Buying a car is an exciting feeling and experience for many Americans. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first time purchasing or you’re trading in for the latest upgraded model; everyone’s experience is different.

If you’re planning to buy quickly, check out the printable car-buying checklists below so you are aware of what is going on in the market. 

1. Consider your budget. 

2. Plan the car you want to buy. 

3. Determine car financing. 

4. Shortlist car features according to you. 5. Decide on your car options. 

6. Check the market price list. 

7. Analyze the best time to buy a car. 

8. Go for a test drive. 

9. Research price quotes. 

10. Bargain the best dealbreaker 

11. Bring proper documents. 

12. Do your purchase

13. Lock your insurance policy 

14. Would you prefer trading in your car? 

15. Go for online shopping. 

1. Consider your budget.

When we are planning to make a big purchase,make sure to stick within your budget. Decide how much money you can afford to spend on a car, and let this number guide what type of car you can buy. Don’t forget factors like maintenance, gas, and insurance when finding out your car budget. A simple rule is to spend no more than 20% of your net monthly income on a vehicle purchase.

2. Plan the car you want to buy.

Once your budget is decided, you’ll need to determine whether you want to buy new or secondhand.

Pros and cons of buying new

  • New cars often have updated technology, better fuel efficiency, and can be tailored to your preferences. This also contains drawbacks.
  • The latest technology related to safety, navigation, and fuel efficiency
  • Warranty perks
  • Smartphone connectivity
  • Updated color and style preferences


  • More expensive
  • Depreciates in value
  • Potential design or performance flaws

Pros and cons of buying used

If you’re on a strict budget, buying used may be all you can afford. Whether this is the case or not, purchasing a used car has its own advantages and disadvantages.


  • Money saved upfront
  • Less is lost to depreciation.
  • Easier car-buying process


  • Potential for costly maintenance or repairs
  • Outdated technology
  • Less fuel efficiency

3. Determine car financing. 

As we know, we’d all have sufficient savings to buy a car in cash. However, many Americans may not have that amount of money in hand. A report by Experian found that about 86% of new car purchases and 37% of used cars sold are financed.

It’s smart to look into private financing because you may get a better deal on a loan at a bank or credit union than at a dealership. Prefer getting pre-approved for a car loan beforehand to make the process easy and avoid amazement when you go to buy.

4. Decide on your car options. 

Now that you have a list of important car features, you can start looking into what models fit your needs, wants, and price range. Most people prefer to do their searches about car buying online, but don’t forget to utilize the opinions of real car owners like your friends and family. They can shed light on their car-buying process and even give reviews on cars they currently own or have owned in the past. Narrow it down to your top three options, and then try calling dealerships or browsing sellers online to get a feel for what’s available.

5. Check the market price list.

With the top ideas that pop into your mind, it’s the best time to do some research on their fair market prices. With the help of appraisal tools like Kelley Blue Book or NADA, you can assess the fair value of your potential picks. Whether you’re negotiating with a private seller or at the dealership, go through this research to use as a negotiating point. This will help you achieve better deals, especially if your car of choice is ridiculously marked by a private seller.

6. Analyze the best time to buy a car. 

Depending on how early you need a vehicle, think about whether you can make your purchase at an ideal time. It is seen that the best time to buy a car is any time between October and December. Many dealerships have yearly sales quotas to fill, and old models need to be vacated to make room for new explorations at the end of the year.

You can buy a car on Monday because many dealerships are busy over the weekend. On Monday, you have sufficient time to bargain the best deal, and sellers may be more willing to negotiate after a busy weekend of sales. 

7. Prefer test drives.

Before you buy a car, it’s necessary that you’re able to test drive it first. You may have done all the research and know exactly what you want to buy, but when you get in the driver’s seat, it could be a totally different scenario and mindset. Based on your choice, go for a few test drives to see how you like different cars.

This is especially important if you’re buying a second-hand or used car, as you don’t want to purchase a car that has major problems right from the start. When you’re test driving a used car, make sure to check everything. Look for damage to the inside and outside; make sure there are no concerning smells as you start driving; and also listen for noises that may indicate problems.

Don’t forget to check the car out yourself; it’s worthwhile to pay a mechanic to do a check if you’re serious about buying.

8. Check price quotes. 

If you’re thinking of buying a new car, you need to go to a dealership that has the color of your choice. If you’re buying used, this might mean finding a private seller within a reasonable geographical distance from you with the exact year and model you want for sale. It’s good to locate a few similar options, and keep in mind that you may have to travel farther to find the right car. 

9. Negotiate with the best dealbreaker. 

When you’re buying from a private seller or dealer, it’s necessary that you take the opportunity to bargain the best deal for you. One idea is to have other dealers note down their best offers and use them to see if some other person can give you a better one. By this observation, you are aware of the drop in price. Follow the following tips:

Have  patience. It’s difficult to bargain when you’re in a hurry. Give time to talk through the details and make sure you have the numbers straight by asking for the out-the-door price.

Confidence that you can walk away at many points. If you’re not being treated fairly or don’t like the deal, feel free to walk away from the negotiation.

Bargain as much as you can on more than just the price of your car. While getting a bargain on your car is a single thing, lowering your interest rate if you’re financing or negotiating more out of your trade-in can help keep money in your wallet.

10. Bring proper documents.

Car buying is a time-consuming process. Lessen the time you spend at the dealership by being prepared with all the proper documents and payment information. Following is a list of things you’ll need to bring:

  • Driving license
  • Proof of car insurance
  • Your payment method
  • For financing with the dealership, also bring:
  • A credit report
  • Proof of employment
  • Aware of discount information Reference list

11. Do your purchase

With your insurance activated and the deal settled, it’s finally time to purchase your car. Get your paperwork signed and enjoy the lovely moment they hand over your new keys.

12. Lock your insurance policy 

With your latest pop-up in mind, it’s helpful to factor car insurance into your pocket. Car insurance is the second-largest expense after buying the car itself. Go to The Zebra to compare car insurance rates side-by-side and ensure you get the best deal. Make sure you have information on your credit score, driving history, and preferred coverage levels readily available so you know your quote is accurate. To help you understand your coverage options or choose the right insurance company, check out this car insurance buying guide.

13. Would you prefer trading in your car? 

Before moving in for barging, you may want to prefer trading in your present vehicle if you already own one. Ask a few dealerships for their offers, and use this information to your advantage. Even if you plan to sell your car personally and get extra money, you can use this information in bargaining. If you don’t plan to sell privately, it’s worthwhile to prefer the dealership’s offer as a way to finance your new car purchase. Here are a few tips to help you get the best trade-in offer:

Consider selling to a used car dealer if you have a popular model with less mileage.

Make little repairs, such as replacing a dim headlight, because it can help you get more business value out of your car. Don’t spend your money to repair large things, though; it will be much more pocket-friendly for the dealer to do it themselves.

Wash your car and clean up the interior and engine to make a good impression.

14. Go for online shopping.

If shopping around at different dealerships looks like a chore, always try buying your car online. Research new and used car inventories all from the comfort of your home with sites like J.D. Power, Carvana, or CarMax.

It’s important to note that only used cars can be bought entirely online, as dealerships have exclusive rights to new cars in the US. Online is the best option to buy a car, and they have better options and good offers to buy.

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