“Do your research in advance, have a short list and test-drive all of them,” he said. Tell the dealer that you’re not buying yet, to help reduce pressure.
For a three-day weekend, Mr. Jones suggested narrowing your list to two or three models by Saturday. Test-drive the cars on Sunday, then buy — if you’re ready — on Monday.
Also, be flexible. Overall car quality has improved immensely, Mr. Jones said, so you may be able to find an affordable option by looking beyond your first choice. “Take off your blinders, if you’re loyal to one brand,” he said.
Do I have to use the dealer’s financing offer?
No. Consider getting preapproved for a loan at your own bank or credit union before visiting a dealership, Ms. Adams said. That way, you’ll know how much money you qualify for and you’ll have a base rate to compare with the dealership’s offer.
While buying is generally less expensive than leasing over all, shoppers may want to consider leasing in certain situations — if, say, a teenager is going to be driving the car. Leasing may make a car with the latest safety features more affordable, which is an acceptable trade-off if an inexperienced driver is behind the wheel, Mr. Bartlett said.
How can I judge if a car is affordable for me?
A good rule of thumb is “20-4-10”: Put at least 20 percent down in cash, stick to a four-year loan, and aim for a monthly payment that is no more than 10 percent of your gross income.
Mr. Bartlett’s general advice is to pay cash for a car, if you can. If financing is a must, a loan term of 48 months at the most, at a rate as near zero as possible, is the next best option. “Going beyond that is a bad investment on a depreciating asset,” he said.