Your Car-Buying Toolkit

Even if you’re no stranger to car buying, the experience can be challenging. Use these tips to help you successfully navigate the process and drive home happy.

car agent congratulate the family

Ready, Set Budget

Before you start shopping for your dream car, set a budget. Many financial experts recommend spending no more than 20% of your net income on a new or used vehicle. So for instance, if you make $40,000 annually, and your monthly take-home pay is $2,500, you’ve got $500 to spend on your car. That amount should factor in not only the car’s sticker price, but the interest rates on your auto loan, taxes and fees, insurance, fuel costs, and monthly maintenance and repairs.

Research Your Options

Transparency and car prices didn’t used to go hand in hand, but thanks to the power of the Internet, there are plenty of car research sites to help you determine pricing and options. For instance, our Car Buying Service powered by TrueCar is great for researching what you can expect to pay and what others have paid for the cars you’re interested in, so you won’t spend more than you need to and can feel good about your final selection. Online tools like Edmunds’ True Cost of Ownership® and Kelley Blue Book’s 5-Year Cost to Own can help you compare vehicles and the costs associated with each, including how quickly their value depreciates over time. If you’ve narrowed down your top choice and know the price you want to pay, search for rebates and special incentives, which can save you even more money. If you’d prefer to leave the research and shopping to an expert, consider working with an Autoland personal concierge who will search for your vehicle, handle the paperwork, and even deliver the car to your nearest branch—you never step foot on the lot.

Get Your Financing Ahead of  Time

Along with your research, be sure to get your financing in order. If you are pre-approved for an auto loan, you’ll know what vehicles you can afford, and you can skip the talk with the dealer’s finance department. Instead, head to one of more than 200 FastTrack dealers to buy your car, and they’ll handle your SchoolsFirst FCU loan paperwork on the spot. Keep in mind: if a dealer offers a better financing option, you’re free to accept it; you lose nothing by coming prepared with your own lending option.mAlso, if you’re new to car buying, we also offer a First-Time Auto Buyer Loan program, created for Members who may have difficulty getting a loan because of no credit history or a limited one.

Take it for a Test Drive

Once you’ve narrowed your choices, it’s time to take the cars for a spin. Many people dread this because they don’t want to be cornered to make a deal. Just be clear with the salesperson about your intentions—that you’re test driving this car along with several other choices—and you won’t be buying today. Drive the car over different road surfaces, and consider its acceleration, visibility, steering and braking, as well as all its security features. And be sure to ask plenty of questions about how things work. Finally, if you have a family, take your kids along for the ride. Their safety and comfort is important, and they’ll tell you what they think. If you’re serious about buying a particular used vehicle, be sure to pay for an inspection by a local mechanic. It usually costs around $100, and is well worth the money to avoid any potential problems that could cost you a bundle down the road. And check out, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s site, for informative articles and videos about auto safety.

The Art of the Deal

When you know the car you want, have secured your financing and crunched all the numbers, you’re ready to negotiate.You’ll need to know your vehicle’s factory invoice price—the price the dealer actually paid for the car, if there are any rebates or factory-to-dealer incentives being offered, and what you’ll be charged for dealer-installed options.  Add the cost of these to the factory invoice price, subtract any rebates, and you’ll have an estimate of what you should be paying for the vehicle. Then, use this figure to negotiate up, instead of starting from the sticker price and working down. But if you’d like to skip all this back and forth, and simply don’t have the stomach for it, consider one of our free car buying services. In addition to our Car Buying Service powered by TrueCar and Autoland—both for new and used cars—Enterprise Car Sales offers quality used cars backed by an excellent warranty for a no-haggle price. You’ve got all the tools you need to ensure you get a good price on the car you want. And remember: if you do decide to brave the car lot, be willing to walk away if you don’t feel good about the deal you’ve been offered.


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Extra Credit provides general information to help improve our Member’s financial lives. Every situation is different, so please contact us for guidance on your specific needs. The advice provided in Extra Credit is not intended to serve as a substitute for speaking to a loan representative, financial advisor, or BALANCE counselor who can help tailor a solution for you.

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