May 20, 2020

Car Buying Cheat-Sheet

Next time you buy a car, this quick cheat-sheet will help you get the best deal on the right vehicle for you (and your budget).

Before You Shop

Get Your Budget Pre-Approved

Before you break out the calculator and the budget spreadsheet, try getting pre-approved for an auto loan. Your credit union or bank will tell you how much you can afford and give you an idea of the rates and term options available to you. It’s still a good idea to make sure that the loan payment fits the rest of your budget, but this starting point can give you a more solid number to work with.

Narrow Down Your Favorites

Narrow down your choices to three or four models of vehicles. When you have some options to consider, check the reviews, value, and safety using online services:

Schedule Appointments Ahead

Select a few local listings that fit your criteria and set up appointments to stop by for a look and test drive. A confirmed appointment can save you from waiting around at the dealership for a vehicle that may not be ready yet, and scheduling several in one day can help avoid getting stuck in sales talks for too long.

Check Your Work

You’ve found a vehicle that fits your budget and your needs, but what else should you look out for?

Negotiate Confidently

If you planned ahead with some of the steps above, you’ll have what you need to talk numbers. Buyers who have been pre-approved by their credit union or bank have the added benefit of knowing exactly how much they’re pre-approved for and what the rate will be. Be reasonable, but firm, and you’ll find that most dealers are happy to work with well-informed customers.

Put it Through Its Paces

Test-driving someone else’s car (whether dealer-owned or not) can be stressful. Avoid the instinct to baby the car too much just because the owner or sales person is there with you—test important features to see how they react under normal driving conditions:

  • Ride Comfort: How does it ride on the highway? Over potholes?
  • Acceleration: Give it a little gas (carefully), does it respond as expected? Is there a noticeable hiccup when shifting gears? Check the rear view for smoke while accelerating as well.
  • Brakes: Brakes feel different on different vehicles—if you’re moving to a hybrid for the first time the brakes may feel softer than you’re used to, but make sure that the brakes are responsive without being sticky.
  • Steering: Does the vehicle travel straight or require a lot of corrections? Does it hug curves or lumber around turns?
  • Sound: Take a moment of silence to check how loud it is in the car, especially on the highway. How hard is it to hear other passengers at normal volume?
  • Visibility: How hard would it be to parallel park this vehicle? Can you see well enough when turning?

Is it a used vehicle? Have it inspected.

Unless you’re an auto expert yourself, take the car to a mechanic for a professional inspection. Honest owners and dealerships are happy for truly interested buyers to take a final look under the hood before making a purchase. It won’t cost you much, but will give you peace of mind and avoid buyer’s remorse.

Getting a vehicle history report from, Carfax, or AutoCheck can also give you information about past repairs or accidents that might have affected the overall structure of the vehicle.

Make it Official

Fees & Final Price

Before you sign, be sure to read the contract carefully and discuss any unexpected fees. It’s also a good idea to double-check that the final amount shown on the contract is the same that was discussed.

Title & Registration

Once you’ve got your new set of wheels, be sure to get your new license plate before your temporary registration from the dealership runs out. And remember that new rules went into effect in July 2019 that call for sellers to keep the plates when selling a vehicle. 


Getting car insurance quotes online is quite easy these days—shop around with different providers or put in a request and get multiple quotes back. At the very least, be sure to get more than one quote. It could save you a significant amount of money each year.

This article is for educational purposes only. Tulsa FCU makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, or specific suitability of any information presented. Information provided should not be relied on or interpreted as legal, tax or financial advice. Nor does the information directly relate to our products and/or services terms and conditions.