The Ultimate Guide to Buying a New Car

There's a lot to think about when you're in the market for a new car.

From the make, model, and color to the way that you'll pay, you have plenty of decisions to make.

This guide will walk you through all that you'll have to consider in your journey toward getting a new (or new-to-you) vehicle.

We'll take a look at the pros and cons of new and used cars, leasing versus buying, finding a car the whole family will love, and much more!

Let's dive in!

Deciding between new or used

Before you start thinking about what to hang from your rearview mirror you have some bigger fish to fry.

Should you buy new or used?

Each option comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. Your best bet is to think through each of them in order to make a well-informed choice.

Pros of buying new

With a brand new vehicle, you'll get:

  • The color combinations and other options that are hand-picked by you.

  • The newest in technology.

  • The most up-to-date safety features.

  • The best warranty.

  • A lower interest rate.

  • A car with a free and clear history.

  • A vehicle with absolutely no wear and tear.

Cons of buying new

There are a couple main disadvantages to purchasing a new vehicle - both economic.

  • The pricetag is higher.

  • The value plummets in the first few years.

Pros of buying used

Purchasing a used vehicle has some definite benefits:

  • Pre-owned cars don't cost as much.

  • It generally costs less to insure a used vehicle.

  • You're not the one who has to take the depreciation hit.

Cons of buying used

There are some disadvantages to purchasing a used vehicle.

  • A used vehicle will generally need more repair work and may not be as reliable.

  • Your choices of color and options are limited.

  • The process to find exactly what you want may take more time.

If you choose used

There's certain information that should be gathered about the used car you're thinking of purchasing.

The process will move more smoothly if you're prepared before you begin car shopping. It'll also make you a more confident buyer.

Here are four of the most important steps you should take before you sign on the dotted line.

1. Go for a test drive.

It's essential for you to get behind the wheel of a used car before you commit to buying. As you drive, listen for any suspicious sounds and make sure the engine is running smoothly. Your test drive should be long enough for any other potential problems to show up.

2. Check out the maintenance records.

Don't take the dealer's word that a car has been well cared for. Look at the actual maintenance history so you're clear on how well the vehicle has actually been maintained.

3. Get the mileage information.

You'll want to know not only what the odometer says, but also what kind of miles they are. Wondering why it matters? City driving, with all its stops and starts is much harder on a vehicle than highway driving.

4. Make sure it has never been in a major accident.

Scrapes and dings happen. They're generally not a problem because they don't influence how well the car runs. On the other hand, you should probably steer clear of a car that has been in a major accident. Most car dealers will give you a report for a vehicle that includes information about any accidents the car may have endured.

The most important aspect is that you feel like you have a good handle on the vehicle you're getting. Using the Kelley Blue Book can be a great resource to make sure you're not overpaying.

Do your homework! It's always best to thoroughly consider all of your options so that you can make an informed choice.

Choosing to lease or buy

There are many factors that can play into your decision about leasing or buying your next vehicle.

Looking at the advantages and disadvantages of each option can help you make the best decision for you.

Here's a rundown.

Benefits of leasing

These are the reasons leasing is a good option:

  • You'll have smaller monthly payments and the required down payment will be  lower. Sometimes you won't have to make any down payment.

  • You'll save money on repairs because the car will still be under warranty during the time it's in your possession.

  • When your lease ends, you don't have to be concerned about trade-in values.

Drawbacks of leasing

Here are some reasons you may want to think twice:

  • At the end of the lease you won't own the car.

  • You can only put a certain amount of miles on a leased vehicle.

  • You could be charged for what a dealer may consider excessive wear and tear when you turn the car in.

Benefits of buying

These are the reasons to pull the trigger on buying your vehicle:

  • It will save you money over the long haul.

  • Your miles aren't limited.

  • You're able to use the vehicle for a trade-in when you're ready to upgrade.

Drawbacks of buying

These issues should give you pause before buying:

  • If you can't make a sizable down payment, you'll risk owing more on the car than it's worth.

  • You'll pay a higher monthly payment.

  • The cost for repairs will be all on you once the warranty has expired.

  • It's not always easy to sell your car or get what you want for a trade-in when it's time to upgrade.

Take your time and think it through!

If you choose to lease

Leasing is a popular option, but to get the most for your money, you need to have a clear understanding of what you're entering into.

Take a look.

Leasing guidelines

There are some general rules about used cars that are available for lease.

They have to:

  • Be Certified Pre-Owned.

  • No more than four years old.

  • Have fewer 48,000 miles on the odometer.

The best vehicles to lease

There's no way to know how much a car will be worth at the end of the lease. For this reason, your best bet is to go with a vehicle that will hold its value well over time.

Some of the brands that would be a good choice for a used car lease are Honda, Subaru, and Mazda, as well as luxury brands like Acura.

Watch out for these leasing mistakes

Any of these mistakes can end up costing you more than you bargained for when all is said and done.

Here are four of the biggest "don'ts" to watch out for.

1. Don't put too much money down.

Despite the lower payment, it's not always a good idea to put a large amount of money down. If some calamity were to befall your vehicle - think accident or theft - during the first months of the lease term, you wouldn't get the money back that you had put down.

2. Don't underestimate how many miles you'll drive.

Remember, you'll face a charge for each and every mile that you drive over the set number you're allowed by the terms of the lease. You don't want to end up paying for miles on a car that you're not even driving!

3. Don't put off routine maintenance.

It's pretty simple - take care of your vehicle. Your wallet will thank you.

4. Don't make the lease term too long.

If you're the type of person who likes to keep your vehicles for a while, leasing isn't your best option.

Hanging on to a leased vehicle too long will end up costing you more money in the long run.

In the next section, we'll explore options for paying for a new vehicle.

All about financing your car

If you've decided that purchasing your vehicle is the right option for you, you need to understand financing.

But first, a word of caution: Don't confuse the order of the process!

What does that mean?

Don't wait until you've researched, taken a couple test drives,  and fallen head-over-heels  in love with a vehicle before you know how you're going to pay for it.

Figure out the financial situation first so that you don't wind up disappointed.

Here are the basics of financing a car.

What is financing?

This option means that a lender loans you money and you pay them back over time, usually with interest.

Dealers often offer zero-interest deals periodically throughout the year.

What's the term?

The "term" is the length time you have to repay the lender.

For example, if your term is 3 years, you'll make monthly payments on the loan for a period of 3 years.

A longer term will give you a lower payment.

Why does your credit score matter?

To put it quite simply, a good credit score will land you a lower interest rate.

The bottom line?  Your good credit will result in paying a lower overall cost for your vehicle.

You should be familiar with your credit score before you go into a dealership so you don't wind up with a disappointing surprise in the financing office.

How to improve your credit score

What can you do if you know that you're going to be in the market for a vehicle but your credit is less than stellar?

Here's how you can give your credit score a boost before you attempt to make a vehicle purchase.

  • Pay your credit cards down. A smaller debt-to-income ratio results in a higher credit score.

  • Don't carry a balance. You can improve your credit rating by consolidating several cards with smaller balances into one card. Credit companies don't like to see you carrying a balance from month to month.

  • Pay on time. You should be paying all your bills on time, each month. Those late payments can really be a hit to your credit score.

  • It's okay to leave "good" debt on your report. "Good" debt is a financial obligation that you have paid as agreed - it's good for your credit!

Repairing poor credit takes time. The sooner you start, the better - especially if you'd like to see a new vehicle in your future.

Don't be afraid to shop around

Consult with a variety of lenders to see who will give you the best deal on interest rate and terms. You can try banks, credit unions, and even online lenders to see who can give you the best deal.

Don't make the mistake of assuming your car dealer won't have great financing options. Often, they can give you better rates than other lenders.

Understanding the financing process allows you to go into the dealership prepared, having a handle on how much you can spend on a vehicle.

Your visit to the Finance and Insurance Department

Purchasing a car requires you to fill out a lot of paperwork. The place you'll probably do that is the Finance and Insurance Department.

The F&I Department

Here's a rundown of what you'll do in the Finance and Insurance Department.

  • Figure out all the ins and outs of financing your new car.

  • Complete the paperwork that's required for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

  • Go over the licensing and title.

Additional products and services

At this point in the process, the dealer's Finance Manager will probably have some different products and/or services to offer you.

This is what's available.

Extended warranty

It's important to keep in mind that these auto service contracts are separate from the warranty that comes with your new car and are completely optional. Those warranties come from the vehicle's manufacturer. What the dealership will offer you is an extended warranty. An extended warranty will usually cover electrical and mechanical malfunctions that aren't covered by the manufacturer's warranty.

Credit insurance

Another completely optional purchase, this type of policy will pay your loan payments if you become disabled or pass away.

GAP insurance

GAP stands for Guaranteed Auto Protection. It provides coverage for the gap created by the amount you still owe on your loan and the amount the insurance company will pay if your vehicle is totaled in an accident, stolen, or otherwise damaged. It may be required by your lender in some situations but usually isn't.

Investing in a car that pleases everyone

Each person in your family will have their own likes and dislikes when it comes to vehicles. It can be hard to find one that suits everyone, but it's not impossible.

Here are some vehicle features that everyone in the family can appreciate.

Flexible seating

Your needs are ever-changing, right? When you're hauling the soccer team, you need as many seats as possible. Other times you may need less seating and more room for groceries. The best vehicles for families allow for the different scenarios that life throws at you.


This one's a no-brainer. Safety is the most important factor when you're choosing a family vehicle.

You'll want to look for:

Latest technology

Let's face it - the right entertainment can make or break a long road trip.

When you're shopping for a family vehicle, consider one with features such as:

  • Plenty of USB ports.

  • A great audio system.

  • Rear-seat DVD

The right upholstery

Whether you have toddlers, teenagers, or adults in your vehicle frequently, you know that messes happen. You can keep your interior looking sharp by choosing dark fabric or smooth leather seats or you could go for a stain-resistant fabric.

Don't forget the little things

When you're concerned with gas mileage and having enough seats, you may forget some of the features that can make your life a whole lot easier, like having enough cupholders and ample storage space.

Purchasing a car for your student

Once those toddlers grow up, you may decide it's time for them to have a vehicle of their own.

When you get to that point, the foremost thought on your mind is going to be safety.

Here are some vehicles that fit the bill while also looking pretty cool, too.

Honda Fit

You'll be surprised by how much the seemingly small Fit can actually hold - an especially important feature for those college students who are packing up and traveling back and forth to school.

The bonus is that it gets great gas mileage.


There's no doubt that this car is fun to drive. It also has fantastic safety ratings, has great fuel economy, and comes in a hatchback model that provides some extra cargo space.

Subaru Legacy

It's probably not a surprise that the Legacy has stellar safety ratings, just like the other vehicles in the Subaru family. One of the features that sets the Legacy apart as a great choice for your student is the standard all-wheel drive.

The Outback with its hatchback or the Forester SUV have the same great features as the Legacy with more space.

Acura TSX

For a safe and reliable ride, your student will enjoy the sporty TSX. If luxury is an important feature, the TL offers it in spades at a reasonable price.

Honda Civic

The bottom line is, you can't go wrong with a Civic. It has a perfect safety rating, it's fuel efficiency is seriously impressive, and it's a techie's dream,with a rearview camera, a USB port, and Bluetooth.

If your student prefers a roomier vehicle, the Honda Accord is a solid choice, as well.

Buying a car with a senior citizen in mind

As time goes on, your needs change. As you get older, it may not be as important to have a snazzy little convertible as it is to have a ride that keeps you comfortable and is easy to get in and out of.

It's also an important consideration if you're caring for elderly parents or friends.

These are the features for which you'll be looking.

  • Seats that are high enough. The height of your seat determines the ease with which you can get in and out.

  • Enough leg room. Whether it's the front seat or the back seat, leg room is important for an older person.

  • Electric seating. Adjusting the seats is much easier when all you have to do is push a button.

  • Electric locks. If your loved one struggles with dementia, it can be quite dangerous to travel with them in a vehicle that doesn't have electric locks and child-safety locks.

  • Ample cargo space. If you have wheelchairs, walkers, or other necessary equipment, you'll want to have plenty of space.

  • Keyless entry. Not only does this make it easier to get into your vehicle, it also allows you to assist your loved one.

  • Remote start and temperature controls. Temperature can have an effect on achy joints, breathing, and other issues that the elderly often deal with. Being able to make the environment optimum right from the get-go is a big help.

  • Think carefully about technology. If you're not all that tech-savvy, all the bells and whistles may do more to frustrate you than help. On the other hand, the features that make your experience safer and more enjoyable are worth the learning curve.  

Making the right choice for you

There are decisions galore when it comes to purchasing a vehicle.

New or Used? Lease or Buy?

And on and on!

Sometimes, all you need is the right guidance to make the decision that will be perfect for you and your needs.

At the Park Auto Group, we have the know-how to match you up with the perfect vehicle. Come and see us at one of our Park Subaru, Park Honda, Park Mazda, or Park Acura locations today!