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The Car Buying Process

The Car Buying Process

In the market for a vehicle?

Learn how to make sure you get the best deal!

The 9-Step Car Buying G.P.S

Steps to setting Goals, Planning ahead and ensuring Success

Unless you are going to start collecting 400-foot mega yachts, a vehicle is likely to be one of the largest purchases you will make in your life. By taking the time to properly plan and prepare for buying a car, you can save yourself hundreds or thousands of dollars and set yourself up for a more secure financial future.

#1 Figure out what you can afford.

Complete a budget. As you create your budget you can adjust the numbers to see how different transportation expenses would fit into your monthly spending plan. You can then plug that monthly number into an auto payment calculator to see how much of a total vehicle price you can afford. 

#2 Monitor your credit.

Review your credit reports. To ensure the accuracy of the reports and pinpoint areas that may need work, use the credit bureaus' annual credit report service to get free copies of your reports at or by calling 877.322.8228. 

#3 Find the right car for you.

Think about how you will use the vehicle. Will you be using it to cross snow-covered mountain passes with hairpin turns and thousand foot drops, or will you be using your vehicle for something more challenging, like chauffeuring your children?

Pay special attention to the safety and reliability ratings. No car meets your needs when it’s up on blocks next to the garage or puts you at personal risk of harm. 

Check with your insurance provider. That cherry red sports car might sound like the key to your eternal happiness, but you might not be as thrilled when you get your car insurance bill. 

To start shopping for your next car, visit ALEC’s Auto Buying Service, True Car. True Car can provide you with peace of mind knowing you’ve done your homework before you’ve entered the lot.

With ALEC’s Auto Buying Service, you can:

  • Visit our Auto Buying Service online and research a new car based on your preferences or search thousands of pre-owned inventory and see dealer-guaranteed prices 
  • Print your Guaranteed Savings Certificate, which includes a summary of your car and your dealer contact information, so you can arrange a test drive and confirm availability 
  • Present your Guaranteed Savings Certificate to your dealer for an easy and hassle-free car-buying experience 

Plus, with the upfront, transparent pricing TrueCar provides, you can eliminate unpleasant, hidden surprises that have hit uninformed buyers in the past. 

Click here to get started.

#4 Consider new vs. used and the down payment amount.

Decide whether you will buy a new or used vehicle. Do you prefer the negligible wear-and-tear and increased reliability of a new vehicle, even if it means the value may drop sharply in the first few years? Or would you rather let someone else take on that depreciation by going with a used vehicle, but take the risk of not fully knowing the condition and history of the vehicle?

Think about how large of a down payment you can make. Making a down payment can help you get qualified for a loan, get a better interest rate, get a lower monthly payment, get a more expensive car for the same monthly payment, or build equity (owing less on the vehicle than it is worth) more quickly. 

#5 Get financing.

Arrange your vehicle loan before you go to the dealership. You will have a lot to think about when you are at the dealership looking at cars: different vehicles available, test-driving, negotiating a price, etc. Just like you shop around for a good deal on a car, shop around for the best deal on financing.

Get pre-approved with ALEC before you go to the dealership. Simply click here to apply, visit a Service Center or call us at 800.762.9988.

#6 Determine favorites, contact dealers and check quality.

Find the vehicles that best fit your needs. Websites like, CNBC, Consumer Reports, Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book and Yahoo Autos regularly publish articles on the best vehicles to meet particular needs, so take advantage of these free resources. Create a comparison chart to keep track of all the attributes that matter most to you and how each vehicle stacks up. 

Use the internet or trips to dealerships to comparison shop. Once you know which vehicle will suit you best, start looking at particular models and add the prices of each to your comparison chart.

Do test drives and check vehicle histories. During the test drive, pay special attention to the transmission, shocks, brakes and alignment. If you aren’t sure what to look or listen for, invite a more experienced driver along on the test drive. Write down the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and use it to get a vehicle history report from a company like AutoCheck or CARFAX if you are shopping for a used vehicle. 

#7 Get the best price on the car.

Know what your preferred models are selling for. ALEC’s Auto Buying Service, TrueCar, specializes in tracking the average price of vehicles and rebates or incentives available. 

Negotiate each piece of the deal separately. Beware of salespeople who roll the different components of the transaction – purchase price, financing, trade-in, extras - into one deal or who make an offer in one area of the deal that sounds too good to be true.

#8 Know your legal responsibilities.

Find out the insurance necessary for your state. The Insurance Information Institute’s website at has a list of the minimum insurance requirement for each state.

Learn what the DMV requirements are for your area. Contact your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to make sure you have the proper license plate stickers or any other items that might be necessary to register your vehicle.

#9 Put yourself in position to succeed long-term.

Establish an emergency savings account. Budget-busting unexpected expenses have a way of popping up in life and vehicles can be a major source of these.

Save on gas. Consider ways you can get more out of the gas you buy, like using the air conditioning sparingly and removing heavy items from the trunk.

Save on your insurance. Shopping for the best insurance deal is always a good idea, but think about all the ways you could get a better deal, like improving your credit score, buying a used car instead of a new one and avoiding 4-wheel drive and high performance cars. Click here to get a quote on auto insurance with TruStage, ALEC’s insurance program.

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