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How to Use a Car Buying Checklist

March 15, 2019 | By Daniel Dewitt

Buying cars is hard. This is a simple but fundamental truth that we forget all too often when we're shopping for a car to replace our current one. Cars are enormously expensive purchases that you'll be using daily for years to come, and on top of that the vast majority of us can't afford buying new, which means that we have to deal with all the complexities and intrigue that comes with buying a used item.

But there is one tool that can help you with making the right decision: the humble car buying checklist.

3 Must-Have Car Buying Checklists

While most people think they're too good for them, a simple car buying checklist is one of the most effective and cost-efficient tools you can bring to bear. Why? Simple: we humans are not nearly as clear-headed or meticulous as we like to think. We skip steps without meaning to, forget to ask questions, or simply don't know what we don't know.

Studies have proven that even the smartest person can't keep more than seven things in their head at the same time, and that and the other above reasons are why putting the most important steps to buying a car to paper in a checklist can be so powerful. A car buying checklist forces you to slow down and keeps you from skipping a potentially hugely important step in making a responsible purchase. Here are the top 2 car buying checklists to keep in mind before you hit the dealership.

Checklist: Before Your Buy

The first car buying checklist you're going to need to draw up is the one that will lay out your plan before you even step onto a car lot. This includes things like doing research, getting the paperwork you need together, and getting preapproved for a car loan.

For research you're going to want to gather for your car buying checklist, simply do the following steps. First, analyze your current budget to see what kind of monthly car payment you can comfortably afford. Then, read reviews on cars in your price range. And finally, check Kelly Blue Book or other online car resources to see what a reasonable price for the type of car you want is in your area. Getting the paperwork together is a simpler process, but on your checklist you should also put some important items, like your driver's license, proof of insurance, and whatever funds you have to put toward a down payment.

Finally, getting pre-approved for a car loan isn't too complicated a procedure, but you should still put it on your checklist. That's because, after you contact your local bank or credit union about taking one out, they'll still have to perform a credit check. You donÕt need to have a specific car in mind when you get pre-approved, as Edmunds.com explains:

"If you are undecided about what new car you want, many lenders will give you a sort of 'blank check' that isn't limited to a certain car or dealer. The check isn't truly blank: its maximum amount will be the one for which you qualified. With this check in hand, you can visit multiple dealerships and test-drive as many cars as you want before making a decision to buy. Once you've found the right car for you, [you] hand over your check and the dealer will make the arrangements with your lender."

Checklist: The Negotiation

The second car buying checklist you need to draw up is for once you're at the car lot and you're ready to buy. Car salesmen are notoriously tricky to deal with, so arming yourself with the proper checklist is of critical importance.

This checklist is where all your work on the previous list comes into play. First, you want to put taking the car you want for a test drive on your checklist, to make sure it drives smoothly and without any noticeable problems. Second, you'll want to add on asking the salesman for a price. And, because you did research on average car prices on the previous checklist, you'll be able to tell right away whether it's a fair price or not.

Third on your list should be to avoid upsells. Upsells are when salesmen try to get you to spend more money by suggesting incremental improvements to what you're getting. Upsells can include anti-theft devices, extended warranties, or even paint protection.

And finally on your checklist should always be to review your contract before you sign it. Contracts are legally binding documents, and you want to be sure that the price you agreed on is the price on the contract. Same goes with any add-ons they may try and slip in.

Checklist for the Checklist

I'll leave you with this quote from a study conducted on just how powerful checklists can be when applied to something as complex as surgery: "A checklist for surgical teams that includes steps as basic as having the doctors and nurses introduce themselves can significantly lower the number of deaths and complications, researchers reported Wednesday- a year after surgical teams at eight hospitals adopted a 19-item checklist, the average patient death rate fell more than 40 percent and the rate of complications fell by about a third, the researchers reported."

If a checklist is good enough for surgery, why not buying a car?

If you follow all the steps in this guide, you'll have created a car buying checklist that will serve you well no matter what car you eventually decide on getting for yourself. Our lives are simply too hectic, and car buying too complicated a process to always be able to keep everything in our head at once. Creating a checklist lets you prepare ahead of time, no matter where your car buying process sends you.