- Decide what you can afford. Look at the total cost of the car – or truck or motorcycle – including fuel, maintenance, and insurance, as well as the down payment and monthly payments.
- What is your current car worth if you sell it or trade it in? Check Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, or the National Automobile Dealers Association’s Guides.
- Decide how you’ll pay for the vehicle. Be sure you understand vehicle financing.
- Then choose the car you want. Research the car, the features you’re interested in, and prices.
- Comparison shop for the car you’ve chosen. Look at dealerships online and at showrooms. Consider checking out deals available through a car-buying service.
- Exchanges may offer special deals. For instance, if you're stationed overseas for at least 30 days, you can typically buy a car tax-free and may even be able to ship it back to the US for free.
- Being prepared helps you find the best deals and to negotiate with dealers. They expect some back and forth with buyers.
- When you’re ready to buy, go to a dealership near the end of the month. That’s when dealers are more motivated to make a sale to meet monthly sale quotas. Also, go midweek when it’s less crowded.
- Talk to the salesperson about the car you want and – at least initially – discuss only the “out the door” price. Don’t talk about monthly payments, trade-ins, or financing until you have the total price locked in.
- Watch for unwanted add-ons or extra fees that you can negotiate. For example, dealer prep or dealer fees are add-ons you don’t have to pay, or can negotiate.
- Once you have the total price locked in, then discuss rebates, cash-back offers, trading in your old car, and financing.
- Feeling pressured? Just don’t like the deal? Walk away. There’s always another car and another deal.
- Leasing a vehicle? Under certain circumstances, you can end the lease if you signed it before you joined the service, or if you get PCS orders to deploy OCONUS for at least 180 days.