It's time to buy a car! Perhaps this isn't your first time. Perhaps you purchased one in the past, maybe as a cash-strapped college student, having to scrounge for every last nickel to get some beater. This time is different, though. This time you're buying with a romantic partner and both of you are contributing some serious cash. This time there's far more pressure. A car is likely to be the second-most expensive purchase of your life, so you've got to get it right. There's tons of advice out there on purchasing a car, but here's some for anyone who has to negotiate not only with a seller, but also, at least a little, with a co-buyer.
Determine needs, wants and lifestyle
It's pretty obvious, whether you're buying solo or with another person, that if you haul a boat up to the cottage every spring, then a sweet little Miata may not be the car for you. However, if you are buying as a couple, there are other factors to keep in mind. Will your significant other enjoy driving around in the pink Cadillac you've insisted upon? Will he or she not be able to handle the power of a three-ton monster truck? Heck, even the old manual-vs-automatic argument can pop up. Before you start shopping, sit down and discuss all of your wants and needs.
One of you makes $75K at a bank. The other is still in school and makes a pittance as a part-time burger flipper at a fast-food joint. In that situation, are you going to split payments equally, or will one person pay more? Are you both comfortable with the answer? In either case, is the car affordable no matter what each person earns? Of course there are many, many cars we'd all love to splurge on, but is $1,500 a month for the next five years really something you can handle? Make a list of the cost of all your necessities (food, shelter, etc.), and then that will give you a better idea of what you can afford. Lastly, don't forget that if you don't already have a car, you'll need to include the new cost of gas, maintenance – and insurance (more on that later). Also, remember to leave yourself some breathing room, and depend on wringing every penny out of every paycheque. Should the primary earner lose his/her job, would the burger joint be able to cover the cost for a while?
One thing that is often overlooked, or left until too late, is the cost of insurance. This should be a consideration right through the purchase process. Of course, premiums can vary greatly on the type of car you drive and where you live. Also, the history of one driver will now affect both. With the Internet, it's a snap to research potential costs. Another variable to consider is who will be the primary driver on the car, and who the secondary. Looking into this now can help inform your choice of car. It can also prevent you from suddenly discovering, after you've purchased your dream car, that it's the most stolen vehicle in your postal code and that therefore insurance firms want a couple grand a month to cover your new baby.
Foresee probable changes
Okay, you can't possibly anticipate every single change coming your way. Life's like that. However, unless you feel like going through the whole purchase process again, it's a good idea to look ahead as much as you can. Perhaps you're hoping to get a job in the snow-filled far north? Maybe leave the cherry-red sports car for the mid-life crisis that is coming your way. If you're in a serious relationship, maybe you're hoping for a child in the next year or two? Again, it might be best to walk away from the coupe, no matter how slick it is. On the other hand, if you've already purchased (but not moved into) a condo with a parking garage that is small, with low ceilings and numerous pillars, then maybe a smaller car could handle that space better than a giant pickup. There are numerous variables at play; you can't control all of them perfectly, but you can do your best.
Negotiate your shopping style
I get it. Some people like to go into a store intending to buy a pair of socks, buy the first acceptable pair they see, and get out. Time spent: 35 seconds, and about half of that was waiting in line. Then there are others, who try on every pair of socks in the store and STILL can't make a choice. Time spent: Eternity. That's just the way it is. There's no right or wrong. (Actually, there is – the faster people are right.) With an important decision like a car, it's worthwhile to negotiate HOW you're going to shop before you begin. If one partner wants to buy the first car that comes close to matching their criteria, and the other partner wants to look at every possible car on the market, it can lead to a lot of stress and frustration. So agree beforehand how long you're going to look. Every night for a few weeks? Until the end of the month? Getting that out of the way will allow you to concentrate on the actual car.
Use the value finder
One of the biggest worries among car buyers is that they'll get ripped off. Is a 2009 Corolla, with 50,000 kilometres, worth $5K or $15K? How can you tell? It's bad enough if you're spending just your own money. However, with the added pressure of someone else's hard-earned dough at stake, it's well worth researching an advertised price. Once you've found a car that interests you, check out what similar automobiles have recently sold for via online tools like this Value Finder.
Be sure what you want
Of course, having had frequent discussions, this won't apply so much to you. However, some sellers are adept at detecting indecision and playing couples against one another ("It seems like your wife really wants the convertible…"). Should differences arise, ask for some private time to discuss the matter alone.
Remember: A car sale is final
A car isn't a pair of socks – you can't just take it back to the store because you no longer like the colour. Before you hand over any money or sign anything, make sure both of you are happy with the choice, and have felt able to express any misgivings to one another. It's bad enough if you go on to regret buying a car alone, but "wasting" several thousand dollars could create trouble in any relationship. So be sure.
Most of all: Have fun! Cars are awesome! This is supposed to be enjoyable!