It started with two shredded tires a few weeks after Christmas… As my SUV lingered in the shop, with line item after line item in need of repair added to my invoice, it became abundantly clear to me that I was going to have to do the seemingly unthinkable and start the process of buying a new car.
The SUV I have now is the second car I have bought as a woman, totally alone at the dealership, no husband/father/well-meaning male in sight, which means my next car will be the third time I have walked this road sans man. My general car knowledge is essentially, “Does it have a radio and, like, drive and stuff?” But my solo car buying knowledge is pretty vast.
Here are my tips for buying a car alone as a woman:
1. The Best Time to Buy a Car is When You Still Have a Car.
Someone told me this and it is so true. The first time I bought a car, I had a week to get one before I had to turn my then company vehicle in after my position in commercial flooring sales management was eliminated. This time around, I have a car that is still safe and drivable, but whose repairs cost far more than the car itself is worth. If you can see issues with your current vehicle on the horizon, start shopping then.
2. Use Your Internet Friends.
I, like most of you I’m sure, am in a handful of “mom groups” on Facebook. I have been crowdsourcing these groups and asking fellow mom-taxi drivers what cars they have, what cars they love and if they would buy them again. I’ve also reached out to anyone I know on social media who is affiliated with cars or car dealerships or car auctions. A simple Facebook status asking for recommendations can be one of your best tools to find people who can help you, without feeling pressure by talking to someone on an actual car lot.
3. Know What You Can Buy.
Much like you wouldn’t go house hunting before getting a pre-approval letter stating just how much house you can afford, you can’t shop for a car with no clue what your budget is. Most websites like Cars.com or Carmax have a pretty quick pre-approval form to fill out that gives you a number right away of what you can finance based on credit score, income, desired monthly payment, and down payment amount. Once I got my pre-approval from Carmax, I had a pretty good idea of what I could realistically look for moving forward.
4. Narrow the Playing Field and Research.
Sometimes too much choice can be a bad thing; I have a list of about three to five cars that I am looking at with intent to buy and have been researching nearly everything about those cars specifically. Not only is it important to make sure there have been no safety or parts recalls, it’s also important to use tools like Kelley Blue Book to make sure the cars you’re seeing in dealerships or online are a fair market value.
5. Don’t be Scared to Speak up.
Although most of the salesmen I have dealt with have been really great and fair, there are a few that have seemed pushy or predatory. I’ve asked to be left alone, helped by someone else, or flat out left and asked if there was an online inventory I could look at instead. If you really are knowledgeable about what you’re there to buy, most salesmen will quickly help you and converse with you instead of at you.
6. Don’t Settle!
I’m in my car A LOT so I want it to be as much of what makes me happy as possible. While it may seem silly to some, there are several features of an SUV that are non-negotiable for me like a sunroof (without one I feel like I’m in a dark box), XM radio, heated seats (mama is always cold), captain’s chairs in the first and second rows, leather interior (my kids are gremlins), great tow capacity for my camper, sitting up high (I am very small and full of Napoleonic rage), just to name a few. I can be very impatient and have been tempted in the past to just get whatever so car shopping will be over, and regretted it long term. No matter what make or model you look at, this is a huge purchase that you’ll be paying off for several years so wait until you find something that ticks most of the boxes.
Car shopping can absolutely be scary and overwhelming, but with enough prep before you set foot into a dealership it doesn’t have to be. Also, I didn’t recommend this in detail because I don’t personally have experience with this route, but I know several people who have used sites like Carvana and purchased a vehicle then had it delivered to their house sight unseen and skipped out on a lot of the hassle and haggle typically associated with car buying.