15 Things You Should Do 6 Months Before Buying a Car

Follow these steps to buy a car that is affordable and fits your needs.
Updated May 8, 2024
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Thinking about buying your next car? If you want to drive away with the best deal possible, make sure you take some steps in preparation before heading out to the dealership.

Understanding all of the details before making the big purchase is essential, especially if you want to save money on things like car insurance.

Here are 15 things you should do at least three to six months before you buy your next vehicle.

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Check your credit report

REDPIXEL/Adobe credit score report

If you haven’t done so in a few months, now is a good time to check your credit report for accuracy. Even if you're paying bills, it is possible that your credit report contains errors.

If you find mistakes, report them to the credit-reporting agency to make sure they are fixed, and your score looks as good as possible.

Improve your credit score

Olivier Le Moal/Adobe excellent business credit score gauge

Whatever your score is today, take steps to improve it.

Make all of your payments on time, pay down as much of your debt as possible, and don’t apply for any other loans or new credit cards until after you buy the new car. That should help lift your score.

Determine what your budget is

Kittiphan/Adobe stressed woman checking bills

Before you even start looking at offers from local dealerships, know your budget and how much you can spend on a car.

Sit down and figure out how much you pay monthly for housing, groceries, gas, and other expenses. Then, take an honest look at the amount of money you have left over. Is it enough to afford a large car payment?

If not, you might have to compromise and purchase a car that fits better with your finances.

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Turbocharge your savings

Brian Jackson/Adobe piggy bank savings

While paying down debt is a must to boost your credit score, don’t forget to save. The more money you can put down at the time of your purchase, the smaller your car payment is likely to be.

Many experts suggest putting down at least 10% on a used car and 20% of the purchase price for newer cars. That’s going to help lower your interest rate and make monthly payments smaller.

Start researching models

mad_production/Adobe standing in front of car

Research makes and models of cars that fit your needs, not just your desires. You may want a brand-new Ford Mustang or a Tesla in your driveway, but is that realistic, given your budget?

At the end of the day, you simply need an affordable and reliable vehicle that keeps gas costs under control.

Research car recall and repair concerns

Mr. Music/Adobe mechanic examining car suspensions at workshop

Now that you have some vehicles on your list, whittle it down to a handful of real contenders. One way to separate the contenders from the pretenders is to look for models that have a bad history of numerous repairs or recalls.

You can research each of the makes and models on your list against the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s recall tool. This will tell you all known concerns about the vehicle, including formal complaints that have yet to be resolved.

Factor in the cost of insuring different models

makibestphoto/Adobe man signing car insurance

Once you have a few vehicles you are seriously considering, ask your current insurance company how much it would cost to insure each of those cars.

Insurance is an ongoing expense, so choosing a car that is cheaper to insure can amount to big savings as the years roll on.

Read customer reviews online

hakinmhan/Adobe bubble people review comments and smartphone

Look online at reviews of the models you are considering so you can learn what other drivers think of those cars. Are owners happy with their choice, or do they have regrets?

Whatever their feelings, look closely at the factors that are driving their opinions. Read multiple reviews so you're getting a good selection of opinions.

Learn about the dealership itself

HBS/Adobe couple shaking hands with advisor

Before you choose a dealership, read customer reviews on Google. You want to choose a dealer with a professional staff who won’t pressure you into buying something you'll later regret.

Buying a car is a big decision, so choose a dealership that makes you feel comfortable.

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Compare loan options

Freedomz/Adobe handshake of cooperation

Car loans are available through dealerships. But if you want the best deal, you will almost always be better off comparing loan offers from online lenders, local banks, and credit unions.

That way, you improve the odds of finding a great rate. So, line up financing before you head out to the dealership.

Know that added features bring higher costs

Kmatta/Adobe rear view monitor for car reverse system

Choosing a vehicle with added features and packages will increase the cost.

Sometimes, these costs can be worth paying, such as for enhanced safety features. But think twice about paying for flashy extras if you don’t really need them.

Find out what the warranty covers

Rido/Adobe car insurance concept

If you've found a vehicle you hope to buy, talk to the dealership about the available warranty and what it does and does not cover. It is a mistake to simply assume that a warranty covers everything.

Research the vehicle’s specific history

kunakorn/Adobe car inspection service

If you have found the used car of your dreams, head to the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System website to learn about the vehicle’s history, including any insurance loss and salvage details.

You can also get other reports from services such as Carfax and AutoCheck.com.

Carefully consider the maintenance package

HBS/Adobe mechanic working on the undercarriage

There's a good chance the dealership will try to sell you a prepaid car maintenance package covering things such as oil changes and rotations.

Some people like these plans, while others find they aren't cost-efficient. You may be able to negotiate a better price on a package like this, but always consider whether such a purchase really makes sense.

Research car values

sharafmaksumov/Adobe homepage of kelley blue book

Before you make your final decision, try to negotiate a lower price. Research vehicle values from resources such as Edmunds.com or the Kelley Blue Book website.

Armed with this information, you will be ready to ask for a better price. Remember, you won’t get a deal if you don’t ask for one.

Bottom line

Nebojsa/Adobe shaking hands at showroom

Buying a new car can be a lot of fun. But don’t overlook the homework you need to do to make sure you get a great deal on a terrific vehicle.

Following the steps on this list can help you find the car of your dreams at a price that won’t wreck your financial fitness.

  • You could save up to $500 with some companies
  • Compare dozens of providers in under 5 minutes
  • Fast, free and easy way to shop for insurance
  • Quickly find the perfect rate for you

Author Details

Sandy Baker Sandy Baker is a has over 17 years of experience in the financial sector. Her experience includes website content, blogs, and social media. She’s worked with companies such as Realtor.com, Bankrate, TransUnion, Equifax, and Consumer Affairs.

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