Planning Ahead When Visiting a Car Dealership

What to Bring, What to Do, and What to Expect When You Shop for a Vehicle

Is it time to buy a new or new-to-you vehicle? Don’t fret! The process is easy if you know what to expect and what to bring along with you.

Before visiting any new or used car dealership, consider these ways to prepare for your day of shopping.

Improve Your Credit Score

If you know you’ll need to take out an auto loan to buy a vehicle, now’s the time to make your credit score as high as it can be. In general, the higher your credit score, the better the chances of qualifying for an auto loan.

You can raise your score by paying down other debts on time. This can include your credit card bills. Sometimes, rent is reported to the major credit bureaus – but check with your landlord for details.

Consider How Much of a Down Payment You Can Make

To get an auto loan, you’ll need at least a modest down payment. This can be in the form of a trade-in vehicle – more on that later – or cash. The larger your down payment, the smaller your monthly payment, and vice versa.

You’ll use your down payment to calculate your monthly payment.

Estimate Your Monthly Payment
Your monthly payment takes into consideration your loan term – how many months you’ll pay back your loan; your interest rate; your down payment; and the total purchase price of the vehicle.

You’ll find numerous monthly car payment calculators online that can give you a good idea of what you can expect based on your down payment and the vehicles you’re considering.

Refer to your monthly budget to ensure that your car payment will fit affordably into your lifestyle. Don’t forget that a new vehicle may get a different fuel economy than your current one, and your insurance costs could change, too. Factor these into your monthly budget.

Browse the Inventory First

Before setting foot in the car dealership, take a look at what they have available in their inventory first. You’ll find their inventory on their website.

Take note of a few vehicles you like, and be sure to ask if you can test drive them. If you’re looking at more popular vehicles or those with special features or low mileage, you’ll want to head to the dealership as soon as possible. Cars with unique features are likely to be chosen first.

Documents to Bring With You to Shop

When it’s time to shop for a vehicle, you’ll need to make sure you come prepared with all the paperwork you need.

The most important document to bring is your valid driver’s license. Without it, you won’t be able to take a test drive. 

You’ll also usually need proof of insurance of your current vehicle – if you have one.

And don’t forget to bring your checkbook or some other form of payment for your down payment, such as cash, or your credit or debit card.

If you already have pre-approval for financing from your bank, be sure to bring documentation of that, too.

Trading In? Don’t Forget These!
If you plan to trade in a vehicle you own outright, don’t forget to bring along its title. This is the document you’ll use to transfer ownership to the dealership.

If you don’t yet own your car outright and are trading in a vehicle you’re still paying a loan to, bring along your lender’s information, including a statement with your account number on it. This will enable the dealership to look up information about your vehicle loan and provide you with accurate information.

Any time you trade in a vehicle, you’ll also want to bring along every set of keys you have for it, including your spares. The more sets of keys, the better, in the eyes of the dealership. Plus, you don’t need your extra set crowding your junk drawer, anyway.

Securing Financing at the Dealership
If you didn’t visit your bank or credit union to secure an auto loan before you visited the car dealership, you often can apply for a loan with help from the financing department.

If you intend to secure financing at the dealership, be sure you’re ready to apply. Bring along a few of your most recent pay stubs or your offer letter if you’re just starting a new job. Your monthly income is a big component in a lender deciding whether they’ll give you money for a car loan.

Keep a Cool Head
Now that you’re prepared with what to expect when you go car shopping, the last thing to remember is to stay calm, cool and collected during the process. At times, it can feel frustrating. But just know that if you keep a clear head and ask clarifying questions as needed, you’re more likely to be able to drive off the lot in a vehicle you love.