Fast and furious may be a successful formula on the big screen, but deliberate and disciplined are often better strategies for getting yourself behind the wheel of a new or pre-owned vehicle. Before you set foot in a dealership, take steps to ensure you’re putting yourself in the driver’s seat rather than the hot seat. Here’s how to gauge whether the timing is right.

Assess Your Financial Picture

  • How’s your overall financial health? If you’re spending more than you earn on a monthly basis, consider cutting your spending and whittling down debt before you take on new expenses.
  • How much car can you afford? The 20 percent rule may help you determine a reasonable amount to spend on your car. Your total vehicle budget, including monthly payment, fuel, insurance and maintenance, should not exceed 20 percent of your income. Use sites such as NADA Guides to calculate the monthly cost of various makes and models.
  • What’s your trade-in value? The NADA site can also help you determine the value of your trade-in vehicle. If you owe more on your vehicle than it’s currently worth, consider putting car-buying on hold until you pay down the debt. Resist rolling that debt into a new car loan. You’ll owe more on the car than it’s worth the minute you drive off the lot.
  • Have you secured financing? Getting pre-approved for a loan means you’ll go into the dealership knowing your interest rate and what you can afford, which can give you a firmer footing when it comes to negotiating price.

When It’s Time to Wheel and Deal

Once you know you’re on solid financial ground, you’re ready to plan your trip to the dealership. Strategic timing may save you money, so aim to visit the dealership:

  • at the end of the day—sales people are ready to head home, but if you’re a serious buyer, they may be eager to stay late and close the deal quickly
  •  at the end of the month, quarter or year—sales people may be open to more buyer-friendly deals in order to meet sales quotas and garner bonuses
  • in August—dealerships may offer incentives to buyers in order to clear space for the new models released in September
  • on weekdays and during bad weather—fewer customers make salespeople more attentive and perhaps more inclined to make a deal

Navy Federal Can Lend a Hand

If you’re ramping up for a new vehicle, don’t forget to check out Navy Federal Credit Union. We offer loans with reasonable rates, plus a Car Buying Service to help take the stress out of the buying experience.