Car Buying Guide5 min read

Michael Hill car buying guide in a 2020 Jeep Wrangler Willys

When I was searching for a new car to buy I wish I had some sort of car buying guide that gave the truth to me straight. It would have saved me time, money, and frustration.

Going into a dealership without a plan is dangerous for your wallet. Have a specific criteria of the car you want, how you will pay for it and when you want it by.

My Car Buying Criteria

Your criteria will be different than mine, but here’s my top three priorities in order of importance:

  1. Looks cool within my budget (I was tired of my little 2019 Ford Escape and wanted something I felt good to drive in)
  2. No major future maintenance issues.
  3. Will maintain resale value.

I chose a Jeep Wrangler because I wanted a car that can traverse most terrains, sits high on the road, and looks cool when I drive with friends. If I didn’t care about appearance I would have done perfectly fine with a 2010ish Ford Ranger.

Based on this, I settled on the following criteria for my specific search:

  1. Make: Jeep
  2. Model: Wrangler
  3. Trim: JK Rubicon, Willys, Sport S
  4. Year: 2016-2022
  5. Transmission: Automatic
  6. Cylinder: 4V or 6V
  7. Mileage: <40,000
  8. Price: $26k-$32k
  9. Loan: $20,000
  10. Mods: Fewer mods the better or at least high quality
  11. Total Registration Fees: (Add 10% to total sale price) $2,600 = Total Use/Sales Tax: $2093 + Total Registration Fees $529 Calculate Fees
  12. Extended Warranty: $1,250 8yrs / 100,000mi
  13. Interest: 6.9% over 6yrs
  14. Monthly Payment: $400-$474
  15. Insurance: $250/mo

The Result of My Car Search

I purchased from AutoNation because I like the idea of No-Haggle Pricing. Sales people get a fixed rate for seeling a used car and are physically unable to adjust the sale price of the vehicle. What you see is what you pay.

I got a Jeep Wrangler 2020 Willys with 36k miles, V4 Turbo 2L engine, cost $32,000 with a 3yrs warranty and monthly payment of $410/mo fell nicley into my criteria. I sold my 2019 Ford Escape for $11,600 to AutoNation during the car purchase and put down $2,200. The remainder of $24,000 I financed through a chase bank loan. These numbers are based on my memory and not exact. However, keep in mind the taxes and fees associated with the purchase increased the overall total cost.

Questions to Ask the Car Seller

  1. Price of vehicle? Decide this first before proceeding to discuss financing.
  2. Show the Carfax.
  3. Any modifications? What are the quality of the parts added?
  4. If private seller: Money owed on the vehicle still?
  5. Proof of maintenance schedule?

Car Buying Guide at a Dealership

When buying at a dealership, walk in with a plan. Know how much you want to pay for the exact car you want. Know how you will pay for that car.

I walked in to the dealership knowing the price I wanted and having already prequalified for a loan from Chase Bank at a 6.99% interest rate for that specific vehicle with a monthly payment of $410 over 72 months.

If you plan to trade in your existing car to help finance your new car get a quote from Carmax, Autonation, and Carvana to know how much your car is worth. You can do this online or in person. I preferred to just do it online.

If you choose to buy an extended warranty, get quotes from a few providers. My last car had transmission issues totaling $5,000 that were covered under warranty, so I figured since Jeeps with lifts tend to have more problems I’d purchase a warranty.

Mopar is the Jeep Manufacturer and offers official Jeep warranties. They don’t negotiate the price of the warranty and are high. I was quoted $4,000 for a comprehensive bumper-to-bumper warranty. I opted for one from AutoNation at around $2,900.

When viewing the car in person, inspect the car thoroughly. Here’s a quick checklist below:

  • Determine all mods: What lift kit is installed?
  • Paint and trim imperfections
  • Underside scratches (lay on the floor and use a flashlight to look for scratches underneath)
  • Engine
    • Start-up and check for any unusual sounds (Ex: ticking)
    • Wiring for any mods
    • Supercharger installed?
    • Any oil leaks (shine the light in the engine and look for anything glossy like liquid)
  • Carfax (should have checked this before arriving)
  • Check routine maintenance
  • Sun visors
  • Windshield wipers work as expected
  • Seat reclining levers
  • Car manual is present
  • Phone connects with CarPlay and no issues (you may need to use an Apple-Certified cable to make sure the phone transfers data correctly)

Things I wish I did

There are some things during this car process I didn’t do that I wish I did.

  1. If buying at a dealership, go to the service department to meet them and ask customers about their experience: Had I known how the local dealership service department would have treated me I would have searched for a local mechanic that specializes in Jeep Wranglers.
  2. Go private party. My salesman at the dealership was helpful in selling a car. When I had unexpected maintenance costs with the car after the sale my salesman was unresponsive and unhelpful. Instead, I should have purchased through a private party and had a local mechanic inspect the car. I should have also learned more about how the car works so I can diagnose basic issues myself.
  3. Maybe buy an older and cheaper vehicle. This depends on the stage of life you are in, but stretching your wallet to buy the best and newest car so that others will think you are cool is all hype. Nowadays a red Ferrari driving down the street in Newport Beach doesn’t turn heads like it used to. Your car purchase should only make you happy and no one else.

Hope this car buying guide is helpful.

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