I never wanted to become a van mom. Growing up we either had cars or SUVs but never a van. After my husband and I got married, we went through a couple of cars that got us through college before purchasing our first used SUV about four years ago. Our daughter was about 15 months old and when we got pregnant with our second child a couple of months later, we felt even better about our purchase. Fast forward to last month when my husband started having problems with his car (the first car we bought nine years ago). We knew we were going to be adding to our family (although no one else did) and had been discussing purchasing a new car to replace our SUV. We just expected that we’d have a few more months before we needed to make a decision.
We started searching and I insisted that there must be an SUV that would be a good fit for our growing family. But after looking at our budget, the available SUVs in our price range and weighing the pros and cons, I reluctantly started looking at vans. I was really surprised to find that they had so many of the same features as an SUV without the higher price tag and better gas mileage. These are some of the questions we asked ourselves when deciding what would be best for our family.
7 Questions To Ask Before Buying A Car
What is our price range (budget)?
The money question. The question that is unavoidable. I like to get the hardest questions out of the way first because it makes other decisions by default. If you don’t know where to start, here are a few suggestions:
- Look at your current car payment and decide if the amount is easily affordable, just right, or pushing (or exceeding) your financial limits.
- Look at the current interest rates and find out what your score is. The higher the score, the better the rate you qualify for.
- If you don’t have a budget in place, look at your finances to see where you stand and find out what you can afford. (Check out this post for more information on how to start a monthly budget.)
How much do we want to put towards a down payment?
This question goes hand in hand with the budget question from above. We had some money in savings but didn’t want to use all of it towards the down payment. When we talked to the dealers about the minimum amount we needed to put down, we found out that the amount was fairly small and was about what we’d decided to put down anyway. An added benefit of putting money down meant we also qualified for a better interest rate.
Do we want a short term fix or are we wanting something to last us a long time?
Scenario #1: My sister and her husband recently purchased a used van with the intent to keep it for only a short period of time (a year or two) before selling it and upgrading. They are working to get out of debt but also needed a new vehicle with the birth of their third child. By going this route, they have been able to pay off the van quickly and have a vehicle that meets their current needs. Knowing they’ll be making a bigger purchase in the future, they can plan ahead and budget for that when the time comes.
Scenario #2: My husband and I ultimately decided that we are going to need a vehicle that will last us a long time. Our kids are 5.5 and 3.5 and with a baby due early next year, we know we’re going to need the space. This is one of the reasons we went with a van. Also, even though we haven’t had a car payment for about 2.5 years, we determined that there were places we could cut back and be more frugal so that a car payment wouldn’t be a huge burden for us financially. We bought a newer van with less miles, with the plan to drive it for many years to come.
Should we go through a dealership or private party?
We’ve purchased through both dealerships and private party and this time around, a dealership seemed to have the most options for our needs (and wants). We’re in an area where dealerships are a dime a dozen so researching their inventory, comparing prices and narrowing down our options was easy. Some dealerships are willing to be competitive with pricing, especially at the end of the month, so we used that to our advantage when negotiating pricing. Additionally, we are in an area where vans are in abundance and most people that are selling theirs have loved it well (wink), which means buying a used car that’s been checked out by a dealership is generally going to be more reliable than buying private party. Getting comparables online was very beneficial to us because we were able to gauge what was a good deal versus what was too high. We used a couple of websites, such as Cars.com, to find competitive pricing so that when we decided on what we wanted, we were informed buyers. Because of this, we were actually able to knock $3000 off the list price when it came time to purchase our car.
How do we plan on using our new car? (vacations, carpools, hauling small equipment/furniture/home improvement purchases, etc)
Thinking ahead to the different ways you’ll be using your new car will help you narrow down which ones are going to be a good fit for you. Considering your families habits and activities are a good place to start. Are your kids involved in sports? Do you vacation a lot? What types of vacations do you go on and what do you need to be able to fit in your car when you go? Do you have pets that you’ll be taking with you? If you can answer these questions before you even start looking at cars, you’ll save a lot of time in the long run because you won’t be looking at cars that don’t fit your needs.
Pros and cons of different makes and models
As you ask yourself each of these questions, certain makes and models will naturally be excluded. Do your research and be open to options other than what you originally had in mind. If you’ve made your list of must-haves and wants, finding a car that fits your criteria will hopefully be made a little easier and stress-free.
What features are deal breakers and which ones are just wants?
Take the time to discuss what you’re looking for in your new car. Be honest but also recognize that you probably (most likely) aren’t going to get it all. That’s where asking this question comes in. For example, when we were looking at vans, some of the less expensive models had cloth seats. Our SUV has leather seats and our other car has cloth. We’ve learned that leather cleans up easier and when you have kids, that’s a big deal. So while cloth seats were less expensive, whether or not the van we got had leather seats was a deal breaker (for us at least). On the other hand, a want that we had was automatic doors that could be controlled with buttons rather than having to be manually opened and closed.
Another way to think about it: When you go grocery shopping with a list you made ahead of time, you generally spend less money because you stick to your list and aren’t making impulsive decisions. But the times when you go to the store without a list, you may end up buying more than what you actually need and as a result, spending more money. Same thing goes with car shopping. You have to make certain decisions ahead of time, otherwise you may end up making decisions based on emotion. Do your research, stick to your list and you’ll come out on top.
What we chose for our new car
You’ve probably pieced it together already, but we ultimately chose a van (a 2016 Chrysler Town & Country). We bought it at a local dealership, negotiated the price down to a comfortable amount, put a small down payment towards it and got a great interest rate. We were able to get a majority of the things we wanted and needed (with a few exceptions), and are really happy with our purchase. Even though we had to make a decision quicker than planned, asking ourselves these questions, discussing them with each other and researching the answers were all steps that were absolutely necessary to making the best choice for our family.
*Note: If we could have fit three car seats in our SUV, we would have continued using it as our family car, but it wasn’t possible. This was one of the things we looked into before even considering buying a new car. Cars.com actually has a great website that is dedicated to testing the latch systems in different cars, provides ratings for those systems and checking a car’s ability to accommodate different car seats. It’s a great resource! So even though we ended up deciding to purchase a new car for our situation, checking this website could actually save you money if your car is one that can fit three seats across one row.
Buying a car, especially if it’s unexpected or sooner than you planned, can be stressful. Why not eliminate some of that stress by asking yourself the questions mentioned above? You don’t have to be an expert to make a good decision, but you can give yourself a little peace of mind by going into the process as informed as possible about your purchase.
What questions do you find most helpful to ask yourself when purchasing a new car? Do you agree or disagree with the ones that I shared?