How to Buy a Car on a Budget

Ready to buy your next car? Before you sign on the dotted line, know what you’re getting into.

How to Buy a Car on a Budget

So, you’re ready to add a car to your life. Where to start? There are more great choices than ever on the market, making the decision to choose just one of them even more difficult.

We know how the process works: You see a car, fall in love with its styling and the sound of its engine, and then find out that it’s way over budget. Dejected shoppers then turn to the cheapest possible options, often ignoring similarly priced choices that offer more than just value.

Let’s help you take the hassle out of the concerns of buying a car on a budget. Don’t compromise on any step of the purchase process, and ask yourself these 5 questions:

1. Do I really need to buy a car?
You’ve made it this far: Yes, you do! Buying a car is a big decision, but it rewards thoughtful shoppers in spades. A car is an indirect reflection of its owner’s personality, and you should be excited to show off your new purchase.

2. How much do I have to spend?
Whether your budget is $800 or $80,000, it’s important to know exactly how much you can spend on your car purchase. Consider the other expenses in your life, from rent or mortgage payments to loan repayments, as a starting point. Set a price ceiling and stay firm on it. Negotiation doesn’t have to be a painful process, but be prepared to walk away if the price is above your budgeted amount.

3. Which car do I want?
Perhaps the hardest question to answer, this one is also the most important. The car that you want isn’t always out of reach. There are scores of sedans, SUVs, hatchbacks, wagons, convertibles, vans, and pickup trucks available at every price point. Look first for well maintained, low-mileage models, before considering the used version of an exotic car that was once on a poster in your childhood bedroom. Use Instamotor’s Trust and Safety reports to ensure that every car you search for is verified and pre-screened, and read trusted reviews before test-driving.

4. What kind of car do I need?
Unfortunately, you don’t always need the car that you want. Now is the time to find the intersection between your budget constraints and how you intend to use your car. Features like all-wheel drive offer useful, added traction in cold or rainy climates, but present less value in warm, sunny regions. Hybrids make sense in cities, while diesel-powered cars make more sense for highway travelers. Minivans are usually fuel-efficient alternatives to SUVs. Don’t skimp on the features that you need—like heated seats or leather interior—but don’t get caught with a two-seat convertible if you need to run carpool.

5. How much will it cost to maintain and/or fix my car?
That matte-white German sedan with oversized wheels, a leather-and-suede interior, and a high-horsepower V-8 looks very appealing, but could turn out to be a maintenance nightmare. If you’ve narrowed your selection down to pre-owned vehicles with a transferrable warranty, you might be able to make some compromises. Otherwise, look for cars with clean service records and with as few costly options or parts. You never know when you’ll have to replace one of them. Make sure that refueling costs, parking charges, seasonal tires, regular oil changes, and monthly car insurance factor into the decision.

Buying Tips
Jeff JablanksyJeff Jablanksy

I am your uncle from America who brings you cars. Kind of. Writing about the best cars and taking pictures of every single one of them.

Find Cars From Your Phone

instamotor's free app helps you find used cars for sale. Buying and selling a used car has never been safer and easier.