Buying a car is a decision that recurs about every 5-6 years for the average consumer, but for the military car buyer, it can be even more frequent depending on your deployments, relocation/PCS, promotions/pay raises or family needs. In whatever unique situation you or your family is in when the time comes to swap out the old for the new, there are a few recommendations prior to stepping foot on the lot. And of course, since you are in the military and the military loves acronyms, we’ve gone ahead and created a simple car-buying one to remember: READY.
You need to research yourself in the eyes of a business. What is your credit score, and your driving history? Who are you as a responsible consumer? Put yourself in the shoes of a dealership, lender and insurance provider when considering each part of the car-buying process. Your credit or FICO score is the No. 1 determining factor in what type of repayment terms or finance offers you will receive from lenders; this includes annual percentage rate, the term of loan in years and the amount you may finance. Consider getting preapproved at an outside lender, base credit union, NavyFed, PenFed or USAA first, and use an auto payment calculator beforehand. Retrieve your driving record, which will affect your insurance rates. All of the records relating to your personal credit, driving history and vehicle history can be found by doing simple searches online.
This would be a good time to execute a plan based off the research you did both on yourself and the vehicle you desire. In the military, we call this an op order, used when we are about to engage in an operation or mission. Consider buying a new car your next mission. In executing this plan, certain questions need to be raised. Asking the right questions delivers the most efficient answers. What is the best procedure of buying a vehicle, and what is the best source of intel? Make a list of the things that are important to you in a vehicle. Three columns: What do I want? What do I need? What can I afford?
So you’ve researched yourself as a consumer and the car or cars that are of interest. In analyzing the research and executing the plan, it’s time to determine the best course of action in pursuing both the vehicle of interest and the dealership that sells it. Read reviews, not only for the car or truck you’re interested in. Make sure you’re also reading customer reviews about your local dealers. Drop in at the MWR or FRG and ask if anyone can give some good advice about local dealers. Talk to your chief, first sergeant or sergeant major, or seek an organization that has expertise on vet-friendly dealerships.
Never go on a mission alone. Depend on a battle buddy to watch your back, be the voice of reason and talk you off the ledge before you do something you might regret! The friend that you bring to the lot with you will be your ally in protecting you from indebtedness.
Be sure to slow down and be cautious with sales staff. Do not let anyone push you around or tell you that you simply have to make a decision immediately. Remember, you are the customer, and this gets done your way or not at all. Despite what some overzealous salesman or F&I manager might tell you, there is no deal until you physically take possession of the vehicle and drive it off the dealership property. Don’t be afraid to get up and walk away if anything feels the least bit fishy or below board. Always remember that being an educated car buyer is the best defense.