Basic Info about buying a Car in the US



Buying a car is one of the most important decisions that you will do as a student in the US, especially if your budget is limited. You might think about buying a brand new car or a used car, and and there are many other important issues and factors that you should consider before you buy a car.

In this section we will address the various issues associated with buying a car in the US.

Determine whether you really need a car

Typical process of buying a car in the US

New car vs. Used car

American brand vs. Foreign brand

Researching a car


Related Links
  Basic Info
  Buying a New Car
  Buying a Used Car
  Seal the Deal

  
Driver License
  Car Insurance

  Rent a Car




FAQ's

Is it ok to negotiate on the price of the car?

How should I pay for the car?

Can I get any financing or loans?

What are the documents that I need before purchasing a car?

 

Determine whether you really need a car

The answer is really depend on where you live geographically. If you live in a city with efficient public transportation, then, maybe you should think twice before buying a car. However, if you live in a rural area, car is really not a luxury, but a necessity. According to our experience, you cannot always rely on public transportation in a rural area. The local buses run on a fixed schedule, hence you have to schedule yourself around the bus schedule. You need a car for everyday activities such as going to college, buying grocery, going for shopping and for many other things.

However, as a student, you will probably be staying on-campus or near the campus. If you are staying on-campus or near the campus, you will be near your academic building and also near to the labs and libraries. Some basic convenient store might also be available around. So, you may not really need a car. However, if you are staying out of the walking distance from campus, then we suggest that you should seriously think of buying a car.

However, if you are planning to buy a car, don't rush. Make an informed decision. Most new students don't buy a car right away after their arrival in the US. For the first view weeks or months, you can rely on your senior students that have cars to help you out in things such as buying grocery or household shopping. International students tend to help each other out, so don't hesitate to ask for help from your senior or friends if you need one.

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Typical process of buying a car in the US

Below we outline the normal (general) process for buying a used car:

    1. Consult with your friends who have previous experience in buying a car

    2. Set your budget

    3. Decide on your preferences for the car (brand, model, mileage, color, type (sports cars, sedan, etc.,), condition, etc)

    4. Search for the car (online, dealers, friends, magazines, etc) that fits in your budget

    5. If you like a car, ask the seller for its VIN. Using the VIN, check out the vehicle history

    6. Check out the vehicle' market value (e.g. using Kelley Blue Book)

    7. If you are satisfied with the car's history, do a test drive to get a feel of the car

    8. If you still like it, then take it to an experienced mechanic (check with your friends or colleagues for a car mechanic) or an auto store such as Goodyear Firestone or Bridgetone. Ask the mechanic to check the condition of the engine as well as the other parts of the car. The mechanic will charge you anywhere from $25 to $60 to check the car.

    9. If you are satisfied with the results, buy the car. If not, repeat the above steps to look for another car.

Note:
Before you start driving, first, you will need a driver's licence. Check out our 'Getting a Driver's Licence' section for more information on this topic. You then need to transfer the car's Title on your name. A car's Title is an authorized document that tells who is the authorized owner of the car. You will also need to register the vehicle with the Department of Motor Vehicles. After that, you will have to get a License Plate for your car. For a little additional fee, you can get a customized license plate. You are legally required to always display the license plate of your car.

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New car vs. Used car

The choice of new car v. used car depends on you, your interest, and your financial condition. If you have enough money, then you can buy whichever car you want. Depending on the model and the maker, a new car can cost you anywhere from $10,000 upwards. If you don't have enough money, then check out our Buying a Used Car section.

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American brand vs. Foreign brand

Again, this depends on your preference and also on your budget.

Generally, most international students prefer Japanese brands (Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, etc.) over American brands (Ford, GM, etc). The main reason behind this is quality. Japanese brands are perceived to be of high quality resulting in to low maintenance costs. Also, they give better mileage. American cars are perceived to be as of lower quality leading to higher maintenance costs.

However, most American brands are perceived to have better interior and exterior designs, i.e., they look better than Japanese brands.

Due to the above sited reasons, American brands are cheaper as compared to Japanese brands. Noneteless, if you consider the long term costs of maintenance, you might end up paying the same for American as well as Japanese brands.

Many buyers also consider the value (selling price) of the car after a particular period of time. Most likely, you will sell your car as a used car after using it for a couple of years. Historically, Japanese brands will fetch more value compared to their American counterparts. However, as far as our experience goes, your Lady Luck plays a very important role in the life of your car. After all, it is a used car, you cannot predict what will happen to the engine. Thus, even if you have an American brand, it might give you little or no trouble compared to their Japanese counterparts.

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Researching a car

Yes, you definitely need to do some research on cars before you buy one. You can find out the history of the car such as its previous owners, were there any accidents on the car, etc. Every vehicle in the US has a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). You can use the VIN to find out the past history of the car. This is extremely important before buying a car. You don't want buying a used car as a new car under the pretext that it is brand new. You can also find a fair market price for your car from Kelley Blue Book

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FAQ's

Is it OK to negotiate on the price of the car?

Of course, it is OK to negotiate on the price of the car. In the US, there are only two items that you can bargain for: car and house. You should not buy any car without negotiating. In most cases, the seller will put a margin in the selling price of the car. If you negotiate well, the seller will most likely reduce the price by a couple of hundred dollars. The lowering of the selling price is not guaranteed, but its worth a try.

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How should I pay for the car?

You can either pay cash or by check or by credit cards, depending on the seller / dealer's preference.

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Can I get any financing or loans?

If you are not a citizen or a Green Card holder, or if you don't have a fixed regular income, it is hard to get financing in the US. Nevertheless, you can talk with your bank or even with the dealer to check out if there are any financing options. Sometimes the dealer may allow you to pay the amount in regular installments.

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What are the documents that I need before purchasing a car?

You don't need a particular document to buy a car. At the most, the seller will ask you to show your ID to verify that your name in your check or credit card. However, after buying the car you need to transfer the car title into your name, register your car, (will be explained in the seal the deal section) and get a driver license if you don't have one (will be explained in the getting a driver license section).

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