Busy Parent’s Guide to Car Buying

If you have been following my Instagram stories the past month or so, you know that we bought a new car and that the process was most definitely a WILD ride. From narrowing down which of the tons of third row SUVs to negotiating with the car dealership and standing our ground when things weren’t up to our standards—it was a time consuming, stressful, and honestly not so fun process. So why am I reliving our experience? Because not only did we end up with the PERFECT vehicle for our family (Volkswagen Atlas for those who are wondering), but we also learned a TON about how to navigate the car buying process. So if you are in the market for a new car (even a minivan!), be sure to read this Busy Parent’s Guide to Car Buying.

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Make a List of What You Like/Dislike About Your Car

Overwhelmed with all of the vehicle choices out there? Then start by making a list based on what you are currently driving. As for me, I had a smaller SUV and I knew that I wanted to stick with an SUV but that I needed another row for all of the carpooling I am doing now that my boys are older and in TONS of activities.

There were other details that I simply didn’t have in my car (it was almost ten years old after all), so I knew that I not only wanted but also NEEDED technology such as a backup camera to ensure that I was driving as safely as possible. Making a simple list helped me to figure out what was most important to me in a new vehicle, which made me a much more empowered and knowledgeable car shopper.

Ask Your Fellow Parents

I’m not saying that car salespeople aren’t knowledgeable. It’s just that they have specific motives when talking with you—I mean, they are trying to sell you, after all. So chat with friends who have the same type of vehicle you are contemplating purchasing, whether in person or online.

I mean, parents are perfect car reviewers because they can tell you what does and does not work for families. I was able to test drive the cars of a few different friends, which really helped me narrow down my decision before I even STARTED talking to a car dealership.

Have a Test Drive ON YOUR TERMS

Scheduling a time to head to a car dealership to test drive cars sans kids can be a scheduling nightmare, especially when you have kids’ activities and nap times to worry about. So do what we did and ask if the car dealership will bring the car you are contemplating TO YOU for a drive.

It’s a genius move on the car dealership’s part because you feel like you are getting the VIP experience and are more likely to give them your business, and it is great for parents because you can see how the car fits in your garage (if you have one) and you can also test out the car seats in the car (just clean all of the Goldfish crumbs out of the car seat before you put it into a new, clean vehicle).

Let Your Email Do the Work

Once you have narrowed down what kind of car you want, let your email do the work. Email inquiries to dealerships to find out if they have the vehicle you want, and if so what types of promotions they are running on it. By going back and forth over email, you have a paper trail of pricing and important details, and you save yourself a ton of time and hassle.

I mean, you can negotiate while relaxing on the couch (or more realistically, while having a “tea party” or cleaning up Legos). You can compare offers from multiple dealerships without even having to leave your house, saving you time and effort.

Maximize Your Trade In

Do you have a car to trade it and put towards your new vehicle? Then get to work on cleaning it as best as you can before getting it appraised. I swear this car cleaner is magic for getting stains out of the interior and makes it look like kids have never even been in your car.

Keep your gas level low so that the team doing your car appraisal knows that you are serious about trading it in and most importantly—get TWO opinions. Go to Carmax no more than seven days before you plan on officially purchasing a car so that you have two different appraisals to work with. If Carmax comes in at a higher rate, the dealership will most likely match their offer.

Time It Right

When is the best time to buy a new car? At the end of the month. Why? Because car dealerships are trying to reach their selling quotas and they will be much more likely to wheel and deal with you when they are up against a deadline.

Once you are ready to sign the papers and pick up your keys, make an appointment for early in the day. We made an appointment for 2 p.m. on a Saturday and it took over four hours for us to complete the deal—and this was even during a snowstorm. I swear at one point I even thought that maybe I should have kept my old car, stained seats and all.

Don’t Settle

Buying a car is HUGE purchase, no matter if it is a sedan, SUV, minivan, truck, etc. So don’t settle or give in when the car dealership tells you that they can’t find the vehicle that you requested. YOU are the one who is calling the shots and if for some reason they can’t get the car they promised, then try your hand at negotiating for the more expensive or more well equipped version of the vehicle you were hoping for.

That was the situation we found ourselves in until at the last possible second the dealership we were working with found the vehicle we had been asking for. I’m not sure what they were doing the three weeks between when we paid a deposit on our car and when it was turned over to us, but I’m glad I wasn’t talked into choosing a different car color or model.

And if that dealership didn’t come through in the clutch, we also had an appointment at another dealership. Why? Because we are busy parents and realized that there is no need for loyalty to a certain dealership when buying a car. You have to do what is best for your family—no matter what.

Over the course of the past few days I have driven my new Volkswagen Atlas through snow, rain, and finally sunshine, and I have to tell you that it seems to be the absolute PERECT fit for my family. If you have any questions about our journey to find our perfect third row SUV, don’t hesitate to ask!

Good luck finding your dream car!


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  1. Jordan | Read. Eat. Repeat. says

    These are good tips but I don’t know if there is anything that could ever really take away my hate of car shopping ha ha ha…I don’t know why it’s such a chore to me! We do a lot of these things too but I let my husband do most of the work and just sign off on the final choice because car shopping isn’t my sweet spot.

  2. Rachel says

    We just bought a car two weeks ago. We went test driving on a date night. IT wasn’t the most exciting date but it worked.

    • Amanda says

      It is such an investment, which is why I think the entire process is so incredibly stressful.

  3. Chrissie says

    Gah, where was this a year ago when we were buying our new car! It is seriously the most exhausting process. These are great tips!

    • Amanda says

      Sorry I was late but I needed to do my own thorough research. Hope you found a great vehicle for your family!

  4. Michelle says

    There are some really great tips here! Now that my kids are teens, they are very interested in what can I buy (so they can steal it! lol)

    • Amanda says

      Such a great idea. You can definitely be put in an uncomfortable situation so it is best to stand your ground!

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