May 20, 2022

Botu Linum

The Car & Automotive Devotees

How to Buy a Car Right Now, Without Overpaying

9 min read

If you’ve driven by a car dealership lately, you’ve seen it with your own eyes: There just aren’t many cars available right now. Continuing effects from the COVID-19 pandemic are pummeling automakers with parts shortages and other production disruptions.

As auto plant shutdowns drag on, the number of cars on dealer lots continues to dwindle. At the same time, demand for new cars continues to surge. More shoppers chasing fewer new cars means one thing: Skyrocketing prices for new vehicles. Prices of used cars have risen substantially in turn, as many new car buyers have turned to the pre-owned vehicle market.

Given the record-high prices in the marketplace, how can you still get a good car at a reasonable price? It’s not easy, but with the proper preparation – along with a healthy dose of patience and willingness to compromise – you can still find vehicles that won’t break the bank.

We have some tips to help you navigate today’s challenging new car market that won’t have you paying a premium or getting in over your head.

Tips to Buy a Car Today

Getting a great price on a car today is a daunting, but not impossible, challenge. It starts with preparation and involves compromise and a bit of extra legwork.

Be Ready to Go

With cars in short supply, you have to be ready to pounce the moment you find the right one. That means knowing what you want and having a plan to pay for it.

Do Your Research

Even when the market is tight, the rules of buying a car remain the same. You’re looking for a vehicle that meets your needs, lifestyle, and budget. You never want to buy or lease based on the monthly payment alone, and no car deal is a great deal unless it’s on a good car.

Our new car rankings and reviews and used car rankings and reviews are excellent places to start your car-buying journey. They’re built around the questions shoppers have when they’re looking for a vehicle.

Today, it’s good to give yourself options. While you might really want a specific vehicle, you should also put a few others on your shopping list, in case your first one is impossible to find.

Get a Pre-Approved Car Loan

It’s always a good idea to have a pre-approved car loan in place before you start visiting dealerships. Right now, it’s even more important to have financing ready to go the moment you find the right car. In the time crunch to make a deal before someone else swoops in on your ride, you don’t want to be delayed by financing issues.

Our guide to getting an auto loan takes you through the steps to find the best financing for your purchase.

Be Ready With Your Trade-In

If you have a car to sell or trade, make sure you’re ready to go. That means cleaning it up, knowing its value, and having all of its paperwork – including service records and its title – on hand. A dealer with multiple customers lined up for the same car probably isn’t going to want to wait the days or weeks it takes you to get your title from the bank.

You may even want to think about selling your used car using an instant cash offer before you buy a new one. You eliminate one variable that the dealer can use to get you to pay more by taking the trade-in out of the deal on your next car.

Take Advantage of a Car Deal

While there are fewer financing, cash back, and lease deals available in the marketplace than usual, there are still many to be found. A cash back deal, or rebate, lowers the price of the vehicle, while a financing deal reduces or eliminates the interest you have to pay on your car loan. Lease deals provide lower monthly payments, the amount you have to pay upfront, or both.

Alan Schein Photography / Getty Images

We track the best car-buying incentives on our new car deals page. Lease incentives can be found on our lease deals page. Shoppers looking for offers on certified pre-owned cars will find them on our used car deals page.

You’ll want to move quickly if you find a car deal, as you’ll probably not be the only car shopper chasing it. That’s another reason to have everything ready to go when the opportunity to buy comes along.

Don’t Borrow Too Much Money

With many cars today selling for sticker price or higher, it can be tempting to just take out a larger car loan. In fact, that’s what many consumers are doing. Over the long run, however, that can be a terrible financial move.

Because you have to pay interest on your financing, a larger loan will cost you even more money in the long run. Today’s low interest rates are helping to minimize the difference that consumers are paying, but they won’t eliminate it.

The odds of getting yourself upside-down on the larger loan also are significantly increased. This is because the value of the car is based on supply and demand at any given time, not the price you chose to pay for the vehicle. Being upside-down, or underwater, on your car loan can be financially devastating if your car is totaled in an accident or stolen.

Cast a Wider Net

Even in the best car-buying times, it’s a good idea to shop at multiple dealerships. With supplies tight, you’ll want to cast an even wider net, perhaps looking at dealerships a few hours away from your home. You’re not only looking for the right car but searching for a dealer willing to give you a good price.

It’s a good idea to consider the type of car you’re buying and when you’re buying it. Perhaps look for hybrids or plug-in hybrids at rural dealerships where they might not be as popular. Considering a convertible? Talk to dealerships in a colder climate that may have stock leftover from the summer.

You May Need to Compromise

With supplies tight, you may have to compromise on the color, features, or even the model you choose. Are you looking for a 2022 Kia Sorento SX Prestige X-Line in Aruba Green? You’ll probably have a long wait and pay more than if you consider other midsize SUVs, colors, or trims.

You may even want to compromise on the type of car you’ll consider. Even as supplies of SUVs and pickups are incredibly tight, it’s pretty easy to find a good deal on a sedan or coupe. Opt for a sedan such as the 2022 Subaru Legacy, for example, and you can get SUV-like all-wheel-drive capability without the high price tag.

It might also be a time to look at brands you’ve never considered. While everybody in your family for generations may have bought Ford F-150s, you might find you can get a better deal right now if you look at a Ram 1500 or Nissan Titan.

Consider a Used Car

There are many benefits to buying a new car. Price isn’t one of them, especially right now. If you really need a car and your budget is tight, buying a used vehicle might be the way to go. Though priced higher than other used cars, lightly used certified pre-owned cars share many of the benefits of new cars, such as warranty coverage, with generally lower prices.

There are a few extra steps you’ll want to follow if you do seek a used car. Our guide to buying a used car shows you how to find the right used car and get a good deal.

Try the Private-Party Route

In general, the cheapest used cars you’ll find will come from other private parties. Skipping the dealership is attractive to both sellers, who can get more money than they could by trading their cars in, and buyers looking for a good deal.

Our guide to buying a car from a private seller shows you how to successfully and safely buy a used car from a private party.

Leverage Your Used Car’s Value

Yes, the price of new cars is up, but so is the value of many used cars. You can use the market conditions to your favor by getting more from selling your car or trading it in. While you might not be able to get a car dealer to budge off the price they’re willing to give you on a new car, you can negotiate the value of your trade-in upward.

Car dealers are desperate for inventory, which makes getting an instant cash offer a great way to go. By entering some basic information about your current car in an instant cash offer tool, such as the U.S. News Instant Cash Offer program, you’ll quickly have certified local dealers vying to purchase your vehicle.

Lease Now, Buy Later

Can’t find your dream car today? An alternative is leasing another vehicle for a couple of years, then buying the car you want after market conditions return to normal. The key to this strategy is finding a model with a high residual value or attractive lease deal, so you don’t overpay on your lease.

Since the vehicle’s warranty will generally outlive the lease term, you don’t have to be particularly concerned about a car’s predicted reliability. You do, however, need to consider the number of miles you drive each year. If you drive a lot, leasing is not a great idea. Our guide to buying versus leasing takes you through the pros and cons of each approach.

Buy Your Current Lease

With most new car leases, the end-of-lease purchase cost is set at the beginning of the contract. Since the market disruptions from the coronavirus pandemic were unforeseen a couple of years ago, many end-of-lease purchase prices are well below today’s market value of the vehicle.

While many automakers have moved to restrict your lease-end options, buying the car yourself is still an opportunity available to most lease customers.

Patience Pays

While you want to be prepared to leap when a buying opportunity comes along, you need to be careful not to jump into a lousy deal out of urgency. You still want to follow the basics of car-buying, such as getting a pre-purchase inspection of any used car, reading all the sales documents before you sign them, and avoiding costly extras.

While some compromise may be necessary, you’re still looking for a good car that can provide years of trouble-free, low-cost service.

Why Are There Shortages?

There are several reasons for the shortages in the automotive market. The one you hear of most often is the microchip supply crunch. Vehicles today are filled with computerized components, and all of them need microchips to function.

Andrii Atanov / iStock / Getty Images Plus

At the dawn of the pandemic, auto industry production crashed to a halt. Automakers halted their orders of microchips and many components from suppliers that incorporated chips. Chipmakers shifted their production to make chips for other, in-demand consumer goods such as laptops, tablets, and gaming consoles. When demand in the auto industry came roaring back at an unexpected pace, automakers were left standing in line at the chipmakers’ door, with no excess chip-making capacity to serve them.

AlixPartners, an industry consulting firm, now indicates that the production of 7.7 million vehicles will be lost to parts shortages worldwide in 2021. That’s nearly double the estimate in the firm’s May forecast.

“Of course, everyone had hoped that the chip crisis would have abated more by now, but unfortunate events such as the COVID-19 lockdowns in Malaysia and continued problems elsewhere have exacerbated things,” said Mark Wakefield, global co-leader of the automotive and industrial practice at AlixPartners.

When the chip shortage and other supply chain disruptions will end is the source of much industry speculation. Certainly, it will last into 2022, with some industry analysts predicting a 2023 or beyond return to normal.

More Shopping Tools From U.S. News & World Report

It’s easy to save some cash on a new car purchase or lease with the U.S. News Best Price Program. It connects shoppers with local dealers, offering significant savings with pre-negotiated prices, home delivery, and online sales options.

One of the highest costs of car ownership is auto insurance. Our guide to car insurance will help you find the right coverage for your ride, the cheapest auto insurance in your state, and money-saving car insurance discounts.