The Processes of Buying Cars

By Angela Monroe - September 3, 2021

The Processes of Buying Cars h1

Buying a car comes with a few emotions attached: excitement, anticipation and hopefully, satisfaction.

However, buying cars can come with worry, anxiety and stress.

Here’s some food for thought when aiming for those positive emotions.

The process – overview

Buying cars is similar to buying anything that requires some thinking. Most people follow these steps (with or without knowing);

  1. Idea – here’s where you first start thinking things like ‘I could do with a new car’ or ‘my current car is getting a little old’, or similar
  2. Exposure – you notice some vehicles you like, maybe online or on the road
  3. Research – you scour the web for information and ask family/friends for their opinion on the makes and models that caught your eye
  4. Trial and error – to narrow your choices and possibly test driving a few and/or visit a few dealers, you chop out the ones you don’t like upon closer inspection
  5. Shopping – here come specific examples, you find some examples online or at dealers you’re serious about buying
  6. Decision – you choose on an example that ticks as many boxes as possible
  7. Purchase – you’re the new owner!

1. Idea


If you’re starting to doubt your current vehicle or feel you just need a car to begin with, you’re at the ‘idea’ stage.

It’s here most people start saving money, looking at finance and budgets. The numbers with dollar signs in front are naturally the most important when buying cars.


  • Figure out what you really want in a car and what for purpose. City commutes and excellent fuel economy? Family road trips? Off-roading?


  • Neglect your current car (if you have one) as a lack of interest in it may result in a lower selling / trade-in price.
  • Confuse ‘really want’ with ‘really need’ too much.

2. Exposure


Here’s where you start noticing nice cars on the road, TV and online. Previously, you may have never noticed a certain kind of car, but now see them everywhere.

You might even imagine yourself driving the car next to you at the traffic lights and think how much that car would suit you.


  • Take note, even mental note, of the brand and style of those cars you see that look good, it’ll help down the track.
  • Ask yourself why you like certain vehicles. Everything helps, even the colour choice.


  • Tell yourself ‘I could never afford it’ (unless it’s some extreme supercar), you might be able to get something similar after some research.
  • Be too decisive at this stage, you don’t want to buy a car with tunnel vision, disregarding similar (or better) options.

3. Research


This is an important stage. By now, you’ll have a few criterias from the previous steps, for example, an SUV that’s nimble around town and in a dark paint scheme.

Friends in the know and online resources are there to help. You’ll be able to find some specific makes and models after Googling ‘compact SUVs’ for example. This gives you an idea of colours available, price ranges and fuel efficiency, among others.

The idea here is to end up with a handful of makes/models you like.


  • Take your budget into consideration. Everyone, from all walks of life, has their budgets.
  • Take note of trim levels and options, these can change the prices dramatically – sometimes over double, from base model to range-topper.


  • Focus too much on one model or one aspect (e.g. engine power), instead check out multiple options
  • Only listen to one person or one website. Instead, try to get a few viewpoints.

4. Trial and error


Now comes the time to test drive a few examples. Some people try to see a few of the vehicles they’ve narrowed down from the ‘research’ stage in real life. You might even see one parked at the local shops and could get an idea of the size and looks from various angles.

In this stage, you should be able to knock out a few make/models from your list.

Furthermore, you’ll be able to know engine variants and options you may prefer (or want to avoid).


  • Take the time to see examples in person and test drive them, even if it eats up a few Saturday mornings.
  • Remember that buying a car you’re not too keen on might result in you neglecting it when the novelty wears off.


  • Get talked into a vehicle at this stage. 
  • Get discouraged if a vehicle disappoints you when test driving it, remember you’re ‘no money down’ at this moment.
  • Settle on a vehicle just because it’s easy to buy, close to home and the seller is nice. 

5. Shopping 


Here’s where you’ll narrow your choices down from makes and models to actual specific units available.

You would have knocked out a few choices in the ‘trial and error’ stage and can now calculate your budget more precisely.

If the examples available don’t make you really keen, for example, the colour is wrong or there’s damage / too high mileage, you might have to wait for one to come up.


  • Imagine yourself owning that particular vehicle and what the costs (fuel, rego, repairs, servicing) will mean.
  • Make sure the examples have the options (e.g. lane-keep assist, AWD) that you want. Again, trim levels can usually indicate this.
  • Think about the seller, have they really taken good care of the vehicle? (this only applies to used vehicles)


  • Pay a deposit just because the seller says ‘someone else is really keen too’.

6. Decision 


With the vehicle (or vehicles) selected that tick your boxes (price range, style, condition, features, etc.), it’s time to fully understand what you’re up for.

Get some quotes on insurance and check out the registration costs. Do you plan to, or need to, add anything to the vehicle? For example, stamp duty, a baby seat, tow bar or roof racks. Will they fit properly?


  • Get all the facts from the seller.
  • Check the service log book, it should be well maintained.
  • If you deem it necessary, get a professional to inspect the vehicle


  • Get influenced by the wrong people when deciding
  • Forget how and where you’ll park the car in your daily life (e.g. you might have to street park a nice new car, will that be ok?)

7. Purchase 


The flashpoint of buying cars. Now’s the time to negotiate and get the keys in your pocket.

If you’ve followed the steps above and the vehicle suits your lifestyle, needs, wants and budget, you’ll know you’re making the right choice.

You might need to pay a deposit in order for the seller to hold the car for a few days.


  • Be polite and fair with the seller, no one wants to negotiate with a rude person.
  • Cover your bases and get insurance, any maintenance, registration and stamp duty sorted before you upgrade / modify anything.
  • Decide on and stick to a regular washing schedule or any rules you think are important, like no eating/drinking/smoking in the car or no muddy shoes.


  • Offend the seller by picking apart every minor fault and low-balling them.
  • Forget to enjoy and care for something you’ve just spent a lot of money on!


Buying cars, and anything worth a lot of money, can be a stressful experience – but also an exciting one.

Many buyers, especially first car buyers, report the process as an interesting learning experience.

Take time and the proper steps to make sure yours is too.

Angela Monroe
Angela Monroe is the Community Manager at The Positive Group, specialising in giving people the information that they need when they need it, and putting you on the path to a fair financial future. She has 8 years of experience in helping Australians find the right finance solutions, and regularly contributes articles to empower Australians with the knowledge they need to become financially healthy.


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