If you’re in the market for a car, but you don’t have a lot to spend it’s easy to become disheartened. When money is tight, it’s important that you get the best deal possible for a car. But measuring the trade-offs can be hard. You don’t want to sacrifice key features, reliability, or even style. Yet your choices are limited by the total amount you can pay, the loan you qualify for, or your monthly payment budget. Whatever your main concerns, it’s possible to find the right car by searching for a deal. Here are a few ways to help you get started.


Know your budget

The term “the best deal on a car” is actually completely relative. If your total budget for a car is $5000, your idea of a great deal is going to be different than if you’re able to spend $15,000. Instead, begin the process by determining how much you can spend. Look at the total cost of ownership, including car payments, insurance, loan interest, gas, and repairs. Consider that car payment, and multiply by 12 months and then by the number of years you’re willing to have the loan. Confirm your assumptions by contacting your bank or credit union, and getting prequalified for a car loan.

Shop around online

Many dealerships have comprehensive websites that offer a look at their full inventory online. In many cases, they offer used cars that are better deals that those brand new off the lot. If the car is part of a certified, pre-owned program, it likely has been examined extensively and is covered by a warranty that can help lower your costs of ownership if something goes wrong. Contact dealerships online before you go in; often, the sales representatives that monitor web traffic will negotiate with you aggressively to get you to come in.

Consider brands you haven’t tried

If you’ve always driven a Toyota or a Chevy, it may be time to expand your horizons into new brands. Some great brands such as Hyundai offer cars that get excellent gas mileage, safety ratings, and customer satisfaction scores at lower prices. Many models may not even be familiar to you. However, targeting these brands may enable you to get a newer model at a lower price. Always review consumer reporting feedback on the brand and test drive a car as much as you can to make sure you feel comfortable with it.

Talk to private sellers

If your default approach to buying a car is to head to your nearest dealership, consider checking the want ads and online car boards for great deals instead. Many private buyers are willing to sell for less than a dealership. There are other benefits of buying directly from a previous owner. The sales process tends to be a lot less stressful, as you can evaluate the car without needing to face high-pressure sales tactics while you make up your mind.

No matter what your budget, it’s important that you feel comfortable with the financial aspects of your car sale. There are numerous ways to do this, from clarifying your budget to shopping online and buying your next car from a private seller. With a bit of strategic shopping, you’ll be able to find a car you love at a price that’s right for you.

About the author: Kara Williams is an automotive writer based in Detroit. She covers news and consumer reports on a wide range of foreign and domestic car brands.