BENEFITS & FINANCE
MJ Boice

An easy 9-step car buying guide for the military spouse

(Flickr / Marek)

It's happened to the best of us. The second our service member boards that plane to deploy, Murphy decides to insert himself into our world.

It's almost a given: someone gets sick, one of your spouse's bills doesn't get paid, or something inevitably breaks down…and often it's our mode of transportation that ends up busting out on us.


If this happens to you, I PROMISE, you aren't alone. But if your car breaks down, how are you going to do all of the things? Well, if there's no getting around having to purchase a vehicle while your service member is away, we have some tips and tricks to help you through the car buying routine WITHOUT breaking your bank in the process. We realize that big purchases are usually done as a team, and these decisions should (when possible) be made together. Obviously, that isn't always possible, but here are some things you can do if/when you find yourself squaring off with Murphy over your car.

1. Power of attorney (POA)

(Flickr / David Wall)

If you plan on having your service member's name on the loan or registration, you'll want to make sure you have your POA handy. This legal document will allow you to act on behalf of your service member for transactions that would otherwise require their physical presence. NOTE: Depending on the financial institution you use to finance your vehicle, a general POA may not pass muster with their terms, so make sure you call to make sure. Some banks just require a faxed copy of the general POA, while others have a special form of their own or require a "special" or "limited" POA.

2. Research, research, RESEARCH!

What kind of vehicle do you need? How much can your family afford each month? Are their certain dealerships in your area that are known for inappropriate practices? These are just a few of the questions you should be asking yourself before you even think of stepping foot into a car dealership.

There are plenty of websites that will help answer these questions so that you're better able at making an informed decision. One of the first things you can do is figure out the type of features you need and find a few makes and models to look over. It's not just about the price…it's about knowing what it is you're looking to buy. Kelley Blue Book is a one stop shop that has plenty of research tools to help spin you up on the "must-knows" of car buying.

3. Get financed FIRST

When it comes to financing, it's best to get pre-approved BEFORE you start your search. You aren't required to know what kind of vehicle you're purchasing before being approved for financing because the financial institution is approving you…not a certain vehicle. Make sure you understand the terms of your financing as well. If you end up negotiating, say, $1000 off the sticker price of the car when you're haggling with the dealer, that isn't going to matter in the long run if your interest rate is out of this world.

4. Don’t rush

Buying a car is a big deal, so take your time and don't rush the process. You need to make sure the car is everything you need/want, both literally and financially. Make absolutely sure you know exactly what your family can and cannot afford. If you find a car you want but it's a bit over budget, other websites, like Auto Trader, might be able to find you the same car at a lower price somewhere else.

5. When possible, find the right time to buy

Of course there's no real way to know when Murphy will strike…if we could plan that, Murphy's Law wouldn't even be a thing! But it doesn't hurt to know that timing is everything in the car buying business.

Yes, There Really IS a Right Time to Buy

Of course there's no real way to know when Murphy will strike…if we could plan that, Murphy's Law wouldn't even be a thing! But it doesn't hurt to know that timing is everything in the car buying business.

The end of the month is usually a good time to buy because dealers often have a quota that needs to be met each month. Each car on their lot needs to be paid for at the start of each month, so car salesmen are looking to unload as many as possible to meet their quota. But buying a car at the end of the year is even better (though, again, Murphy can rarely be planned for).

6. History reports are KEY

If you're not out to purchase a brand new, right off the assembly-line vehicle, you'll really want to get your hands on a vehicle's history report. Don't just take someone's word that it's "good to go" as is.

Most dealerships (if they're worth a darn) will pay for the cost of a vehicle history report themselves, but you can do this as well. Car Fax is a great resource for consumers, and they provide a report that will tell you just about everything you need to know about the car: hidden issues, who owned it last, where it came from, etc. It does cost money to obtain a history report, but it's chump change compared to the investment you're making in a vehicle.

7. Don’t skip the test drive

Once you've narrowed down your choice(s), it's time to take it for a test drive.

Sure, the car's body looks fantastic, but the only way you'll know that everything is in working order under the hood is if you take it for a spin. Listen for noises that shouldn't be there, trouble shifting gears, service lights on the dashboard, etc. Many people will return to test drive in the evening, but if that isn't feasible (because, you know…who wants to pay for a babysitter ON TOP of having to pay for a new car), a lot of dealerships allow you to take the car home for 24 hours to see how it works out. Either way, do NOT skip the test drive.

Again…Don't Rush!

If you're just not sure it's the right vehicle for you or need a night or so to sleep on it, don't rush it. Take the time you need to mull it over. This is YOUR money, YOUR time and YOUR choice; don't let anyone push you around. Speaking of which…

8. Don’t be intimidated

It's not uncommon to feel intimidated when buying a car…especially if that role isn't really your jam (i.e. it is SO not MY jam). But there's a difference in FEELING intimidated and BEING intimidated. If, at ANY point in the negotiation process, you feel uncomfortable, or don't like how you're being spoken to, SPEAK UP. You hold all the cards and the ball is in your court. If you don't feel like you're being treated fairly, tell the service manager. Or better yet…

9. Don’t be afraid to walk out

If you feel like you're being pushed into signing a contract, or just aren't picking up what the dealer is putting down…WALK IT OUT. There are plenty of other places that would love to have your business. Do not feel guilty about keeping your money, and your family's financial security, safe.

This guide is a great way to get started on your car-buying adventure, but we want to add to it! If you have a strategy or a story about buying a car when you were flying solo, we want to hear it!

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.