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How do I buy a car for the first time?

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It sounds like a dumb question - but there seems to be a lot of chicken and egg stuff going on here. Or maybe it's cart before the horse?


I've never owned a vehicle before, and still don't. But that's going to change in the next week or two. Because I've never owned a car, I've never had auto insurance. But when I ask questions about buying a vehicle, people tell me to get insurance first. 

Makes zero sense to me. What vehicle am I going to insure, the one I think I might buy? What if I don't buy it? There's test drives. There's inspections. There's negotiation. 


What I do have in order, I have a tidy sum set aside as a ~20% down payment, and more than enough in financing approval from my credit union to cover the balance. I'm confident I can go in, and make an offer for the vehicle I want, and afford the monthly payment. Of course, I still want to lowball and shave $10-20/mo off the monthly if I can.


The confusion for me comes on the order in which things need to happen.


My credit union wants a copy of the title, purchase agreement, insurance binder, title application with CU listed as lien holder, and insurance binder. 


So far I've done a lot of research on vehicles, built up some pretty strong brand biases, test drove a couple, and ran approximately 972 insurance quotes though GEICO. Figured out which cars were cheapest to insure, and which ones met my needs. I have a rough idea of what insurance will wind up costing me.


I'm thinking my next steps are this:

1: Choose a vehicle I like, negotiate on the price/conditions, and reach an agreement I'm happy with.

2: Sign purchase agreement, and ask for both a physical copy, and a copy sent to my email. Also get a copy of title application. Leave the check for my downpayment.
3: Contact my insurance agent with the VIN, and start coverage ASAP. Get copy of insurance binder.

4: Forward all the information/documentation to my credit union.  They, in turn, send the financed portion of the purchase to the dealership via UPS overnight.

5: Once that's all done, and the cars are plated, I'm ready to drive off in my vehicle.




I'm worried about a few things...

1: writing a $5000ish check for downpayment, then having something go wrong with the insurance or financing, and not being able to get my money back once I signed the agreement

2: the amount of time it takes to get the insurance going and the financing to the dealership might kill any current end-of-month/end-of-quarter negotiating leverage I might have

3: while I've researched prices a good deal and know the value of things and what to look for on cars, I haven't found much information on the actual closing process - I don't want my naivete to wind up costing me money, or to make me come off as a sucker to the car salesmen.

4: At any point during the closing, looking/sounding like I'm not sure what comes next - and losing control of the situation.

Anyone willing to help a rookie out?

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Many places won't let you do a test drive without proof of insurance.  Is this the reality in your market?


If so, you can get non-owner's coverage, and then add the vehicle to the policy after you make the purchase. 


I don't know if this is the most authoritative article on the subject (it's Nerdwallet after all), but it will convey the concept:  https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/insurance/non-owner-car-insurance-where-to-buy-and-what-it-covers 


Are you planning to buy new or used?


Edited by cv91915

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One thing you might want to check out, once you pick a vehicle, is if the dealership finance department is affiliated with CUDL and if your credit union is on the CUDL platform.  If so, then the dealership can handle everything with your credit union without you having to do any extra work.  (all at the same terms as your Credit Union would offer to you in person).  You can just use your cell phone and bind the insurance from the dealership before you drive it off the lot.

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Also, check how much the insurance is for the car.  If the car is what the insurance company considers is some sort of sports car, you don't want to be surprised of huge insurance after purchasing.  

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