Welcome to the San Francisco Bay Area.. Surprise! Now you need a car.
My clients that move to the San Francisco Bay Area from New York, London, and other transit-friendly cities around the world are often shocked to discover they need to buy a car for the first time ever. While San Francisco proper has a decent array of trains, buses, and ferries, the entire Bay Area is spread over 9 counties and it is not like New York or London where outer boroughs are connected by an efficient subway system.
So if you find yourself in the position of having to buy a car in the Bay Area and feel like a newbie...never fear! I’ve helped clients arriving from around the world find the right car at the best price and feel good about their purchase. Below you will find some of the best car buying tips and tricks I've learned over the years . While the first two tips may seem basic to some, they are super helpful for expats, newcomers to the Bay Area, and first time car buyers. The last three are secret strategies even savvy car buyers can use to save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on their car of choice.
1) Rank Your Top 3 Cars.
Start the journey by researching the best possible car for your lifestyle 1 to 2 months before you really need a car and ask yourself the following questions. What car works best for your situation? What is your budget? New or used? What will the car primarily be used for - commuting or transporting family and kids? What is the current price of gas? How many miles will you drive your car daily and how many miles per gallon does your ideal car get? Does it have a good resale value? The answers should help you arrive at 3 cars to narrow your search.
Pro Tip: Consider a plug-in hybrid or electric car. Plug-in hybrids and electric cars offer great resale value and their drivers get a special decal allowing them to use the coveted high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes. My plug-in hybrid shaves an average of 45 minutes off my commute each day by allowing me to use the less crowded HOV lane on the Bay Bridge and other Bay Area freeways.
2) Find the Market Value of the Car You Want.
Dealers and car-owners know the market value of their cars, and so should you in order to have the best leverage in price negotiations. Use Craigslist (look in the dealers and private owner section) and Kelley Blue Book’s website to find the price range of your ideal car so you know what to expect in your negotiations. Remember that car values vary by region, so be sure to take that into account in your research. Take that knowledge with you when you buy and you will know a good price quote when you see one.
3) Buy vs Leasing.
If the bottom line is the most important aspect of your decision, then weigh the options of buying vs leasing. There can be tax advantages to leasing a car, especially for business owners who use their car for business and may be able to write off the monthly lease payment. However, many lease terms limit the amount of miles you may drive over the term of the lease (anywhere between 30,000 to 45,000 miles on a 3 year lease) and charge costly “overage fees” if you drive more than the limit. There are benefits to buying a car if you drive over 10,000 miles per year or if you are not able to write off a leased car payment in your taxes due to your employment classification (ask your accountant).
Now that we have some of the basics covered, here are some insider tips to get the best deal possible.
4) Decide how you will pay for the car.
The big question is if you will finance or pay cash. This is important because it will affect your price and strategy. If you are new to the U.S., some car salesmen may tell you that you will have to pay a very high interest rate if you finance (8-18%), which can cost thousands of dollars over the life of the loan. To get around this, call