Yeah, but I like to take up space so Ted can get angry and fix it, LOL.
Ok, so now back from lunch lets start at the beginning. Your looking around at cars now and getting some price ranges, that is a good start. You want to know what price ranges the cars that you really want are in. But this really will not determine what kind you can get.
The real first step comes on the financial side of the equation. THAT is where you will truly figure out exactly what type of car you will end up with. So first you have some things to work out.
#1 do you have established credit?
#2 is it good and do you know your credit score?
#3 can you get a loan on your own or will you have to get a co-signer?
These are the main factors that will determine how good of a loan you can get.
Once you get that together is is time to go to your bank and speak to one of their finance people. The things you want to know are these.
#1 how much loan will they give you. Usually this can come in multiple stages. When I bought mine I got pre-approved for three different tiers of a loan (amounts and rates).
#2 What is the interest rate and length of the loans you can get. Also ask about any restrictions it may have. What I mean by restrictions is some banks (or credit unions if you have one near you because they are usually better) will give you a loan amount and an interest rate. But to get that rate they may say the loan can only be for a certain amount of years, you want more years and the rate increases. Also some banks encourage newer car buying, so the rate may only apply to cars 2010 and up and with a minimum MPG.
#3 once you have all the financial stuff sorted you will then have a set amount you know you can spend, this will determine how much car you can afford. You will also know what the monthly payments will be beforehand. Getting pre-approved by a bank before ever stepping on a car lot is an important step. Car dealers get kick backs for getting you to finance through them, and usually do not have as good a rate as your bank. Plus they use those loan figured when playing their little game with you. They manipulate them around in ways that people not in the financial field usually miss completely so that they can get more profits. Most customer have one thing in mind when they walk on the lot "I want a good car, low mileage, good MPG, and I want it for XXX a month". So they play with numbers knowing that as long as the end result is you having payments of XXX a month then you will probably be satisfied and buy. Even if it means paying quite a lot more in interest over the loan period.
#4 when looking at the above loans make sure that you have them build GAP insurance into the loan. If you do not know what GAP is, it is an insurance from the bank that covers you if you wreck the car while still making payments. When you drive off the lot the value depreciates on the car almost instantly. So when you wreck the insurance pays you blue book value. But most of the time that won't cover the amount you have left on your loan and now you are screwed. You have loan payments, no car, and now with the existing loan no way to get another one. GAP insurance pays the difference between what the insurance company gave you and what you still owe so you can pay off the loan.
Some GAP insurances even cover the deductible amount payed on the car insurance.
Now that you have amounts start looking for cars but keep in mind that if approved for 16K, you probably want to be looking more around 14K because you have to account for all of the dealers fees and possibly extended warranty.