Car loan pre-approval: How does it work?

author-avatar By on October 15, 2018
Car loan pre-approval: How does it work?

Car loan pre-approval can give you a serious leg-up in the buying process, and can also lead to some serious savings.

What is a pre-approved car loan?

A pre-approved car loan is an indication from a lender that you are eligible to apply for a car loan of a specified amount, having assessed your credit rating, liabilities and assets. Entering a car dealership with car loan pre-approval can help speed up the car buying process, as both parties are aware of what you have to spend.

Pre-approval isn’t a guarantee of the loan itself, so you’ll still have to contact the lender again (whether that’s online, over the phone or in a branch), for settlement. But it can be a good way to get ahead of the game and fast-track your way to a funky new set of wheels.

In the market for a new car? The table below features car loans with some of the lowest fixed and variable interest rates on the market.

Provider
Ad rate
p.a.
Comp rate*
p.a.
Monthly
repayment
 
4.67% 5.22% $562 Go to site
New Car Loan
4.99% 5.34% $566 Go to site
5.49% 5.87% $572 More details

Data accurate as at 01 October 2020. Rates based on a loan of $30,000 for a five-year loan term. Both fixed and variable rates are included. View disclaimer.

What are the benefits of car loan pre-approval?

A pre-approved car loan can be beneficial in that it grants you the power of knowing what you can afford before you go out to buy a car.

For example, if you’ve been pre-approved for a $20,000 loan, you’ll limit yourself to cars within that price range. Dealers won’t try to tempt you with a more expensive car, as they’ll also know you have a set budget.

Having this knowledge and confidence in yourself and your ability to secure the affordable car you want can also give you an edge in negotiating the sale price of the vehicle.

Without pre-approval, you may be at the mercy of persuasive car dealers whose job it is to squeeze as much money out of you as possible. Even if you’re strong-willed, that intoxicating new car smell can sometimes override your better judgement!

Also, car dealers often push their own dealer finance options, so if you have a pre-approved car loan, the dealer may offer finance at a lower rate to encourage you to finance the car through them. Just make sure you take into account all of the costs of the finance offer (not just the rate) before you agree to take out dealer finance.

Pros of a car loan pre-approval

  • A fixed budget to shop with
  • Faster buying process
  • Less chance of getting a dodgy deal
  • Greater negotiating power (on car and interest rate)

Bear in mind too that you aren’t locked into any one lender after they’ve pre-approved you. If you aren’t happy with the limit you’ve been set, then you can try talking to another.

What are the drawbacks?

First and foremost, pre-approval isn’t available to everyone. After looking at your history and credit score, some lenders might not deem you an acceptable customer for pre-approval, which can be demoralising.

Let’s say you do qualify for pre-approval though – what could be bad about knowing that you’ve been approved for a certain amount? Well, for one thing, that amount might not be enough for the car you had your heart set on, and can lock you into a certain subset of vehicles (unless you decide to get a loan from a different provider, which you’re entitled to do).

Pre-approval also doesn’t last forever. The industry standard length is between one and three months, with three being the most common. There are plenty of lenders who only offer pre-approval for one month, although in some cases you’ll be able to renew it a further 30 days.

Cons of a car loan pre-approval

  • Not available from every lender
  • Not available for every car – some cars over a certain age won’t qualify
  • You’ll have a limited time to choose a car. Some people like to take their time before committing to such a big financial decision
  • You could be disappointed with the amount of money you’re able to borrow

What is a pre-approved car loan?

A pre-approved car loan is an indication from a lender that you are eligible to apply for a car loan of a specified amount, having assessed your credit rating, liabilities and assets. Entering a car dealership with car loan pre-approval can help speed up the car buying process, as both parties are aware of what you have to spend.

Pre-approval isn’t a guarantee of the loan itself, so you’ll still have to contact the lender again (whether that’s online, over the phone or in a branch), for settlement. But it can be a good way to get ahead of the game and fast-track your way to a funky new set of wheels.

What are the benefits of car loan pre-approval?

A pre-approved car loan can be beneficial in that it grants you the power of knowing what you can afford before you go out to buy a car.

For example, if you’ve been pre-approved for a $20,000 loan, you’ll limit yourself to cars within that price range. Dealers won’t try to tempt you with a more expensive car, as they’ll also know you have a set budget.

Having this knowledge and confidence in yourself and your ability to secure the affordable car you want can also give you an edge in negotiating the sale price of the vehicle.

Without pre-approval, you may be at the mercy of persuasive car dealers whose job it is to squeeze as much money out of you as possible. Even if you’re strong-willed, that intoxicating new car smell can sometimes override your better judgement!

Also, car dealers often push their own dealer finance options, so if you have a pre-approved car loan, the dealer may offer finance at a lower rate to encourage you to finance the car through them. Just make sure you take into account all of the costs of the finance offer (not just the rate) before you agree to take out dealer finance.

Pros of a car loan pre-approval

  • A fixed budget to shop with
  • Faster buying process
  • Less chance of getting a dodgy deal
  • Greater negotiating power (on car and interest rate)

Bear in mind too that you aren’t locked into any one lender after they’ve pre-approved you. If you aren’t happy with the limit you’ve been set, then you can try talking to another.

What are the drawbacks?

First and foremost, pre-approval isn’t available to everyone. After looking at your history and credit score, some lenders might not deem you an acceptable customer for pre-approval, which can be demoralising.

Let’s say you do qualify for pre-approval though – what could be bad about knowing that you’ve been approved for a certain amount? Well, for one thing, that amount might not be enough for the car you had your heart set on, and can lock you into a certain subset of vehicles (unless you decide to get a loan from a different provider, which you’re entitled to do).

Pre-approval also doesn’t last forever. The industry standard length is between one and three months, with three being the most common. There are plenty of lenders who only offer pre-approval for one month, although in some cases you’ll be able to renew it a further 30 days.

Cons of a car loan pre-approval

  • Not available from every lender
  • Not available for every car – some cars over a certain age won’t qualify
  • You’ll have a limited time to choose a car. Some people like to take their time before committing to such a big financial decision
  • You could be disappointed with the amount of money you’re able to borrow

Frequently asked questions

1. Am I eligible for a car loan?

Your eligibility for a car loan will depend on a variety of factors such as: the car model, whether the car is new or used, the lender and the loan you're applying for, your income, your credit rating and history, your assets and liabilities, and your history of savings. Having a bad credit rating doesn't disqualify you from getting car loans, but you might find it harder to get a good one.

2. Can I apply for a car loan with bad credit?

If you have bad credit, you can boost your chances of being approved for a car loan by: being realistic in your expectations & picking a modest car, being honest in your application, save some money beforehand, obtain stable employment, and clean up existing debts. Also work towards improving your credit history beforehand by paying bills and credit card repayments on time.

3. What are the differences between secured & unsecured car loans?

secured car loan is one where an asset (the car you’re buying) is used as collateral against the loan, and can be reclaimed by the lender if repayments aren't met. Unsecured car loans do not use your car as security. Secured car loans are generally less risky for lenders to provide than unsecured car loans, so they often have lower interest rates.

4. How to get a low interest car loan?

There can be many ways to get a low-interest car loan, but one of the best ways could be to maintain a clean credit history. This tells lenders you're a trustworthy borrower, making them more likely to give you a good interest rate. Also, don't forget to shop around to see which lender's are offering the lowest rates. Secured car loans also tend to have a lower interest rate than unsecured loans.


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William Jolly joined Savings.com.au as a Financial Journalist in 2018, after spending two years at financial research firm Canstar. In William's articles, you're likely to find complex financial topics and products broken down into everyday language. He is deeply passionate about improving the financial literacy of Australians and providing them with resources on how to save money in their everyday lives.

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