5 Tips on Buying Your First Car

(Last Updated On: May 29, 2019)

Few things are more exciting than buying your first car! No matter what kind of car you buy, the make and model of your first car will stick with you forever. Ten years from now, you’ll get struck by a lightning bolt of nostalgia every time you see the same make and model cruising down the road.

Although buying your first car is mostly a fun process, it can also be a stressful one. A car is an expensive piece of machinery. It’s a major investment at the time of purchase, but it’s also an investment that’s going to cost you a good deal of money every single month. Furthermore, all the paperwork and test driving can be exhausting and overwhelming.

Do not fear! Here are 5 tips that will help you through the process of buying your first car (and if you’re in high school, make sure you read our car buying tips for teenagers).

  1. Don’t Expect Luxury

Most people dream about their first car being a Mercedes-Benz, or Corvette, or BMW. But luxury vehicles and sports cars don’t make for the best first car, for multiple reasons.

First, most people can’t afford these types of cars. They’re expensive to buy, and also very expensive to maintain. And we’re guessing that, if you’re buying a car for the first time, you might not have the budget for one of those vehicles.

Second, those vehicles are tough to take care of. To keep them in good shape, you’ll have to get them regularly washed and maintained. You also need to drive them more carefully so they don’t suffer so much wear and tear. If you’re new to car ownership, there’s definitely somewhat of a learning curve when it comes to properly taking care of your vehicle, in terms of maintenance and driving. You don’t want to ruin a great car because you don’t quite have the experience to keep it in good shape. It’s better to save a “nice” car for your second or third vehicle.

Don’t let the “luxury car or die mindset” spoil other perfectly fine cars that are within your price range. In other words, don’t compare apples to oranges when you’re shopping vehicles. But if you have a high budget and you’re dead-set on buying luxury, be sure to read our guide on buying expensive cars.

  1. Always Test Drive

Never buy a vehicle before you’ve given it a thorough test drive. In fact, you should aim to give the vehicle two or three test drives before your purchase it.

During a test, you’ll want to evaluate the:

  • Comfort of the interior
  • Smoothness of the ride
  • Turn radius
  • Brakes
  • Speed
  • Headlights
  • Electronics (LCD displays, Bluetooth, etc.)

If a vehicle “doesn’t feel right,” then it’s probably not the right one for you. There are perfectly good cars out there that just don’t have a feel that’s suitable for you, and that’s fine. As you continue doing test drives, you’ll get a better idea of the ideal size and drive of the vehicle you’re interested in.

  1. Do Your Research

Before you start searching for cars for sale, Do lots of research to determine which type of car you’d be interested in buying.

Car research websites like J.D. Power make it easy to discover what kinds of vehicles are out there. Try and identify a handful of makes and models that you might be interested in buying, and make sure they go for a price that’s within your budget. If you’re buying a used car, do research on prior models of the vehicle that date back 3 to 8 years.

The more research you do, the less time you’ll waste test driving vehicles and wandering aimlessly around a dealership lot. Research will also give yourself more of an edge when it’s time to negotiate.

  1. Negotiate

When you’ve selected a car that you want to buy, it’s time to negotiate for it. Negotiation is more critical when you’re buying a used car, but you still might be able to negotiate prices on a new car.

Every vehicle has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), which is the suggested selling point of the vehicle. Dealerships probably won’t sell a vehicle for significantly less, but you might be able to cut down the price by a few hundred or maybe even a thousand dollars.

When you’re negotiating for a used car, be sure to thoroughly evaluate the condition of the vehicle. If you spot any defects, like worn carpet or paint, you can use those as leverage to ask for a lower price. Don’t ever be afraid to negotiate—it’s a common practice, and it’s the best way to save yourself some money during the transaction.

  1. Don’t Settle

The first tip was that you shouldn’t expect to buy a luxury vehicle for your first car. However, that doesn’t mean that you should settle for just any old hunk of junk. Since you’re going to be spending thousands (or tens of thousands) on your car, you want to make sure that you’re getting a vehicle that you’re truly happy with and that drives well. Temper your expectations, but try and find the best possible vehicle that fits within your budget.

Remember, the vehicle’s feel while it’s driving is the most important part. Other things, like the quality of the car speakers, can be fixed after the fact. For example, you can always spruce up your vehicle by installing new car gear and accessories. That’s a whole lot cheaper than replacing a clunky engine. Style is something you can add later.

Keep these 5 tips in mind when you’re buying a new vehicle, and you’ll be cruising around town in a vehicle you love, at a price that didn’t cost you an arm and a leg. Have fun driving!

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