Article | 3:42 min read

6 Tips to Buying Your First Car

Budget and Save

Buying your first car all on your own can be a little scary. It also means you are one more step closer to gaining your financial independence.

Lady holding the keys to her new car

Here are six tips to make your first car-buying experience go as smoothly as possible.

  1. Set a Realistic Budget
    Before you do anything else, figure out exactly how much you have to spend. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of purchasing a car, so make sure you have a realistic budget before you do any shopping. Using your current income, consider adding the following-the cost of the car, auto insurance, gas, maintenance, etc.-to your monthly payments. If you need a little extra cash, consider an auto loan. If you need help calculating your vehicle payment, try our Vehicle Payment Calculator.
  2. Establish What You Need
    Although that red sports car might seem like a good idea, it might not be the most practical. Figure out what you need from your car; are you towing, commuting, or hauling passengers? It is important to know what you're looking for before you start looking. Consumer Reports listed three things that are must have security features on your car [2]:
    • Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) - used to maintain steering control when you brake firmly or quickly
    • Electronic Stability Control (ESC) - Keeps you from going sideways when you turn quickly
    • Head-protecting side airbags - help maintain head safety if you're hit from the side
  3. Research Your Options
    Now that you know exactly what you want and how much you can spend, it's time to take it to the Web. There are a lot of resources when it comes to finding cars online - True Car, CARFAX, and CarGurus. There are more websites like these, but this is a good place to start.
  4. Inspect Your Potential Buy
    Once you've found a car that you think you might want, dig a little deeper. Ask for the VIN number of the car and you can search on websites like CARFAX to see the entire history of the car including the previous owners, when it went to the shop, if there are any accidents, and more. Not only is it important to take a test drive, but if you are looking into a used car, ALWAYS get the car inspected before you buy. It may be a hassle to get the dealer or owner to allow you to do so, but a quick inspection can save you money and the hassle of repairing your new-to-you car. Also, check websites like Kelly Blue Book for information regarding the actual value of the car you're looking at to ensure you're paying what you should be.
  5. Negotiate the Price
    Probably the most intimidating and infamous part of car buying is negotiating price. Something about a bunch of salespeople walking around and looking out the door just feels fishy and untrustworthy. But don't fret, there are ways to win the negotiating game. First, if you can, negotiate over email or text [3]. Part of the intimidation and charm of the salesperson is they know exactly what to say to make you spend more money than you have to. Having the middleman of your computer helps allow you to research the things being talked about so you can make the best decision. It also helps take away the pressure of feeling like you have to agree; in essence it makes it easier to walk away if necessary. Second, if you are negotiating in person, try bringing an experienced adult to help negotiate. If you're flying solo, just remember these tips:
    • Be prepared to walk away. There are lots of other cars out there-if it doesn't work for you, then it doesn't work.
    • Don't be distracted by low monthly costs. Lower monthly rates usually mean longer you have to pay off your car, not to mention that you may be being charged more. Think of the yearly total and go from there.
    • Be strong and confident. At the end of the day, if you act like you know what you're doing, people are going to take you seriously. Be strong and don't agree until you find exactly what you're looking for.
  6. Relax and Have Fun
    No matter what happens, have fun. This is all a learning experience and you are bound to make mistakes along the way. Go in with an open mind and don't allow yourself to get upset. At the end of the day, you are about to get a car!


[1] 10 Tips for First-time Car Buyers, Kelley Blue Book
[2] How to Buy Your First Car
[3] 6 Car-Buying Mistakes to Avoid, U.S. News


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