Shopping for your first car is an exciting and harrowing experience all rolled into one. After all, your new car is more than just a toy—it needs to be affordable, safe and reliable to get you where you need to go.
Since this is your first time buying a car, you might not be sure what to look for, so here’s what to keep in mind.
A first car you can truly afford
You can’t start off your car search on the right foot without knowing what you can afford. This way, you won’t waste time on cars you will not be able to buy, and you’ll also avoid getting taken in by a vehicle you’ll struggle to make the payments on later.
The golden rule is that you should never use more than 20 percent of your monthly take-home income on transportation, which includes gas, maintenance, car payment, and auto insurance premiums. So, calculate your after-tax income and divide that by five. Your total roughly represents what you can afford to handle each month for your first car.
All of your must-have features
A car search is only successful when you know what you need the car to have. Do you need good gas mileage to stay within your budget? Will you routinely drive with multiple passengers or cargo and need more space? Is the all-wheel drive a must for the weather or some roads where you live? Really think about what you will use the car for most and what auto features you will rely on.
Once you know what your first car must have, you can make a list of those required features. Use this list as you shop to ensure you’re not wasting time on a vehicle that will not work for you.
A good inspection and test drive
Your test drive is your first driving experience with the car, and it’s also an opportunity to inspect it before you buy. Look at the entire body’s condition for signs of damage, rust, or any other issues. Inspect glass, mirrors, and lenses for cracks or chips. Open everything you can, including doors, hood, and the trunk, to ensure proper function. Check the tires, too. How worn they are will give you an idea of whether your first car’s stated mileage is accurate. Be wary of cars with very low mileage that have new tires.
In the interior, check all controls to make sure everything is working. Pay attention to any unusual smells. Some odors are hard to get out, and if you can’t stand the smell, it’s probably not the car for you. It’s also important to test the comfort and ergonomics of the vehicle. Sit in the driver’s seat and adjust it to your liking. Make sure you have a clear view of all the mirrors and the dashboard. Test the audio system, air conditioning, and heating. If the car has advanced features like a navigation system or backup camera, take the time to ensure these are functioning properly as well. Remember, comfort and functionality are key in a car you’ll use regularly.
Under the hood and beneath the car, look for signs of leaks, damaged hoses or wires, or anything else that looks to be in bad shape. Don’t forget to look at where the car is normally parked. Any left-behind fluid spots can indicate serious trouble.
Buying your first car doesn’t have to be a difficult experience, but even when you take all the right steps, you could still end up with some problems. Being thorough in your inspection, asking questions, and possibly getting a trusted mechanic to take a look can mitigate many common issues. Remember, it’s better to be cautious now than to face unexpected repairs later. Do your research, know your budget, and don’t rush into a decision. A good car purchase is one that you’re happy with for years to come.