Buying your first car is a truly exciting time in your life! A car is an investment in yourself and your future, and as with any investment, you want to make sure you execute all the necessary research and preparation to protect it. There’s no shortage of options out there, and being equipped with the right information can help you make the best possible decision. With that in mind, here’s our ultimate guide to buying your first car.

Do Some Preliminary Research

If this is your first car, then you may be overwhelmed on where to even start the buying process. A great place to begin is by talking with friends and family, specifically those who live nearby. Where did they buy their current car? What kind of makes and models have they had good experiences with? Start your research with your immediate network, and proceed from there.

Set a Realistic Budget

If you’re preparing to buy your first car, you need to be ready to talk numbers. So take a hard look at your financial situation and do some planning. How much can you afford to put down on your car? What does a reasonable monthly payment look like?

In addition, the true cost of owning a car goes beyond the initial down payment and ongoing monthly payments. There are also maintenance costs, gas money, insurance, and more to consider. Don’t overlook these additional costs to help you plan for a healthy financial future.

Examine Your Specific Needs & Wants

Before you get too far down the research rabbit-hole, take a step back and think about what you really want and need. Just because everyone in your family has always driven a Honda Accord doesn’t mean it’s the best option for you. Ask yourself:

  • How much do I drive per day?
  • On what kind of terrain do I usually drive?
  • What inclement weather do I have to regularly deal with?
  • What does my commute look like?
  • What kind of car best suits my lifestyle?
  • How many people (other than myself) do I expect to drive around?

If you’re primarily just going to be driving around yourself, you probably don’t need an SUV. If you like to take road trips where you pack a lot of bags, maybe a bigger car is a better fit for your lifestyle. If you drive many miles each day, then a fuel-friendly car may be your best bet. Think long and hard about this before you dig into specific options.

Get Your Insurance Early On

For many first-time buyers, insurance may be an afterthought, but in reality, most car dealerships will need proof of insurance before allowing you to buy a car.

The good news is that, when it comes to car insurance, there’s a number of affordable options and protection plans to suit your needs. A rule of thumb: you should spend about half as much time researching car insurance options as you do researching the cars themselves.

Make Sure You Do a Test Drive

One of the most fun parts of the car-buying process is getting to test drive a variety of cars and imagine yourself behind the wheel long-term. However, this piece isn’t just fun and games – it’s a crucial research step. The way a car looks, the information revealed in the vehicle history report, the price – these things are all important, but the actual driving experience and making sure you feel safe are potentially even more important.

In addition, doing a test drive may help reveal nuances about the car that aren’t immediately visible or vocalized, especially if you take time to drive the car in a number of different environments (such as on the freeway, on hills, in slow zones, and wherever else you feel is important). Spend at least 30 minutes doing the test drive, and if something doesn’t look or feel right as you’re doing the test drive, do not feel afraid to speak up and ask questions. 

Find a Solid Purchase Price

At the end of the day, the money you spend on your first car is extremely important. If you spent months saving up for the car, then the value behind getting the right price means that much more. Knowing that it’s your first car purchase, you want to make sure you don’t get swindled or talked into paying too much.

The best thing you can remember to do when it gets to the negotiation phase is take your time. If you need some time to think or want to check with a family member before agreeing to a purchase price, you are 100% within your right to do so.

 Final Thoughts

Buying your first car is a big step, and there’s certainly a lot to consider throughout the journey. But this milestone is achievable with the right preparation and support. What questions do you still have about the car-buying process?  

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Rachel O'Conner

Rachel is a freelance writer and a self-proclaimed "Travelholic". She enjoys traveling to parts unknown, sampling local cuisines, and sharing her experiences with the world. In her free time, you can find her planning her next trip, running with her dogs, or heading to the closest farmers' market.

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