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Maybe you just landed your first real job, just graduated or are tired of driving the family hand-me-down junker or riding the bus. These tips for buying a new car will hopefully make the process easier and safer.

What do you want and how will you use it?

One of the main tips in buying your first vehicle is knowing exactly what you want. You need to know what you like and need in a car. Do you need it to make a long commute to work? Are you mostly just driving on short little jaunts to do errands, with an occasional longer trek? 

Will the car mainly transport just yourself, or is it something that will likely have a full load of passengers on the regular? Do you have to haul around gear for your job or your hobbies?

By listing what you want and how it will be used, you can narrow your choices. For instance, if your daily commute is a long one, you probably want something that’s easy on fuel and comfortable for agonizingly slow traffic. If you are a musician, you need room for your equipment. 

From this, you can whittle down your list to at least a category of vehicle, say a coupe, an SUV or perhaps a hybrid compact car. Another factor to consider when choosing a car is what kind of insurance rates will it have. Different cars cost more, and as a young driver, you are already going to be paying high rates.

Know your budget

Another tip for buying your first car; don’t walk into a dealership and let them tell you what you can afford. Instead, find out all you can about your financial situation. Know your credit score, which is likely not all that great even though you’ve probably not messed it up yet. Unfairly, no credit is as bad or worse than bad credit. You may need a co-signer in some cases, and some family members will give a flat “No!” to that.

Do not go to a car lot with a number that is the highest amount you can spend on monthly payments. If you do that, you’ll likely be coaxed into stretching that number, and they will give you that monthly payment, but do it by giving you a higher interest rate and longer terms so you end up paying way too much for the car. So much so, that you could end up “upside down,”  or owing more than the vehicle is even worth.

Instead, get a complete picture of your monthly income and expenses.  According to, you should plan to spend no more than 20 percent of your monthly take-home pay on vehicle costs. Those costs include insurance, fuel, repairs, and payments. 

If you want to finance a car, rather than buying one with cash, then it’s a good idea to go to a credit union or bank and secure financing before stepping foot in a dealership. You can take in a document that shows what you’ve been approved for. Then all you have to do is haggle on price, not a loan, with the seller.

Do your homework

Another tip for buying your first car is to do your homework. After narrowing down your choices, look up the model, make and year of the car you are looking for. A good source is to check the used car ratings from Consumer Reports, or reviews from Edmunds on new vehicles. 

Buying a used versus new car isn’t such a tough decision for a first-time buyer. You have to realize that as soon as you drive off the lot, that car drops in value. Instantly. So it’s better to get the newest used car you can afford. If it’s super old, the upfront price may be low, but the upkeep may clean you out. 

Go online to see what kind of prices you can find on your desired car in your area. Check the Kelley Blue Book value as well. Then get some quotes online and print out any offers you get.

Test it out

Never, ever purchase a car, new or used, without a good, in-depth test drive. Try to find driving conditions that will match the kind you’ll mostly drive in. Play with the climate control, the seat adjustments, even the radio. Find out if this is really a car for you.

With a used car, you need to do more than that. Bring a mechanic or very mechanically-inclined person with you, or better yet, have the car checked out by a professional even if it costs a little. If the mechanic finds major issues, it’s best to know now.

The art of negotiation

Finally, after you’ve determined the type of car you want, established your budget, and have the cash in hand or the financing nailed down, it’s time to make the deal. When buying your first car, it’s safe to assume you are rather young, and to some car salespeople, that means being easily manipulated. By doing your homework, you’ve taken away some of that naivete, but it’s still a good idea to take a wise, older adult with you. They can give advice, ask good questions and just be a logical sounding board for you. 

It’s also crucial that you don’t rush the process. Most mistakes with big purchases happen because of impatience. Be willing to sleep on it. If the car sells before you return, no worries.  Always be willing to walk away because often that’s exactly what you should do. Don’t worry, there will be another car at a great deal for you if you look hard enough.