You’ll probably buy several vehicles in your lifetime, but there’s one thing special about your first: It’s the one you’ll remember forever.
Naturally, you’re excited and thrilled to be getting into your own set of wheels, but before you rush out to the dealership for a test drive, consider a few essentials.
Here’s what you need to know about buying your first car.
Know Your Budget
Even before you think about the kind of vehicle you want to buy, the first step is to sit down and calculate what you’re able to spend. Factor in the cost of the vehicle’s payments as well as insurance, fuel costs and maintenance. New autos are so attractive you may want to look at all the bells and whistles. Used cars may look less expensive, but you’ll probably need to factor in added maintenance and repairs.
A good rule of thumb is to allow yourself $1,000 to $2,000 leeway – but don’t be tempted to buy more than your budgeted amount.
Know Your Needs
For most first-car buyers, fuel economy is a huge factor. You want the highest-mileage and newest model vehicle you can afford that doesn’t look like a total beater. Start with a compact coupe or sedan or even an inexpensive fuel-efficient crossover (CUV). Don’t forget to assess your lifestyle needs – like hauling mountain bikes, skis or transporting dogs, friends or extra cargo. A tip that may help is to write down the various types of trips you’ve taken this past month. How many times did you need more hauling capacity or space?
Do Your Research
To get the best deal on buying your first car you have to do your research. There are many ways to do this, but the easiest is to go online. Check the model brochures that you can download from the manufacturer’s websites. Go to independent research sites such as Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, Consumer Guide, and Consumer Reports. Go to a few dealerships and pick up those gorgeous, glossy brochures – they make it easier for you to narrow down your choices if you can compare full-color photos, specifications, standard features, options, etc., side by side.
Don’t forget to check out enthusiast car and truck magazines – such as Car and Driver, Motor Trend, Road & Track, Automobile, Truck Trend, and so on. Of course, check out the newspaper auto reviews. Ask your friends and family what vehicles they’d recommend. And, if you’ve had personal experience with a particular vehicle that you just love, by all means, add it to your consideration list.
Here’s another tip: Besides vehicle specifications, be sure to research fuel economy, safety, quality and reliability ratings, insurance and warranty.
Know Your Credit
One word of warning: Once you step foot on the dealership lot, a car salesman will be right there asking to help you. If you’re not yet ready for this, you might send someone to gather your brochures for you. But when you are ready to deal, you should already have a clear idea of where your credit stands, since you can’t buy or lease a new vehicle without strong credit. If you have credit items that need attention, the time to do that is 6 months before you plan to visit the dealership.
How do you know about your credit? Obtain copies of your credit report from the 3 nationwide credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You can get a free copy from AnnualCreditReport.com. Getting your actual credit score will cost a little money, but it’s worth it to know where you stand in terms of purchasing power. Look over the website for information on how important a good credit score is.
About Car Warranties
New cars today come with very substantial warranties, such as a 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranties. Part of your research should be to fully understand what is already included in the manufacturer’s warranty for your intended vehicle. This will help you to avoid falling for the extended warranties the car salesman may try to convince you to buy. You don’t need the extra expense of an extended warranty unless you plan to keep your vehicle for 10 years or more.
Now, all you need to do is: Get started.
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