10 Tips for Buying Your First Car


One of the biggest, most daunting milestones every driver faces in life is buying a first car.

Of course, getting to this point is enough of a challenge; you’ve spent hours upon hours learning to drive, taking your test (likely multiple times), and finally received your license. You’ve observed other drivers, you’ve familiarized yourself with the rules of the road, and you’ve proven to be a safe, reliable person behind the wheel.

However, once all those key steps are out of the way, the process of purchasing your own vehicle can seem long and difficult. If you’ve gotten used to sitting behind the wheel of a parent or friend’s car, having to jump to a new vehicle, one which you’re completely responsible for, might seem to be a big step. It doesn’t have to be, though. With enough research, thought, and help, buying your own set of wheels and hitting the road can be easier, and more fun, than you expect.


Following this list of 10 tips will help to make buying your first car simpler than ever.


1. Decide on a Budget

This might sound obvious, but if you’re not careful about establishing a budget early in the process, you could end up falling in love with cars you simply can’t afford, but can’t say no to, either. Deciding on a budget means thinking rationally and realistically, focusing on how much you can afford each month, and what impact this additional expense will have on your overall finances.


Said impact will vary depending on your current personal and financial situation. Are you still in school or college right now? If so, chances are you’ll be living on loans and/or a part-time job, though money may still be tight. On the other hand, if you’re working full-time, you should have access to a little more cash. But just because you have full-time employment doesn’t mean you can go for the most expensive car at the dealership. You need to also consider whether your circumstances are likely to change in the near future. If you are in a relationship, are you and your partner planning to get married or have kids? Do you want to make sure you still have money to save every month for vacations, house deposits etc., or are you happy to make your car the key expense instead? All of these factors have to be considered, as do other expenses related to the car, such as fuel, maintenance, and insurance.


2. Focus on Function Rather than Form

Following on from our first point, it’s vital to limit your focus to the cars your budget will realistically allow for. You might well convince yourself that the flashiest, sleekest, coolest car you’ve seen at a high-priced dealership somehow falls into your affordability range, but you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment.


It’s natural to fantasize about cruising in the kind of vehicle a Hollywood star would drive, but you need to focus on the most important features rather than how cool you’ll look. Work out how much you can afford to pay each month, keeping in mind the insurance and upkeep costs, and search for vehicles that fall within this range only. Don’t torture yourself by trying to work out how many other jobs you need to get to afford that lush car.


Don’t be afraid to make your first car all about function rather than form; the time may come in the future where you can upgrade to the one you’ve dreamed about. Until then, though, a cheaper, simpler car is the better choice, and it will leave you with more money for other expenses that my pop up throughout the month.

3. Identify the Essentials

To help refine your choice even further, you should spend a little time considering your practical needs compared with your wants. Think about the type of lifestyle you lead, the environments you drive through, and the responsibilities you have. Are you likely to face tough terrain or will you be on smooth highways most of the time? Will you need to drive in wet or icy conditions often, or do you live in a warmer climate all year round? Do you have to cover long distances every day, or make short trips instead?


The answers to the above questions will help you determine the type of vehicle you need. If you expect to make long drives on a daily or regular basis, you should invest in the most fuel-efficient car you can afford, rather than a gas-guzzler that’s going to up your monthly expenses. Likewise, if you will be driving on challenging terrain, you’ll need a car that’s built for the great outdoors rather than a less-robust vehicle designed with only the city in mind. This all might sound like a lot of thought for a first car, but once you identify your essentials, the process will get a lot easier.


4. Put Time into Your Research

Once you have a fair idea in mind of the kind of first car you need, you should go online and start researching the particulars of your target vehicles. Look at the typical prices you can expect to pay, and what sort of financial plans are available for them. There are plenty of websites that provide these details, like Kelly Blue Book and Edmunds, so take your time and try to find out as much as you can.


The more you know about the costs associated with certain types of vehicles and the various models available, the more you can continue to identify possible choices. Don’t be afraid to scour forums to look at the opinions of other drivers, and see how people with similar lifestyles and budgets to yours handle their purchase. If you’re looking into a used car, read up on the information surrounding them and what type of warranty you should expect. If you have a list of potential first car models or styles with you when you start approaching dealerships, you can save time and make the buying process far simpler.


5. Find a Dealership You Can Trust

You may have a wide choice of dealerships in your town or city. Perhaps you drive past several on your way to work, or live locally to a number of different businesses. Of course, you might have never been near a dealership in your life and have no idea how they operate. This also, is something you should check out online, to make sure you’re familiar with the buying process.


Look up the dealerships local to you, and investigate their customers’ feedback. Have they been in business long? Are there many satisfied buyers sharing their experiences, or do the majority of customers warn others away? Financial plans are another important factor. Certain dealerships provide buyers with instant approval for an auto loan, regardless of your credit rating. The credit score you have will affect how specific lenders see you; if you have a good or excellent rating, there’s unlikely to be a problem, but a poor score could make securing financing a bit more challenging. Look into which dealerships have in-house financing, and whether they accommodate first-time buyers with little or no credit history behind them.


6. Request a Test Drive

Taking your potential first car for a test drive can mean all the difference between finding the perfect vehicle versus eventual disappointment. The car may look great and have decent specs, but you won’t know for sure how suitable it is until you actually get behind the wheel for the first time. Most dealerships will allow you to take any car you’re interested in for a test drive; after all, they want to make sure you stay satisfied after you drive away from their dealership, and eventually come back as a repeat customer.


Ideally, your test drive should take place in the conditions you expect to be driving in. There’s no use buying a car that doesn’t handle on wet or icy roads too well when that’s exactly why you need it, nor do you want to invest in a model that consumes more gas than you can afford. Your sales person will be looking to help you find the ideal car for your budget and needs, so be honest about your expectations and requirements.


7. See if the Price Can Be Negotiated

Don’t be afraid to see how much leeway there is on your preferred car’s price. One useful tactic is to look up other local dealerships and see if they sell the car or cars you’re interested in, and compare the costs. If one is cheaper than the other, you can bring this up and see if they’re open to negotiation.


Not every dealership will be willing to take money off, of course, but some may, especially if they can see that you’re serious about making the purchase. If they can’t, or won’t drop the overall price, they may throw in some freebies or discounts to help ease your financial strain. If they are willing to discuss the price, though, just asking may be enough to start making deals.


8. Be Curious

Buying your first car is a big step, but be wary of anyone trying to take advantage of your inexperience and make a quick buck. You should be willing to ask questions and ensure you feel completely satisfied with a car before you agree to hand over any money, and sign a contract.


If you’re buying a new car, you don’t need to find out about the car’s previous usage and whether any major repairs have been performed, but you do need to get that information if you’re looking to get a pre-owned vehicle. Generally, whether from a used or new car dealership, pre-owned cars are checked and maintained to a high standard before being put out for sale, especially at the most reputable dealerships. And it’s essential to ask important questions about fuel efficiency, key features, and after-care services.


9. Ask Someone Experienced to Shop with You

One quick, simple way to make buying your first car much easier is to ask an experienced driver to accompany you on your search; maybe a friend, a relative, or a colleague. Whoever it is should know a thing or two about buying vehicles, about what it costs to keep one running and in good condition, and any potential warning signs to watch out for. If they can bring that knowledge with them to the dealership, you can let them steer discussions with the sales person and learn about the process.


Having someone experienced alongside you can be a real confidence-booster too, encouraging you to ask questions, negotiate prices, and generally make sure the car you buy is the perfect one for your needs and budget.


10. Take Your Time

When all is said and done, though, you should avoid rushing into buying your first car as much as you possibly can. Depending on your situation and responsibilities, this may be easier in theory than practice. After all, if you have a child on the way, or have other specific transportation needs, having a car may make life much easier, allowing you to avoid the challenges of taking public transportation. And if you have a long commute to and from work every day, having your own vehicle can help you save money and avoid frustrating delays. In cases like these, investing in a first car may be somewhat urgent, but if you can afford to wait until you find the ideal vehicle, do so. If you let yourself get pressured into buying the first possibility you come across, you may find yourself regretting it down the line.


Your first car is a special purchase, and you should feel proud and happy with your choice.

Don’t spend any money until you know you have the right car for your budget, lifestyle, and responsibilities. This should be an exciting time in your life, as you discover the independence and convenience that your own set of wheels brings, so try to make the most of it. After all, you’ll only get to buy your first car once.


We, at Citi Auto Group, believe these tips should give you all the information you need to make buying your first car much easier. Our staff is always available to answer any questions you may have, and to help you find the best vehicle that fits your needs and budget. Feel free to stop by our dealership, check out our inventory, our financing options, and test drive any cars you may be interested in.