Buying your first car is a big milestone in life, and if you’re like most people, it will also be the first major investment you make. This means the experience can be both exciting and intimidating. There are a lot of decisions to make, a lot of information you need to know, and a lot of hurdles to jump through on your journey toward car ownership.
Don’t worry, because we’re here to help you formulate a plan of action. Just consult our 8-step guide for buying your first car, which will advise you on financial considerations, choosing the vehicle you want, visiting the dealership, and making the purchase. So take a few deep breaths and get started below.
1. Determine your budget.
The very first thing you need to do is decide how much money you can spend. Don’t make the mistake of buying a car that is too expensive for your budget, or you will regret it when you are plagued by debt you can’t seem to pay off. In a best-case scenario, you should be able to put down 20% of the total cost at time of purchase and pay off the remainder within two years. As you estimate your budget, don’t forget to account for all additional expenses that will come along with the car, including auto insurance, regular maintenance, gas and unexpected repairs.
2. Learn about your options for loans and financing.
You will most likely have to take out a loan from your bank or get financing from the dealership unless you’re planning to buy a cheap used vehicle. Shop around to find the best option for your needs. You should know your credit score going in, as this will affect the terms of your loan or financing. Also pay attention to the interest rate–you want this to be as low as possible so you don’t end up paying back much more than the original amount you borrowed. If you’d like to finance your vehicle with us, then visit our financing page to fill out an application and get all the information you need.
3. Decide what type of vehicle and what brand you want.
Next, you need to figure out what kind of car you want to buy. Start by ruling out entire vehicle categories that don’t interest you. Do you want a sedan, coupe, hatchback, truck or SUV? Is there a particular brand you would like, such as Toyota or Chevrolet? You also need to consider your transportation needs and what vehicle specifications are most important to you, like seating, storage space, fuel efficiency, towing capacity, off-road capabilities and more. You should try to narrow your options down to two or three vehicles you might like to purchase. Having as short a list as possible will make everything simpler going forward.
4. Thoroughly research the vehicles on your shortlist.
Now that you’ve narrowed your list, you need to conduct further research on your choice picks. You can easily find detailed reviews and specifications for each car online, so familiarize yourself with their pros and cons, and modify your most-wanted list as you see fit based on the new information. You should especially research the fair market price for each vehicle, because knowing this amount will help you be sure to get a good deal when you buy. If you’re planning to get a used car, you should request a full history report and choose one that has been dealer certified if possible. Read our article on how to inspect a used car for more tips on buying used, and check out our used car page to see what’s available at our dealership.
5. Visit the dealership on a weekday.
When you’re ready to take a trip to the dealership, do so on a weekday. It will be a lot less crowded than it is on Saturday and Sunday, so the salespeople will be able to give you more attention and provide better service. At the dealership, it’s important to stay focused on the vehicles you vetted beforehand. Don’t get distracted by other makes and models, as this will only prolong the process and make it more difficult for you to make a final decision.
6. Test drive only a few vehicles and bring friends.
It’s always a good idea to test drive a car before you commit to buying it. Refer to our test drive article for suggestions on how to prepare and what you should pay attention to during the drive. In addition to these tips, we advise you to avoid testing too many vehicles, because this will make it harder to differentiate between them when it comes time to choose. This is yet another reason why it will benefit you to keep short your list of cars up for consideration. Finally, bring along friends or family on your test drives so you can get second and third opinions on each car’s performance.
7. Negotiate the price.
The sticker price on the car is one thing–the sale price is another. Negotiating the price is a big part of buying a car, and the salesperson with whom you speak will anticipate this. Be confident and persistent. Don’t be afraid to ask multiple times if they can offer a discount or, alternatively, a free upgrade or some add-ons. Remember that you are ultimately in control of the transaction because you always have the option to walk away. Most salespeople will negotiate if it means the difference between a sale and no sale.
8. Above all, don’t rush into a decision.
This may be the most important item on our list. As we said at the beginning of the article, a car is a huge investment. Under no circumstances should you hurry through the process or allow yourself to be pushed by anyone–salespeople, friends, family, coworkers, whoever. Begin the process knowing it will be slow, consider all your options, and shop around for the best deal. You shouldn’t make a final decision unless you feel comfortable with it.
We hope this guide helps you make your first car buying experience a good one. Ideally, it should be more fun than scary. You should do alright if you’re prepared and know what to expect. If you’re looking to buy from us (and we hope you are), you can begin your search for new or used vehicles right here on our website.