I bought my first car in 1981. It was a ten year old Pontiac Firebird. Metallic maroon with a beige interior - I had a car that was similar to Jim Rockford’s!
I didn’t know much about buying cars but I knew enough to bring my buddy Greg Lyle with me. He was the best mechanic at my high school. As we test drove the car, Greg noticed a few small problems that he leveraged into knocking the price down by 1/3. Then he fixed them for free the next day!
Even now, 34 years (and many pounds later) later, I vividly remember standing on that lot negotiating the deal. It was a special time. I felt like I’d taken a step toward growing up.
I hope that purchasing your first car is a special time for you, too. Cars are still a huge part of American life and, to a great degree, reflect our personalities. Some people simply need to get from point A to point B. Other people may need a specific type of car, van, or truck for a business they’re starting. Still others are particular about the color and how they look in the car.
In the passing years, I’ve now purchased a dozen cars. What have I learned? Here are four things to consider when looking for your 1st car:
- Your needs: Think about your transportation requirements. Do you just need to get from A to B or will you need room to haul things or people around? Do you have the budget for a gas guzzler or should you shop for something economical and easy on the budget?
- Your wants: Most of us want at least a few extras that we don’t really need. You don’t have to buy the cheapest, most basic car, but just remember that you may not be able to afford everything you want.
- The safety and reliability of the car: You probably want a car that will protect you in an accident and not break down every day. Research what cars rank high in safety and reliability. (Consumer Reports and car-oriented magazines regularly report on this topic. You can also check cars’ safety ratings at http://www.safercar.gov, which is produced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.)
- Your budget: The price is one of the car’s most important features. It is easy to get carried away and end up with a car that is out of your price range, but ultimately, you won’t be happy if you cannot make your loan or lease payments. Also consider that you will have to purchase insurance, gasoline, and budget for maintenance and repair.
Most importantly of all, though, don’t settle for a car you don’t really love. You'll remember this car the rest of your life. Be patient and do your research. You’re going to have it for a while – make sure it’s what you want.
Have fun picking it out!
For more tips, check out our new car-buying eGuide. It’s full of tried and true advice that’s as helpful in your purchase of your twelfth car as much as your first car.