by Paige Green
(last updated May 28, 2010)
Many people probably remember their first car as clearly as they can recall their first kiss. In modern times, a car represents freedom and liberation, the ability to travel and escape from the daily grind. It also presents a new level of financial responsibility as owning a car can be a valuable asset in your portfolio.
For those looking to purchase their first car, the experience can be exceptionally nerve-wracking and unfamiliar. There's so much to learn in terms of negotiating a good deal, applying for financing, and of course, finding a good reliable vehicle to suit your lifestyle—you'll probably want it to look good too. Here are some tips on what to consider when you're looking for your first car.
Old vs. New
Most first-car owners will probably be looking at purchasing a used car as they are more affordable and often less stressful to maintain, especially if you're still a relatively inexperienced driver. If you're looking to purchase a used car, do a thorough check of the vehicle's history to be sure it's clear of any outstanding debt and that it doesn't have any mechanical issues.
If this is one of your first major purchases, chances are you'll be looking for some type of car financing. Financing on used cars is possible, but the vehicle should be less than seven years old. Otherwise, you might look into getting a personal loan to purchase an older car, as most lending institutions won't offer car financing on older models. If you don't have a thorough credit history, consider finding a family member to co-sign your car loan.
Inspection and Test Drive
Whether you're visiting a dealer or looking to buy from a private seller, you'll want to inspect the potential vehicle, preferably in daylight so any defects and dents will be clearly visible. Take along a more experienced car buyer if you can or you can arrange for a mobile inspection from a qualified mechanic. Check for any signs that the vehicle has been in a substantial accident as well as any tell-tale leaks or indications that there could be engine trouble. Take the vehicle for a test drive to get a better feel for how it handles and performs. Don't make or take an offer immediately following your test drive, but go home and do some research to determine how much the car is actually worth.
When you're ready to make an offer, don't be afraid to negotiate for a better deal. Determine what the car is actually worth and work your way up from that figure. Be firm but fair and play dealers off one another in the hunt for a good price. If you don't get too attached to any particular vehicle, you should be able to negotiate a good deal on your first vehicle purchase.
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