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Tuesday, April 18, 2023

The Keys to Buying Your First Car

 By Catherine Powell

Image courtesy Pixabay

There are many hallmarks of adulthood that define the rest of our lives.  I clearly remember my first day of work as clearly as my first apartment that came soon after.  But the single biggest event that caused me the most thought, effort, and anxiety was purchasing my first car, which in my case was a Dodge Dart.  While the vehicle itself was nothing fancy, I fancied myself all grown up when I no longer had to borrow the family sedan every time I wanted to go somewhere.  I also got a quick lesson in economics once I realized that buying a car and owning a car were two different things.  Before you go through the trial by fire that I did after I drove off the used car lot with my rolling debt bomb, let me give you a bit of well-earned advice.

1. Don't fall in love with something that can't love you back. - If you base your purchase on looks alone, you could find out that your new set of wheels can cost you dearly.  Whether you opt for a new or a used car, you need to research a vehicle's history of average fuel consumption, maintenance, and other costs.  Unless you intend to pay cash for a car, you'll need to factor in the down payment, as well as monthly car payments, insurance payments, and approximate fuel costs.  If you buy a new car, you probably won't have to worry too much about maintenance for the first few years with the exception of tire rotation and oil changes.  If you're looking to purchase a used vehicle that doesn't come with a bumper-to-bumper warranty, you'll quickly come to find that everything from new tires and a battery to service can add hundreds of dollars onto your yearly car budget.

2. Look it up before you leap. - If you decide to buy a used car, before you start eyeballing vehicles, realize that used car dealers can cover up everything from minor paint scratches to evidence of past traffic accidents. Depending on the nature of the damage, that shiny car could quickly turn into a garage queen that costs you dearly as you labor to fix problems that should have been detected before you rolled off the lot.  The best way to avoid buying a lemon is to insist on seeing a Carfax.  A Carfax will not only give you a rundown on any traffic accidents that a vehicle was involved in, but it will also tell you any insurance claims made on the vehicle as well as when and where it was registered and inspected.  

Image courtesy Pixabay

3. Who you gonna call? - While I asked my dad to come with me to the dealer to help me choose my first car, what he had me do after I picked one out was to take it to his mechanic to give it the once over.  The reason to do this is that a mechanic not only has an eye for mechanical details, he also has a hydraulic lift that lets him look under the vehicle to see wear, tear, and leaks that everyone else would miss.

4. How do you go about getting a loan that won't bleed you dry? - Another factor that could have you rethinking your ability to afford a car is how much it costs to finance one.  Like it or not, vehicles today cost as much as houses did when I bought my Dart.  That means unless you intend to purchase a beater, you'll most likely need to secure a car loan.  This also means deciding how long you'll need to pay for your purchase, as well as negotiating how much you'll wind up paying in interest.  Depending on your credit score, the difference between what you'll pay to finance a vehicle as opposed to what your parents would pay to acquire the same car could be thousands more by the time the loan is paid off.  One way around this is to ask your parents if they'd be willing to co-sign your car loan.  The other is to request a longer loan term.

5.  Before you buy a car, talk to an insurance agent. - Face it, the monthly cost to insure your vehicle could cost more than your car payment.  That's the bad news.  The good news is an independent insurance agent can give you a quote on any vehicle you intend to purchase.  This will help you determine what vehicles you can afford before you waste your time wheeling and dealing with a car dealer.  

6. Should you consider leasing a vehicle as opposed to purchasing one? - New car leases can be attractive when you compare the costs.  That being said, car leases have stipulations that you need to consider before you sign on the dotted line.  Chief among them are mileage restrictions and length of lease.  Most leases run 24 or 36 months, after which you'll be expected to either turn in or buy the vehicle.  During the term of the lease, you'll be restricted on the amount of miles you can drive. Should you exceed the allowed mileage, you'll be required to pay a steep penalty for every mile over and above that stipulated on the lease.  This means you need to realistically determine how far and often you intend to drive before you entertain the idea of a lease.

Image courtesy Pixabay

7. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it usually is. - Just as you have to beware of clickbait online, you need to beware of bait and switch tactics used by some dealers.  That means if you're surfing the web to find the best deals on wheels, don't be fooled by prices that seem way cheaper than the competition.  By the time you drive to the dealership you'll soon find that the deal you sought just drove off the lot.  Then you'll be shown other vehicles, none of which are as cheap or well-equipped as the one you had your heart set on.  

8. What's the best way to wheel and deal with a car dealer? - You need to know what a vehicle really costs before you sit down to talk to a car dealer.  You need to know what if any incentives or rebates are being offered by the manufacturer.  You need to not only know but be willing to show the dealer what you're willing to pay for any vehicle.  Don't let the dealer steer you into a vehicle you don't want to buy or try to jack up the listed price by throwing in a lot of dealer fees that can add hundreds to the price of a car.  If there's more than one dealer that carries the same kind of vehicle you're interested in buying, get them to compete with each other.  Last but not least, the best way to wheel and deal with a dealer is to have someone else go with you when you shop for a vehicle.  This way the dealer will have a hard time painting you into a corner when it comes to negotiating for the car you want.

9. When is the best time to shop for a car? - The best time to hit the dealership is the last day of the month provided it doesn't fall on a weekend.  Why?  The last day of the month is when dealers have to meet their quotas.  As a result they're ready, willing, and able to wheel and deal with customers.  Weekends are bad because that's when dealerships are busiest.  This could translate into not getting the best deal since there are plenty of other prospects from which the sales reps can choose.

10. Be prepared to walk away. - The biggest leverage that a customer can bring to bear is to head back out the door if things aren't going their way.  You'd be surprised what a dealer is willing to do to sweeten the deal if you tell them you'd rather walk out  rather than drive off the lot with their car.   The words you want to hear from the sales rep are, "Let me see if my manager will agree to that."  Provided the rep doesn't come back with a counter proposal that you can't live with, you may have just driven the best deal for new wheels.  

Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida, Insurance in Orange Park, Florida.  To find out more about saving money on all your insurance needs, check out her website at


  1. I remember my first car. It had so many problems it was like a training course for car mechanics. Fortunately, that was back when you could actually work on a car yourself. Today you need an engineering degree.

  2. These are great tips. I will make sure to take advantage of them when buying my next new car.


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