A quick guide to car-buying

Buying your first car? Need some advice? Well, you’re in luck because I have some tips and tricks for navigating your first car-buying experience. 

1996 Toyota Celica getting an oil change

Buying a car can be stressful, especially if it is your first time doing so. You might need clarification about what to look for, what to avoid, or where to look. Being knowledgeable when shopping for a car is essential to avoid any expensive mistakes. As a student in the automotive field and a person with a passion for cars, I want to convert my knowledge into a shortcut for you. This guide will help you be confident that you have made the right decision. 

First off, understand your financial situation. 

Calculate how much money you have to spend. Acknowledging your price range is a great place to start because, unfortunately, cars are a financially complex topic. Consider the price of gas, insurance, and maintenance in this total because they are definitely factors. You may even have to consider the cost of repairs to the vehicle. Leave yourself a bit of buffer room.

For example, if you have $12,000, you might want to spend $11,500 on the car itself, so you’ll have money left over for liabilities or emergencies. Make sure to discuss finances with your parents, so they can help you understand precisely where you stand. They might be willing to pitch in with the total cost of the car or may be willing to cover your price of insurance. 

Lastly, when considering finances, consider how you can make payments. Can you pay one amount up front? In this case, you’ll just be using cash or a check. Or will you be making monthly payments? In this case, you’ll probably have to pay an amount upfront and connect with your bank for monthly payments. 

BMW 335i

Now that you’ve understood your finances start thinking of your preferences. 

Remember to think a couple of years into the future as well. Consider body types, makes, colors, drivetrain, etc. Some questions you can ask yourself include the following:

Do I need a lot of room for my belongings or a lot of seats? If so, an SUV or a van might be a good option for you. 

Does it get icy or snow frequently where I live? If so, avoid getting a rear-wheel drive vehicle. 

There are many things to consider; getting a car that will keep you happy and safe for as long as possible is crucial. Even if you don’t have much money to spend, don’t settle on a car you aren’t happy with. Be patient and picky because the right car will come around. 

F150 + Logan and Ben

Another critical factor in choosing your first car is the quality of the vehicle. The hardest part in buying your first car, especially for a low price, is that many vehicles are in questionable condition. If you are about to drop a decent chunk of cash on a car, the last thing you want is for it to break the second you buy it. 

Be sure to take the car for a test drive before purchasing it- NEVER buy a car without driving it first. If the person or company selling the car won’t let you drive it, do not buy it. It simply is not worth the risk. If the car’s exterior and interior are in pristine condition, this does not mean that it drives perfectly. 

Here is a list of things to check before making a purchase:

  • When taking the car for a test drive and when it is just idling, make sure you can’t hear any noise from the vehicle. Especially check for noise from the engine; a knocking sound is a huge red flag.
  • Check that the car accelerates and decelerates without any issues. If the vehicle isn’t shifting gears or is shifting slowly, this can be a significant problem with your transmission.
  • Check for any leakage on the ground. If there are any significant amounts of fluid or oil on the ground, the vehicle most likely has a leak. 
  • Confirm with the owner of the vehicle that it has a clean title. You do not want to mess with a bad title because it is expensive to fix and is a long and complicated legal process. 
  • Research the vehicle before purchasing it. See if it has any recalls or known issues. If there is a long list of problems, this is not the best way to spend your money. 

Now that you are prepared for the buying process, it is time to start looking around for a vehicle!

Common places to look include dealerships, Facebook marketplace, or websites. Let’s look through all the pros and cons of each option. 

“Big-Brand” dealerships – This is typically the safest route when buying a vehicle. Dealerships often offer warranties; therefore, they will cover the cost of any repairs within a specific time after purchasing the car. This way, you will feel more secure with your purchase and not have to spend a load of money out of your pocket for repairs. While warranties are significant, you can feel safer buying from a dealership overall.

Big dealerships are worried about their reputation and are not looking to scam you for your money. Unfortunately, speaking of money, car dealerships tend to have the highest prices. However, you can make monthly payments when purchasing a vehicle from a place like this. 

Privately owned dealerships: Privately owned dealerships are typically owned by families and are not as professional as big-brand dealerships. Their used vehicles are quite a gamble. Some of their vehicles could be in excellent condition, but typically they aren’t in as great condition as a used vehicle from a “big-brand” dealership would be. They often have luxury vehicles for shockingly low prices. Private dealerships rarely or never offer warranties.

With this said, these dealerships are generally much cheaper than other options. Shopping from private dealerships is a bit more of a gamble. You could walk off the lot with a great deal and a great vehicle or lose a lot of money. Also, they do not have to protect their reputation as much as a big-brand dealership would. They don’t care if the car blows up after purchasing it and typically won’t do much to make it right. If you are willing to take a bit of a risk, try checking out a private dealership. 

Logan’s Mercedes 300SEL

Facebook Marketplace: Similar to a privately owned dealership, Facebook Marketplace is a huge gamble.

It often has great deals but often has people looking to get rid of their trash. My favorite part about Marketplace is that it is the only place you can buy enthusiast/collectible vehicles. This is the way to go if you are looking for a specific cool old car that you like. If you are looking for a project car that will turn heads, this is the way to go.

However, Marketplace never offers warranties, and this is a considerable risk. Marketplace does not offer monthly payments either; you must pay everything up-front. After purchasing a vehicle, there is no going back. Facebook Marketplace holds the most significant risk of all the listed options but is also the cheapest option. Like a privately owned dealership, you might come out with a great deal and a car to turn heads, or you could lose thousands of bucks.

When buying from Marketplace, you’ll want to ask the owner many questions. Make sure they allow you to test drive the vehicle. Ask if they’ve ever had any significant issues with the car, ask for repair receipts, and ask why they are getting rid of the vehicle. You can never ask too many questions in a situation like this. Be careful, though, because there are some people on Marketplace that are not honest or are just looking to scam you. Have good judgment, and be sure to go with a trusted adult or two when meeting up with buyers. You can never be too safe. 

Websites – Avoid small, sketchy websites at all costs. In fact, try to avoid most websites. The only websites I recommend are Carvana or CarFax. These websites are very trustworthy and have a vast selection of vehicles for a great price. As an added bonus, websites typically offer monthly payments. Whether you are looking for a new or a used car, websites like these will have options for you.

Some people are turned away from websites because they cannot see the vehicle in person before purchasing it. However, the cars are delivered fast, and returns are offered. If you are unhappy with the car, you are more than welcome to change your mind and send it back. 

Toyota Celica and Adrian Sabeh’s BMW E36

Overall, there are a whole lot of options when it comes to purchasing vehicles. Many things could go wrong in the process, so having sound judgment and patience is a must. 

Car-buying is an exciting experience, especially for the first time. Hopefully, you have learned a bit from my tips and can go on your vehicle search more confidently!