How to Buy a First Car

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Purchasing a first car can be an exciting experience as you embrace your independence and move on toward new responsibilities. However, before you buy your first car, you should know a little about the car-buying process to ensure that you get the best car for the money you plan to spend.

  • Visit local dealerships to test-drive the cars that appeal to you. Test-drive as many cars as possible to determine which ones will meet your needs and suit your taste. Keep a notepad close by to make notes about each car's options, mileage, condition and any noises or odors coming from under the hood.

  • Do your research and learn everything you can about the car and the dealership before you buy your first car. You can learn a lot about the reliability and the common problems associated with a certain make and model of car by reading car reviews online. Search for the car's safety and crash test rating on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website (see Resources below), and consider ordering a car history report to help you make informed decisions about the car's condition before you purchase it.

  • Visit the Better Business Bureau website to inquire about the dealer's business rating and to learn of any complaints filed against the dealership (see Resources below). Read each complaint carefully, and if you notice a pattern of repeated offenses, consider finding another dealership from which to buy your first car.

  • Shop for car insurance quotes online to learn about the coverage options available and to determine how much it will cost to insure your first car.

  • Negotiate the price of the car. Now that you know the fair market value and the overall condition of the car, you're ready to begin price negotiations. Some dealers raise the sales price of a car to give the buyer room to bargain, while others hold fast to the sticker price and refuse to negotiate. The best way to determine whether the sticker price is iron clad is to ask the salesperson if the price is the lowest amount he can accept for the car. If he hesitates or goes to check with the manager, you probably stand a good chance of gaining bargaining leverage. However, if the price is firm, you'll need to determine whether the car is worth it or if you would have better luck at another dealership.

  • Learn about the services offered by the dealer. Ask the salesperson if the price of the car includes taxes, tags and registration fees. Services such as these may encourage you to pay a little more for the car because you won't have to come up with this money out-of-pocket if you're financing the car, and you won't have the hassle of standing in line at your local Bureau of Motor Vehicles office. If these services are not included in the price of the car, try to negotiate the sales price down to cover the cost of handling them yourself. Many dealers won't be willing to let you walk away from the deal over such a small amount of money, and it certainly doesn't hurt to ask when you're trying to buy your first car.

  • Ask a reputable mechanic to perform a diagnostic test to find any problems with the engine and transmission if you're purchasing a used car. Even if the car comes with a warranty, that warranty may not be sufficient enough to cover the expense of replacing a bad transmission or rebuilding a worn-out engine. Ask the dealer if she minds if you take the car to a mechanic's shop to have it checked out before you purchase it. If the mechanic feels that the car is reliable and he spots no major mechanical difficulties, you may be ready to buy your first car.

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  • Apply for financing if you need it. Most new and used car dealerships offer financing arrangement services to help you buy your first car. While a dealer may ask for your personal information to determine your ability to secure a car loan as soon as you show any real interest in a car, try to wait until you've found the car you want and you've negotiated the price before you allow anyone to check your credit. Frequent inquiries into your credit can lower your credit score and affect your ability to finance a car loan.

  • Take possession of your first car and enjoy your new independence.

Tips & Warnings

  • If the car dealership is not a member of the BBB, you may be able to find information about its business practices by reading car dealer reviews online or by performing a general search by the dealers name or address.
  • Be sure your credit is in good shape before you start shopping for your first car. Aim for a credit score in the high 600s to secure a car loan with a decent interest rate.
  • Check the car's Blue Book value to determine if the dealer's asking price is comparable to its fair market value for your area of the country.

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