Buying your first car is probably one of the biggest purchases you are likely to make, and you want to get it right.
But with so many things to consider, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed. Should you buy new or used? What kind of financing? How much is insurance going to be? And maintenance? And fuel? Should you go sleek and sporty, plain and practical, or rugged and off-road-ready?
While it can be tempting to put off the purchase, make a snap decision or delegate to a trusted friend or family member, it’s worth taking the time to understand what you really need and want before making a commitment. Here are a few things to consider when buying your first car:
Climate and terrain
It’s important to take into account weather conditions. Start with the demands of your home area, but don’t forget to factor in places you might want to drive as well. If you live in a city in sunny southern California, the type of car that will meet your needs will be very different than someone living in the rainy Pacific Northwest or snow-and-ice-prone Ontario.
There are lots of factors to consider. Will you drive exclusively in urban conditions? Mostly on the highway? Will you need to drive in deep snow, or off-road on dirt, gravel or mud? Think about hobbies and recreation, vacations, and visits to family that you’d like to use your new car for to help you choose suitable features for your needs, like two- or four-wheel drive, fuel economy, ground clearance, or special headlight requirements.
In addition to the practical requirements of a car that can handle the terrain, you should consider what your regular and special uses of the car will be. Is this a car for commuting to work in an urban area? Maybe you’d do well with a smart car or electric vehicle, something compact that maneuvers well and can fit into tight parking. Do you need something with excellent fuel economy for highway driving?
What about hobbies? Do you go skiing, mountain biking, hiking, or on long road trips? How many passengers do you need to accommodate? Think about the amount of seating and cargo space you’ll need to do the things you love or have to do with your new car. The amount you’ll use it will also influence your choice. Maybe you commute by public transit and only need a car for special occasions, outings and vacations. The type, and potentially the cost, of a vehicle purely for recreational purposes is likely going to be different than a practical commuting car.
Safety and reliability are generally appreciated across the board, but some will have more taste for risk in this area than others. You’ll have a better idea of what to expect with new cars, but it’s also easier than ever to search a used vehicle’s history.
Before diving too far into the thrill of shopping for the function and features of a new car, you’ll need to take stock of your finances and get a clear picture of what kind of costs you can comfortably manage. There’s the initial purchase price, of course, but don’t forget up front and ongoing costs like insurance, maintenance such as oil changes and new or seasonal tires, and fuel costs.
Starting with a clear picture of your finances and budget will help with negotiations too, allowing you to define reasonable expenses and understand what kind of financing will work for you. It may dictate whether you start your search in the used market, lease a new vehicle, or purchase outright.
Style and features
Of course, you’ll also want to think about how your personal style and preferences can be reflected in your vehicle. Eco-warrior? You probably want to take a look at electric or hybrid vehicles. Fashionista? Maybe a compact, sporty model, or a classic car. Weekend warrior? Better look for something with high ground clearance and four-wheel drive. Big family? Skip the sedans and compacts.
Also consider how much paint color and vehicle form matters to you; maybe you’re all about the most economical choice, or you might prefer to search longer or pay more for something that looks cute or cool. Add-ons like heated seats, GPS and parking assist cost more, but may make a big difference in your day-to-day enjoyment when it comes to your new car, so if you have price flexibility, it’s worth looking into what features are available.
Taking the time to understand your needs and preferences will help you make the most of your purchase and avoid being too swayed by the opinions of others or pressure on the lot to make a decision.